Text size

The late Prof.Yeshayahu Leibowitz wasn't far from making an appearance in Border Police recruitment ads. One of his students regrets to this day not perpetuating on film the time Leibowitz got a lift in a Border Police jeep from one Hebrew University outpost to another - from the Givat Ram campus to Mount Scopus. The student in officer's skin, Avi Shirizali, is today a police brigadier general and commander of the Border Police training base at Beit Horon. He is a living rebuttal of the usual image of the thick-browed, truncheon-wielding brute. He has an M.A. in philosophy, and when he retires from the police, he will go on to do a Ph.D.

Shirizali, who will soon be 54, represents the less familiar face of the police. He is also one of the people behind the Border Police's doctrine on how to deal with public disorder, formulated ahead of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements. The doctrine, which was not utilized at Amona in the West Bank, is meant to serve the police in the case of future outpost and settlement evacuations. The method is being drilled into officers and policemen with exercises and tests. Trained, equipped policemen, under the control of cold, experienced commanders who know when it's time to bring in horses and dogs, are not prone to panic, rampage or abuse. More protection and better organization means less risk to policeman and citizens - Palestinian and Israeli, Arab and settler.

The outgoing commander of the Border Police, Hussein Faras, was known for his practical wisdom in the first intifada. He knew the secret of treating Palestinians with a combination of respect and aggressiveness. The Israel Defense Forces, which is not trained in contact with civilians, transgressed frequently by humiliating them, and fluctuated between toughness and spinelessness. The images of the violent encounter between reserve soldiers and demonstrators on Mount Hebron this past Wednesday showed again how unqualified soldiers are for policemen's work.

Over the years, and thanks to the vagaries of the Israel Police, Shirizali, who as a superintendent appointed Faras chief inspector in the 1970s, became Faras' subordinate. They make an effective combination: Few in the top ranks of the police possess their know-how regarding dealing with a crowd that is liable to turn violent.

Shirizali, along with a branch head from his base, Yaron Palombo, and other officers, upgraded the philosophy of confronting riot fomenters: approaching them without weapons, while uttering frigh tening, rhythmic roars; isolating areas and structures intended for evacuation; and setting "echelons" of dispersal - only territorial and district commanders are permitted to authorize the firing of foam bullets. Shirizali's officers receive lessons in mass psychology, the importance of the media, methods to overcome and detain ruffians - and what to do when a woman brings an infant to a demonstration (allow her constant eye contact with the infant when it is taken from her and transferred to a safe spot).

This is a complete doctrine, with chapters devoted even to soccer fields. This week, in Jerusalem, the district police ignored it. As a result, the events at Teddy Stadium, when large numbers of spectators tried to rush the field, are now being investigated by the Ben-Hamo committee, whose composition ensures that no big heads will roll.

Controlling the natives

More than a decade ago, when the Beitar Jerusalem team was hosted b y Bnei Yehuda in South Tel Aviv's downscale Hatikva neighborhood, then-commander of the Tel Aviv police district, Gabi Last, prevented rioting by opening the stadium's gates to thousands of enraged fans who had been left outside. Commander Pini Yehezkeli, perhaps the best of the internal experts for diagnosing the police's ills, explained at the time why Last had succeeded while the officers in charge of another "public order" event around that time, the Arad music festival, failed - with catastrophic results.

"The Israel Police inherited from the [British] Mandate a problematic ?police ordinance' typical of a colonial police force, which is designed to consolidate foreign rule over the natives and create ?order' at any price," Dr. Yehezkeli wrote. "It did not contain a central emphasis on the police's true purpose in a democratic society - maintaining human life, rights and quality of life. Maintaining ?order' and organizers' economic considerations were perceived as police's main job at events. In the Hatikva neighborhood the need to place people at the center of police thinking was understood, along with the choice of the less dangerous alternative in terms of damage to life and property." Yehezkeli hoped at the time that the concept of the community policeman, then being advanced by the commissioner, Asaf Hefetz, would change the police. But when Hefetz left the force, the concept withered.

When officers leave the doctrine developed for such situations on the shelf and are dragged in the wake of events, the result is what we saw in Teddy Stadium this week. This, as a metaphor for social, economic and political ferment, is only one event in a series of strikes, demonstrations, riots and opposition to political moves.

Last week outgoing commissioner Moshe Karadi transferred to his successor, David Cohen, a used police force in poor condition. Cohen did not have even a day of grace: He immediately f aced gang warfare in Nahariya, riots in a Jerusalem stadium, a judge who believes a film documenting police violence more than he believes the police, and fatal road accidents. And he has to cope with negative messages from the justice minister and the public security minister, as well as with robbers and other criminals.

