Israeli Second-graders Get Lesson in Using Stun Grenades During 'Community Policing Day'

Tel Aviv school says presentation's goal was 'to increase students' feeling of being protected,' but many parents were unhappy.

Students from Tel Nordau School in Tel Aviv learning how to disperse protesters from a member of the Border Police. March, 2016.
Courtesy

Border policemen gave second-graders in Tel Aviv a presentation on Sunday that included explanations of crowd-dispersal tactics and displays of various types of weaponry.

Some children even held the weapons.

The activity was part of a “community policing day,” and according to the school, its goal was “to increase students' feeling of being protected.” But many parents were unhappy.

“Someone in the Border Police went too far,” one said. “Eight-year-old children shouldn’t know the difference between a stun grenade and a gas grenade.”

The Education Ministry said that students are forbidden to try out crowd-dispersal weapons.

The activities at the Tel Nordau School included presentations of various police units, showcasing police dogs, robots that neutralize bombs and even a few musicians from the police orchestra. But several parents said the Border Police presenter explained how his unit disperses protests and even demonstrated the use of handcuffs on one child.

The Border Police booth included a Taser and pepper spray, sponge-tipped bullets and other types of ammunition, stun grenades and gas grenades, and other kinds of weaponry. The Border Police presenter even invited some children to hold a gas grenade launcher.

The community policing day was apparently a reward to the school for having won a prize in a road safety competition. But parents said they had trouble understanding the connection between road safety and the weaponry shown their children.

“This was a major snafu,” one said. “There was no problem with most of the activity, but the Border Police booth was improper in every respect. What message were they trying to convey here? How are 8-year-old children supposed to ‘feel safe’ thanks to gas and stun grenades?”

Another parent said the school should “teach that violence is a last resort, not something the police use for their own needs. We’re so used to hearing about stun grenades, gas grenades and tear gas that only a few think there’s any problem with showing these weapons to second-graders.”

Still another mother complained, “Before the children learn about the right to demonstrate, they’re shown what is used against those who dare to demonstrate. We try to teach them that when they do something wrong, perhaps people will be angry at them, but they’ll also explain what’s wrong. The message here is that the police have other methods.”

City councilwoman Gaby Lasky (Meretz) said the police had used poor judgment and sent students a bad message. The presentation “won’t encourage feelings of security among the students,” she charged, but will teach them that “using violence against demonstrators is legitimate.”

Nevertheless, some parents saw nothing wrong with the presentation.

“I have nothing against weapons, and the intentions were good: to give the students a feeling of safety, of being protected, to give them the feeling that someone is guarding them,” one said. “Perhaps the display of weapons was a bit excessive, but the activity had other elements. It’s also impossible to forget that this is the complex reality we live in.”

Community policing days in schools are common, but they don’t usually involve weaponry. Less than two years ago, Haaretz published a report on soldiers coming to kindergartens and showing the children their weapons. The report prompted complaints to then-Education Minister Shay Piron, who said that while soldiers were welcome in kindergartens, weapons were forbidden, “to ensure the children’s safety.”

The Education Ministry said Sunday that it welcomed Tel Nordau’s effort to strengthen students’ relations with the police and supports community policing days. Nevertheless, it added, students are forbidden to try out crowd dispersal weaponry.

The Border Police said it regretted that a “positive event” was “being presented in such a warped and truly misleading manner. This was an event where children learned about good citizenship and the police’s role in society, at the request of and in cooperation with the school’s staff in order to, among other things, generate interest among the children and simplify the roles of the police for them.”