Protecting those who protect us

Cops are becoming prime targets for terrorists.

Soldiers 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
Soldiers 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
The slaying of veteran police officer Yehoshua “Shuki” Sofer, 39, in a shooting attack by a Palestinian terrorist has raised difficult questions about the future of policing in the West Bank. It has also raised wider questions about the general stability and security of the West Bank.
Sofer was sitting in a police van with four other officers making their way from Beersheba to Jerusalem on what was a routine drive last Monday.
Shortly after 7 a.m., a gunman lying in ambush on cliffs above Route 60 in the Hebron Hills opened fire with an automatic weapon. The bullets riddled the van, shattered the windows and pierced the bodies of three officers, wounding two and claiming the life of Shuki Sofer.
Bereaved colleagues described him as a dedicated and vigilant law enforcement officer, who fell victim to a security threat which remains constant in the West Bank, and which has long been a fact of life for officers serving there.
His stunned fiance, Einav Blum, mourned the loss of her future husband at his funeral.
“Sweetie, all of our wedding guests have come to accompany you on your final journey. Who can now tell me he loved me more than he loved himself? In case I didn’t say it enough, I love you and will continue to love you,” she said.
In March 2009, two Judea and Samaria police officers, Yehezkel Ramazreger and David Rabinovitch, were shot dead in the Jordan Valley in a terrorist ambush.
They had stopped to provide assistance to a Palestinian terrorist who pretended that his car had broken down.
DESPITE THE possibility that police officers may be turning into prime targets for terrorists in the West Bank, police in the Judea and Samaria district appear resigned to the fact that any potential revamp of security measures for officers will likely be limited in scope due to budgetary constraints and a complex security reality.
While the police vehicles currently in service in the West Bank are designed to withstand rock throwing and firebomb attacks, they are not bulletproof.
Police are considering the possibility of introducing bulletproof cars and vans, but note that such a change could cost millions.
The Israel Police struggles to receive every penny it gets from state funds and, under current budgetary constrictions, creating a fleet of bulletproof police cars appears unrealistic.
During the peak of the second intifada, all officers in Judea and Samaria district had to wear bulletproof vests and helmets while patrolling the West Bank. They also underwent special training to identify the source of gunfire directed at them and to rapidly return fire.
Such strict requirements could soon be reintroduced.
Beyond the question of reforming police regulations, some settler groups have begun citing the removal of IDF checkpoints in the West Bank as a factor which allowed the shooting to take place.
The military has reduced the number of checkpoints from 41 to 14 over the past three years.
“This attack shows that the resolve of terrorists to destroy any sense of peace and tranquility in these areas remains unabated. This brutal act is a clear indicator to the Israeli authorities that we need to reinforce policies that will best protect our citizens and our security services against all acts of terror,” Naftali Bennett, director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said.
But sources within the IDF deny the claim that checkpoint removals automatically lead to an increase in attacks, and point to recent data which show that terrorism has dropped in the West Bank during the period when checkpoints were lifted.
According to data compiled by the Shin Bet, May saw a decrease of terrorist attacks in the West Bank (17) compared to April (25). And April’s figures represent a significant drop compared to March (62).
The goal shared by the IDF and Palestinian Authority security forces of hunting down active Hamas cells, and the quiet, yet fruitful cooperation between the two have been cited by security commentators as a major factor in the relative calm.
At the same time, Hamas and its affiliated organizations may have made a tactical decision to keep a low profile in the West Bank for the time being. Should the latter scenario be correct, that decision would only be temporary.
Rogue elements within Fatah which are opposed to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s ban on terrorist attacks also continue to pose a threat.
Irrespective of the recent drop in terror attacks, common sense dictates that a decrease of checkpoints enables terrorist elements to move around with greater ease and exploit the freedom of movement to collect intelligence on targets, transfer arms and plan attacks.
Monday’s shooting was claimed by the Fatah Aksa Martyrs Brigade and by an unknown group calling itself the “flotilla martyrs.” The latter “group” released a statement saying it would refuse to recognize any cease-fire and vowed to continue attacks. IDF sources said that the shooting was likely carried out by a lone terrorist or a small independent cell operating without the backing of a large organization.
Only the coming weeks and months can provide an answer to the question of whether the shooting was an isolated incident, or the start of a new and bloody phase for the West Bank, its residents and security personnel who serve there.