The Druze and the Problem of Police Commanders

Shaul Avigur, the most senior aide to David Ben-Gurion on intelligence matters, went in to brief the prime minister and defense minister one October day in 1949.

Shaul Avigur, the most senior aide to David Ben-Gurion on intelligence matters, went in to brief the prime minister and defense minister one October day in 1949. "A Druze was sent to the [West Bank area of the] 'Triangle', he was caught and was hanged," Ben-Gurion wrote. "His wife is asking for assistance." Ben-Gurion said the family of the agent should be given a medal and treated "as a Jew and his wife should be granted at least 300 Israeli lira."

Years passed and in the summer of 1982, defense minister Ariel Sharon met with Bashir Gemayel. The head of the Lebanese Phalange party declared that the end of Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was nearing. Sharon and Jumblatt, who hated Syria for murdering his father, had mutual friends, including the current head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan; but Gemayel boasted that the clan that was on the rise in the Druze community, the Yazbeks, were his allies. "Pull your Druze out," Gemayel demanded, and Sharon gave in and promised that the IDF officers of Druze descent would be removed from the areas of confrontation between the Maronites and the Druze.

The incidents at Peki'in last October should not be disconnected from this complex background of the relations between the State of Israel and the Druze - its neighbors, its citizens, its soldiers. Last week, a police committee investigating the violence in the village concluded that, "The violence and disruption of public order was carried out by young Druze law-breakers against Jewish residents and policemen who came to protect them and their property." Moreover, "The source [of the violence] is deeper, social-nationalist [and] touches on significant aspects of Israeli society."

One out of every 12 police officers is Druze, but in 60 years of independent statehood only one Druze police officer has reached the rank of major general: Hussein Fares, chief of logistics at the national headquarters (for the second time) and former commander of the Border Police. In the Prisons Service, representation is more fair: One of every six wardens is Druze, and one out of every six of them is an officer.

Fares, a resident of the Galilee, a veteran officer, experienced in the ongoings in the area, was openly aspiring to become the head of the Northern District. The new police commissioner, Dudi Cohen, did not want him. He opted to promote Shimon Koren, and sent him to the North, in his first posting as a major general. Following the Peki'in incident, Cohen came out to defend Koren, and essentially defend the rationale behind his choice.

Heading the 10-member police investigation committee comprising active officers with ranks of superintendent to brigadier general, is Major General David Krause. The individual recommendations of the panel focused mostly on the role of commanders on the ground. The Krause Committee risked the ire of Koren, who has command over, among others, the chief of the Haifa police station. Koren "failed in various ways in carrying out his role while commanding the operation," the committee wrote. He had "overall responsibility over the operation because of his position, and direct responsibility for managing crises and making substantive decisions, from the minute he arrived at the scene and assuming operational command."

These bold conclusions cost the Krause Committee a swift kick. Cohen rejected their conclusions and made do with a "command note" against Koren, saying that his responsibility was not direct but at the "command" level. Krause and Koren, the examiner and his subject, will continue to sit side-by-side at meetings of the senior command officers.

The police have learned the lesson from the IDF: If the chief of staff tends to decapitate divisional commanders and forgive command-level generals, then the police commissioner does not reprimand the district commander but instead punishes the regional commander, Brigadier General Nir Mariash, even when presented with the clear, albeit implied, recommendation of the Krause Committee.

Mariash is close to retirement age. Cohen's decision to put an end to his command career and transfer him to a post that better reflects his skills, as head of the technology directorate at the national police headquarters, was arbitrary. The kidnapping of a female police officer by masked persons who posed a real threat to her life and used her as a bargaining chip for gaining the release of prisoners, is not something that can be tolerated. However, removing Mariash from his post is more resolute than leaving Koren in his job. If the presence of the senior commander at the scene - similar to the presence of the chief of staff, a GOC, and a division commander at Joseph's Tomb in October 2000 - does not lay the responsibility on him as the direct commander, and instead transforms him into a lower-ranking officer, then there is no point for senior officers to go to the scene. As observers and consultants, it would be best if they just stayed in their command centers in front of their plasma screens.

In three of the six police districts - Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Center - the population is mostly urban, the crime is routine, even if it is serious. The Judea and Samaria District is characterized by its settler population. But in the North and the South, it is especially necessary to have experience, understanding of the complexities, have an open line of communication with the local leadership and appreciation for the necessary mix of force and coexistence.

This is true in the Negev, where Cohen served during the past decade as area commander, with the Bedouin and 42,000 illegal structures - no officer would be foolish enough to embark on razing them - and it is also true for the North, with Christian and Muslim Arabs and the Druze. A sure bet: Fares would not have gotten into trouble, would not have failed, in an incident like the one at Peki'in. It is possible that the Northern District under his command would have had different problems, but it would have certainly not come down to such a clash.