There appears to be no concrete intelligence pointing to a likelihood of violent
mass riots erupting after the Palestinian Authority submits its request to the
UN General Assembly for statehood recognition in September, but the Israel
Police has nevertheless been quietly preparing for the worstcase
Over the past several months, planners at the police’s
Operations Branch at national headquarters in Jerusalem – headed by Cmdr. Nissim
Mor, an experienced bomb squad officer – have been watching incidents of mass
violence around the world, from the destruction and looting in London to the
events taking place in the Arab world, in order to study how small events can
quickly snowball into major incidents.
After months of preparation,
evaluation and training, senior commanders believe the police force is now ready
for any scenario involving an outbreak of violence linked to the Palestinian
The majority of contingency planning is based around
Jerusalem, though plans are also in place for mixed Arab- Jewish cities and
known flash points in the North and South.
The planning does not reflect
any prior intelligence, but simply a need to be prepared for all
Following the October 2000 Israeli Arab riots in the
North, during which 13 rioters were shot dead by police – a response that police
brass today recognize as a major failure – police have set up 16 special command
centers around the country that are specifically tasked with training and
mobilizing riot police, and ensuring that disturbances are quelled swiftly,
without the use of lethal force.
Each command center is in charge of 300
officers, creating a national response force of 4,800 officers ready to deal
with large-scale disturbances. During quiet times, these officers carry out
their daily duties, and take part in special training courses. During flare ups,
they are sent in to quell riots.
The riot police are backed up by a
further 2,000 officers who are currently being trained as a reserve anti-riot
As soon as police planners conclude that an incident has the
potential to turn into a large-scale riot, large numbers of officers will be
mobilized to the scene to prevent the incident from spiraling out of
To that end, the Operations Branch has set up a special body,
headed by Lt.- Cmdr. Meir Ben-Yishai, which has drawn up scenarios and training
Planners at the Operations Branch believe riot police should be
well armed with non-lethal crowd dispersal means and receive good protection,
including horses, vests, shields and helmets, to increase their sense of
security. The more secure an officer feels, they believe, the less likely the
officer is to resort to lethal force in a riot situation.
have also been called for by the Or Commission, which was set up to investigate
what went wrong in the October 2000 riots.
The police’s Technological
Development has therefore developed a number of new crowd-dispersal means to add
to the usual measures of tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades.
non-lethal weapons include the “Skunk” liquid, which lets off a repulsive smell
and sends rioters scattering.
The liquid has been used effectively in
Bil’in in recent years, and has decreased injuries among police caused by
There is, however, a ban on using it in holy places, to
protect the sensibilities of worshipers.
Another means is the “Shout”
system, which broadcasts an unbearable sound and causes rioters to run for cover
with their hands over their ears, but does not injure them in any
Mor distinguishes between local and national incidents, and has
drawn up police responses to fit each category.
In any major national
incident, police brass will take control of the decision-making process, and the
full arsenal of anti-riot equipment will be put to use.
where the army deals with riots, in Israel, as a democratic and liberal country,
the police are responsible for coping with disturbances. Even in places where
the IDF is sovereign, when a public order event unfolds, like the disengagement
from Gaza, the Israel Police leads the mission and not the army,” Mor recently
told the Marot Hamishtara (Police Views) magazine, an internal police
Since the jurisdictions of the IDF, the police and the Shin
Bet (Israel Security Agency) can overlap, it is worthwhile to define the term
According to the accepted norm, the IDF has full
operational sovereignty along the country’s borders, and is responsible for
dealing with any threat emerging from beyond the national frontiers. But the
moment a national security incident unfolds within the country, the police take
charge of the response in the affected area.
Hence, while the air force
is responsible for dealing with rocket fire on the South from Gaza, it is the
police who track down the site of a rocket impact zone inside the country and
manage the scene.
The same working model applies to responses to mass
During Nakba Day in May, the IDF was tasked with
stopping Syrian Palestinians from crossing the border on the Golan Heights, and
police rounded up those who had succeeded in entering.
The police also
arrived in large numbers at the village of Majdal Shams to end rock-throwing at
soldiers by local residents.
“The police are supposed to be the IDF’s
support [in border areas]. We must be ready to deal with those who cross
borders, and with local residents, too,” Mor said.
arrangement is also in place in areas situated near the Green Line.
the West Bank, Judea and Samaria Police operate in Area C, where Israel retains
full security control and where settlements are located. Area B is jointly
policed by Judea and Samaria and Palestinian police, while Area A, where the
large Palestinian cities are located, is off-limits to police.
meantime, the police’s preparations have drawn to a close, and the Operations
Branch is now on alert for the first sign of an incident that could trigger
Though police officers are still allowed to go on leave,
they have been asked by their commanders not to leave the country in September,
just in case.