No Less Than the Second Lebanon War

Israel Police's conduct in both the Mercaz Harav shooting and the subsequent vengeance attack on the killer's home showed a reluctance to engage with the locus of the disturbance, a misreading of the situation at the scene, a lack of vigor in command and difficulty in taking charge of the situation.

At the time of writing, yesterday afternoon, the top officials of the Jerusalem District Police were meeting to discuss the findings of the investigation into the district's performance during the terrorist attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. The findings were supposed to be released to the public last night or this morning. Whatever the conclusions might be, they are unlikely to rock the Jerusalem District to its core. At most, the police will acknowledge their own faulty functioning during the attack and consider the event a one-time failure.

That is also how police officials describe the police's performance at Jabal Mukkaber earlier this week: an error in preparation. Police sources reject the suggestion that officers are reluctant to confront disturbers of the peace because they fear that complaints will be lodged against them; they confirm that right-wing protesters have indeed been in the habit lately of filing complaints against officers, but insist that these complaints do not prevent the police from using force. What happened at Jabal Mukkaber, according to the police, were some flaws in performance, but no lack of motivation.

To the outside observer, there seem to be common elements to the police's conduct in both cases: a reluctance to engage with the locus of the disturbance, a misreading of the situation at the scene, a lack of vigor in command and difficulty in taking charge of the situation. Police sources disagree; they claim that what happened at Jabal Mukkaber was a professional lapse, while at Mercaz Harav the intensity of the event and the initial conditions under which it occurred dictated the deadly result.

On the face of it, it is unfair to criticize the police. After all, they stand on the front lines of public security, and officers often lose their lives in the line of duty. The tasks they confront are extraordinarily complex and dangerous to perform, and they need more funds than they are given. To succumb to this misleading argument, however, is a mistake.

The Israel Police is a large organization with a defined mission, and the state allocates considerable resources to the fulfillment of this mission. It is a professional entity with a hierarchy and division of roles, and working in it carries both rewards and costs. Those who choose to join the police force accept the definition of its duty, for better or worse. The police are also entrusted with broad authority so that they can carry out their tasks properly. Therefore, there is no reason to regard the police's failings leniently, any more than the weaknesses of the Israeli military can be overlooked. On the contrary, the crucial areas of life that these two bodies oversee require that the public be extremely vigilant about their level of performance.

The October 2000 riots, it seems, were to the Israel Police what the Second Lebanon War was to the Israel Defense Forces: an earthquake that shook up the organization, caused its entire top leadership to be replaced, led it to internalize new perspectives and methods, and motivated the state to allocate it additional resources. The police's functioning over the last seven and a half years raises the question of whether replacing individuals in the top tiers of command and adopting organizational and conceptual conclusions was enough to achieve the desired result.

In other words, do not the grave flaws in the police's functioning suggest that something is rotten in the very depths of the kingdom itself, something that relates to the human quality of its citizens? Will we not learn later that even the current upheaval that the IDF is undergoing (at least according to what its superiors declare) is also a purely matter of appearance?

Since October 2000, the police commissioner and a group of high-ranking police officials were forced to resign under the shadow of the Parinyan brothers affair; the chief of the Galilee District was removed from his position due to his performance during the Peki'in riots; officers in Nahariya took the law into their own hands in their efforts to confront the head of a local crime organization; the Tel Aviv District has been unable to bring to trial the crime families waging their battles on the city's streets; the police has not succeeded in reducing trafficking in women; officers repeatedly fail to prevent serious crimes, including the murder of abused wives; farmers take vigilante actions when they realize that the police cannot protect them and their property; Palestinians try in vain to seek the police's protection against harassment by Jewish settlers.

These examples reflect a basic condition; they are not dependent on the personality or conduct of individual commanders and officers. Something is deficient in the officers' identification with their role, in their willingness to carry out their mission to the end, in the suitability of senior commanders to the positions they hold. What the police force needs is not structural adjustments, but a change in its very substance.