Meet the head of Israel's national police negotiation unit

From preventing teenage suicides to preempting lonely terrorist attacks, ‘Ofer’ explains complex tasks he must face

Chief superintendent of Israel’s national police negotiation unit, Ofer  (photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Chief superintendent of Israel’s national police negotiation unit, Ofer
Imagine you and your spouse are watching TV in the living room when a police officer knocks on your door and tells you that your daughter, who is in her room next door, is about to commit suicide.
The officer walks past you to the child’s room and finds the girl about to take the next step. He saves her life.
This is a situation that happens more often than one thinks in Israel, the chief superintendent of Israel’s national police negotiation unit, Ofer, told The Jerusalem Post (his last name is withheld for security reasons).
In this case, the child was ostracized in school and was posting on the photo-sharing site Instagram that she was going to commit suicide. The police cyber unit, which monitors social media channels in the country for such emergencies, discovered the girl’s name and address, and contacted the negotiation unit, which dispatched her savior.
Founded in 1978, the negotiation unit has evolved from its original mission focused on crime and terrorism, Ofer explained. Today, its 10 full-time staff members, 250 part-timers – most of whom have jobs within other areas of the police – and volunteers, are called in to negotiate various situations.
“The idea is to solve problems and make peace,” said Ofer. “We try to use negotiators before [using] force.”
This is true in cases of extortion, kidnapping, protests, attempted suicides, cyberattacks, terrorism, and what Ofer calls “lonely wolf” attacks.
He said that the team is diverse because, “we are looking for experienced police who come from the field and know our different sectors,” their cultures and languages.
Currently, the unit includes negotiators who speak Russian, Arabic, Amharic and even Chinese. It includes negotiators who are haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab.
Ofer said there is a preference for women officers, though there is no gender discrimination.
“Women have a strength in this area,” he said. “Women generally are quieter and calmer, and they do better. [They] give more of a feeling of ‘I did not come to fight – I came to talk.’”
He said this is especially important in the case of suicide.
“In recent weeks, we had two incidents with the army,” Ofer said. “In one, a soldier climbed up on a cellular tower at Katzrin and threatened to jump. The second one took place on an army base. A soldier who had trouble at home and was not getting along in the army barricaded himself up with his gun and threatened to shoot himself.”
In both cases, police negotiators succeeded in preventing tragedies.
Ofer said that many of the team members have been trained to understand the thought patterns of suicide bombers and other terrorists, and to preempt “lonely-terrorist attacks.” He uses the word lonely, because “these are people that are lonesome, have no [criminal] background, and somehow became convinced that they should carry out an attack.”
The unit played a key role in the 2018 safe return of 7-year-old Karim Jumhur, who had been kidnapped in a financial dispute between clans. The kidnappers had demanded a ransom of NIS 4 million.
“We have really built a specialty unit,” Ofer said. “We know how to help.”