Remembering the 'Green Berets'

In a country where memorials are unfortunately all-too common, the Border Police's memorial corner is very powerful indeed.

A concrete spire rises some meters from the middle of a carob tree forest close to the main Nahal Iron-Wadi Ara highway at the Barkai junction, better known these days as the Border Police junction. The national monument to 436 men and women who died while serving in the Border Police is almost totally hidden among the thick trees, with only the spire visible to passing motorists. Formed in the early l950s as the combat arm of the Israel Police in matters of internal security, the Border Police were quickly nicknamed the 'Green Berets' when the force began to patrol the l949-1967 border with Jordan - otherwise known as the Green Line. The monument was unveiled in 1980, and over the years an amphitheater, memorial room, impressive heritage museum, lecture hall and educational center have been developed at the Nahal I'ron site. Seminars and courses are held there for serving Border Policemen and women ('Magavnikim,' as they are known in Hebrew), and the site is run by a staff of border police conscripts with military historian Dr. Tal Misgav at the helm. Behind the complex is a well-tended picnic area with wooden benches and tables, and a number of retired police armored vehicles parked under the trees on permanent show. In a country where memorials are unfortunately all-too common, the Border Police's ohel yizkor - memorial corner - is very powerful indeed. One enters a darkened circular room. Suspended on a chain from the center of the ceiling, a metal bowl containing an eternal flame flickers rays of light eerily over the smiling or semi-serious images of the 436 casualties of war, acts of terror or who perished in the carnage of Israel's roads. Little space is left on the walls. "I wish I could think that those spaces will be eternally empty but I know that there is little likelihood of that being the case," sighed a sad-faced young border police guide. Three of the portraits are those of youngsters who were serving together at the memorial site, and who died together in October 2002 as they sat on a public bus blown up by a Palestinian terrorist on Route 65, the Wadi Ara highway. Staff Sergeants Aiman Sharuf and Liat Ben-Ami, together with Sergeant Esther Pisahov, had boarded the No. 841 Egged bus adjacent to the memorial, and as the bus was about to pull up at the next designated stop - Karkur junction - the terrorist struck. Driving an explosives-packed jeep, the suicide terrorist slammed into the bus, killing 14 people and injuring scores more. Sharuf was from the Druse village of Usfiya on the Carmel Mountain. Following a traffic accident injury he had been reassigned from Hebron, where he served for two years, to guard duty at the Border Police memorial and had only been there a short time. Ben-Ami and Pisahov had spent their last day compiling memorial dossiers on fallen comrades and arranging information sheets in one of the exhibition areas. Pointing to their photographs, the extremely knowledgeable guide mentions that they were all 20 years old - as is he. Entering a large room, one is confronted with a number of computers detailing every one of the fallen border police. Shelves taking up a whole wall are stacked with thick folders from floor to ceiling. On each folder is written a name and number. There are 436 of them. The young soldier-guide reaches up and pulls one out at random. The folder contains photographs, poems and newspaper articles about the fallen border police officer and records the 'incident' that took his life. A short time after Ben-Ami and Pisahov had been working on such scrapbooks; their uniformed colleagues from the memorial center were preparing dossiers in their memory. The Border Police's headquarters is situated in a former British Mandate period garrison, Mezudat Yesha, in the Upper Galilee which, like many others of its type, was built in the l930s according to the plans of British army engineer Sir Charles Taggart and is known as a 'Taggart fort.' "The Border Police setup is basically a system known in police forces around the world and referred to as gendarmerie," explains Dr. Misgav. "Border policemen are given the authority of 'regular' policemen, but carry out their duties in a way that is similar to army procedure." The museum presents the history of the Border Police from its very first days guarding borders and settlements, through the subsequent all-too-frequent wars and intifadas to present times. One section concentrates on the uniform changes over the years, another on certain battles or personalities from among the thousands who served with the Border Police. Display cases highlight the special anti-terror and patrol units, as well as the different units that comprise the force. Weapons from various eras are also on display, including the remnants of a Kassam rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Every year between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a memorial ceremony is held in the open air amphitheatre, where the names of all the fallen border police are engraved on one wall. Steps ascend to a small platform under the concrete monument's spire, from where it is possible to see across the country to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and the homes of Israelis living in Katzir atop the Amir mountain range on the other side of Route 65 in the east. Between the sea and Katzir one clearly sees the homes of Palestinians in the West Bank where some of the Jewish, Muslim, Beduin, Christian and Druse Green Berets fell in the line of duty, and are remembered at a monument within sight of the Green Line they were nicknamed after.