We, as a nation, feel ashamed at the awful headline last week “Border Police officer shoves disabled Palestinian off wheelchair” We as a society, and a state, cannot accept this behavior. This incident must be fully investigated and the policeman, if found guilty, punished to the full extent of the law. Such behavior is totally unacceptable in a civilized democratic society.
These are fine words — and yet, we have a real problem here. From time to time, our society and state need strong, violent, young men who are prepared and trained to kill, or maim, in the defense of their country.
A border policeman, a soldier, or any Israeli for that matter, must acquire a split personality. One minute our border guard must be a polite public servant, the very next moment he may be required to spring into action against the most deadly of enemies – a fanatical terrorist, fully prepared to blow themselves into the next world.
Sadly, we must regard every Palestinian worker, passing through a checkpoint, as a potential walking bomb. The vast majority are not, but, as we have seen all too often, this potential can very rapidly turn into reality. There has been no shortage of attempts by terrorists, both male and female, to pass through security checks with bombs hidden under burqas, in false legs, or even as body implants. Even young school children have been found carrying deadly knives in the school bags.
So how do we turn our 18- or 19-year-old guardians into schizophrenics? Other countries solve the problem in different ways. The Syrians train their elite commando units to eat their pet cats for breakfast, and to lunch on hand-killed snakes. Unfortunately, the film footage shown on Israel TV a few years ago did not show their politeness training.
The French and Italians, like most other democratic countries, have special riot control police. These police forces are drawn from far-flung regions to ensure that they will not encounter family or friends; they will have no sentimental feelings for their victims. They live in special barracks, isolated from the community in which they operate. You really don’t want to be around when they turn these guys loose! Those of you with really long memories may recall the use of the French CRS squads against the students in Paris in 1968.
But we in Israel do not have the luxury of bringing forces from distant provinces — we don’t have any. Nor do we have the manpower to keep special troops on the side, to be turned loose only in special circumstances. Our society and security depend on men for all seasons — smiling, polite, helpful, and kind to old ladies, but trained and able to kill without a moment’s hesitation. This might work with German Shepherds, but this is a trick we humans find difficult to learn.
This problem affects all aspects of life in Israel. We teach an 18 year old to drive a tank; train him to attack, attack and attack. Then we expect him to give way at every junction when he drives his girlfriend to a disco? We train anti-terrorist squads to break down doors, then we expect them to hold the door for us when we meet them at the bank?
When the chips are down, when an innocent-looking worker’s bag is revealed as a ticking bomb, do we want a guard whose first instinct is to help carry the bag or to shoot the terrorist? Should a border policeman’s first thought be “After you, sir” or “I’m after you, cur”?
Any democratic society that has to cope with undemocratic terror must face this moral dilemma. The greater the threat to a society’s stability or existence, the greater the pressure to sweep moral niceties under the carpet. Of course, violent border policemen must be punished, but punishing them does not let the rest of us off the hook. We, as a society, must decide, when it’s “them or us” just how far we are prepared to go.