The popular kid

Cohen was not the most outstanding officer on Karadi's senior staff. He was the most popular kid in the class, the one who rarely stirs up disputes, because those who stood out for their traits had advocates as well as rivals. But Cohen is no innocent. He knows the no-holds-barred character of the system, and he learned the lesson of the lack of congruity between Karadi's character and that of the system. That lesson, regrettably, is: "Don't be nice, be strong." Karadi remained friendly and accessible, and did not prevail over the top officers, some of them longer-serving and more experienced than he, and they r epaid him with a minimum of respect. Contrary to what the Zeiler report suggests, Karadi's maneuvering as Southern District chief for the benefit of Commander Yoram Levy did not stem from any dark connections or ugly episodes; it was part of organizational politics in which the prestige of the senior personnel is dependent on how successful they are in promoting their underlings.

Almost the only pride Public Security Minister Avi Dichter can take in his most disappointing year since he was revealed to be the head of the Shin Bet security service seven years ago lies in the new system for filling senior police posts months in advance, from major general down. The method works well in the Shin Bet, and Dichter, too, as the successor to Ami Ayalon in the security service, benefited from months in which to get organized. In the Israel Police, the major generals are "dead" a year in advance while still serving, when their officers are told who the new king will be. R egarding the commissioner, Dichter forgot his wisdom and shifted to its polar opposite: rashness.

Cohen received a police force that for years has been trapped in an "era of chaos," as one officer put it. Chance events throw good officers to the sidelines or knock them out of the system altogether, while the mediocre rise upward. The result, as the officer says, is that "the individuals are smart, but the organization is stupid." Yehezkeli's first law states that in every competition for a position within the police, the right candidate will not be appointed. The second law states that if the right candidate is appointed, it will not be for the right reasons.

Falling behind

When the law-enforcement establishment is treading water, it is actually falling farther behind its rivals, who are advancing with time, money and technology. The depths of the degeneration were revealed in the Nimrodi case of the late 1990s: Chief superintendent s were bought and police major generals collaborated with suspects. The war of brains is no longer one-sided, with the criminals on the defensive and the police on the offensive. Preserving the immune system of the police investigative units is no less vital than the shell that protects the Shin Bet, the Mossad espionage agency and Military Intelligence. It's not just the police: In the state prosecution, and particularly in the districts, the results are embarrassingly miserable; and the Israel Prisons Service is wracked with serious scandals and hidden secrets, among them the fatal poisoning of a prisoner on the eve of his testimony in a murder trial, and the mysterious death of a medical officer, which go to show that the problem there is not preventing people from escaping prison, but from entering it.

The crime syndicates can obtain benefits, eliminate witnesses and deter others. The police force is penetrable by two groups: politicians and crime syndicates . Politicos at the national and local level can influence the promotion of confidants. Crime syndicates, mainly those from the former Soviet Union, but also locals, have little trouble hiring assets in the police. The field security system is not efficient enough to identify junior officers who are dormant moles, encouraged by supplementary income - salaries below the level of superintendent mean economic distress for the policemen - who awaken when they reach key positions.

Cohen has promoted three brigadier generals, two of them to districts (Shimon Koren to the north, Nissim Mor to the Central District), and one, Amihai Shai, to head the human resources department. The three were part of the team that in the past few weeks hastily prepared, at Cohen's request, proposals for changes in the police's work. On Sunday, Shai will complete almost three successful years as commander of the national unit investigating serious and international crime. According to Cohe n's plan, next year Shai will head up a new FBI-type unit that will centralize intelligence and investigation efforts.

Shai's departure from the international crime unit requires the appointment of a new commander. Here, a complex dance is being conducted. The direct commander of the unit's head, until the "FBI" is created, is the head of the investigations and intelligence department, Yohanan Danino. This week, Danino interviewed six candidates. Danino will recommend, Cohen will decide after consulting with Shai, and Dichter is meant to confirm. The perfect candidate - and there is none in the police force today - will combine the skills of investigation, management and coordination with other bodies, such as the Shin Bet. In the case of MK Azmi Bishara, for example, the Shin Bet made use of the special proficiency of the international crime unit.

Despite the great importance of these investigations, Israelis are more concerned by their immediate v icinity, their backyards and sidewalks. For that, the police needs - even before it receives a response to its justified request for greater resources - a new spirit and an updated format. For example, increased deterrent patrols, on foot and in vehicles, even on mopeds if rickety vans are lacking. In places and time that are prone to violence, such as places of entertainment on weekends, a reinforced presence is needed.

The document drawn up by the Shai-Koren-Mor team shows that this is going to be one of Cohen's major efforts, if he finds the time to act as commissioner. Judging by his first few days on the job, he was appointed firefighting commissioner - all he's doing is putting out fires.