Many years ago, early 1960’s is my best guess, there was an incident on the border between France and Belgium. Long before the European Union removed the borders, drivers had to stop for a perfunctory check, perhaps a wave of their passport, before being allowed to cross. There was no barrier, just a red light that turned green when the guards were satisfied.
I was reminded of this by the tragic death of autistic Palestinian Iyad Halak who was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday. The police thought that he was holding a gun and ordered him to stop. In response, Halak fled and tried to hide. Police officers, on duty in a tense area where a terrorist may appear at any moment, opened fire.
What, you might ask, has this tragedy got to do with the Franco-Belgian border of 60 years ago. Well, a man, attempting to drive across, was shot dead by the border guards. What was this master criminal’s crime that brought him an immediate death sentence – he was colourblind and had mistaken the red light for a green.
We should not try to draw any conclusions from these very sad accidents. Life is not always fair, as Gilbert and Sullivan once mentioned:
See how the Fates their gifts allot,
For A is happy — B is not.
We have high, perhaps impossible, expectations of our security forces, be they police, border guards or soldiers. Sadly, they must see every Palestinian worker, passing through a checkpoint, as a potential walking bomb. Although most are just hard-working people, trying to provide for their families, a few are not. We have seen many attempts by terrorists, both male and female, to take bombs hidden under burqas, in false legs, or even as body implants, through security checks.
This potential for violence can very rapidly turn into reality. A policeman, a soldier, or any Israeli for that matter, must acquire a split personality. One minute a policeman must be a polite public servant, ready to tell you the time or direct you to the nearest coffee shop. The very next moment he may have to spring into action against the most deadly of enemies – a fanatical terrorist, fully prepared to blow themselves into the next world and take with him as many innocent bystanders as possible.
So, let us not blame the police for Iyad Halak’s sad and unnecessary death. The real culprits are those Palestinians who refuse to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and are prepared to use any violence to further their aim of its destruction.
I look forward to a time when a policeman, seeing a Palestinian reach into his pocket, will hope that is for a cellphone and not a packet of unhealthy cigarettes, and will have no thought of drawing his own weapon.