border police check ID.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Only a few months before the end of his three-year term as commander of the Border Police, Cmdr. Hasain Faris believes that the unit, once synonymous with police violence, is undergoing a drastic change in image. But Faris is the first to warn that such changes can't be completed overnight and that his successor will need to continue to work hard to ensure that the blemishes of the unit's past don't recur.
Faris told The Jerusalem Post this week that when he took up the position, "We determined values and a mission that would be clear to everyone: We are the military arm of the Israel Police, the soldiers of the police force. To that end, I emphasized the need for maintaining human dignity and the right of the citizen to protest. We took upon ourselves a set of values and the patience to carry them out."
The challenge, he said, is particularly acute within the Border Police, because they are present at "all of the most problematic hotspots. Where there are hotspots, there is friction. But the question is how do you reduce the friction?" To that end, "volunteers from Machsom Watch and international NGOs were given free entry to checkpoints to observe police behavior, and an officer or NCO stationed at each one."
Faris said he also concentrated on improving procedure regarding public disturbances and protests. He described a difficult balance between guaranteeing on one hand freedom to protest and on the other the ability to maintain order. "As long as protesters don't raise their hands first, we don't use rubber bullets or tear gas or other means of dispersing the crowd. Nothing. But [sometimes] there is contact, and sometimes it is not pleasantâ€¦. Friction arises, and people will simply pick up the first rock they find and throw it at your head. And at that point, the argument is over. We enable the right to protest, so protest! Raise a flag, protest. It is your right as humans. But that's it."
Faris is proud that his efforts have paid off. In 2006, there was a decline of 64 percent in complaints to the Police Investigative Department against Border Police troops. In the past three years, complaints submitted have declined by 50%.
"The head of the PID came to me and said, 'Listen, there is an incredible reduction,'" Faris recalled. "He counted five times to check and see if someone maybe made a mistake. But then he saw that they really are working less within the Border Police."
Part of this reduction is due to what Faris called the "winning combination."
"We have parents, one of three points in the triangle of those involved. Parent, police officer and commander are the winning combination. Parents don't want their child to come home from [mandatory army] service with a criminal record. They want their child to go to serve and come home as a combat soldier, as an officer."
He said he also tied behavior with advancement, so that complaints can - and do - hamper a would-be officer's chances for promotion. His personal zero-tolerance policy, he said, was important - not just for human rights violations, but also to prevent criminal behavior.
"In one recent case, it was the Border Police which initiated the complaint and passed it on to the PID. We could have treated it otherwise - I could have swept it under the rug, transferred him far away to the north. But we didn't. I fire anyone who has contact with criminals. I just fire them. In the end, you are measured not just by the number of instances, but also by the way that you handle those peopleâ€¦ This system works."
The seasoned commander also enlisted the help of experts in shaping the Border Police's about-face. Working together with Hebrew University, they designed a three-day seminar for all commanders that dealt with the issues inherent in contact with civilians.
"We talked about places with similar experience, like the French in Algiers. What are the problems? What are the dilemmas? We put them on the table and deconstructed them together with the Hebrew University. And what came out of that was an amazing three days."
Ultimately, he said, the university faculty told him that they were positively surprised by the quality and thought of the Border Police commanders. As Faris recounted this, he pointed out that the story also highlighted another key problem in the image of the Border Police.
"In disengagement as well, the pilots and the naval officers who worked with us told us that if they had one surprise, it was not the behavior of the settlers or the army, but rather the Border Police and the level of our professionalismâ€¦ Part of that is our fault, that we didn't expose our officers to the media. It's not that we were afraid to send them - we just didn't think to send them. The use of hasbara, of the media, had been neglected in the Border Police."
Faris said that hand-in-hand with the emphasis on values and morals, he and spokeswoman Ch.-Supt Sarit Philipson have worked hard at getting out the message that the face of the Border Police is also the Yamam and Yamas, fighting agricultural theft and entering the West Bank on nighttime missions to "rescue" beehives stolen from the Sharon area and smuggled into Kalkilya.
In the past three years, the unit has also seen a rise in general productivity, which has increased - according to police data - by 30%. In 2006, Border Police data recorded more terrorists killed and more criminal arrests, as well as the decline in the number of complaints. "That means that the work is getting done," said Faris.