My bit part in the war on terror

From time to time, I have participated in what are termed 'special operations,' but tonight, things are different.

modiin night 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
modiin night 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was only about a year ago that Modi'in landed on the terror map. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) averted a plot by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to blow up a synagogue. The group, 12 of whom were arrested, had planned to carry out other attacks, including kidnapping an American citizen, and was headed by Ramzi Sharwana, who was familiar with the area because he had been employed at a building site across the road. Contractors frequently use Palestinian laborers like Sharwana, who lacked a permit to work within the Green Line. Modern Modi'in is built on the site of an ancient city of the same name that played a prominent role in the Hanukka legend, as the place where the Maccabees rose up and defeated the Syrian Greek army. This past January, Modi'in witnessed another miracle - a local resident survived after being stabbed in the neck while walking her four-year-old daughter to nursery school. Her attacker - like Sharwana - was an Arab laborer without a work permit. Modi'in Mayor Moshe Spector frequently touts his city as the fastest one being built (in terms of housing units) in the world, after Las Vegas. Residents joke that Modi'in has its own city bird (the crane) and song ("I've Been Working on the Railroad"). Modi'in is the first and only completely planned city in Israel and is slated to become its fourth largest, with a projected population of 250,000. The constant growth creates a constant demand for unskilled labor. And terror groups affiliated with Fatah, Hamas, or an alphabet soup of other organizations recruit the laborers to gather intelligence or possibly carry out attacks. Contractors claim they have to use Palestinian and foreign laborers, and some turn a blind eye to the use of illegal workers. The fact that Palestinians from the West Bank who do have permits to work inside the Green Line are restricted to working during the day, as well as the time-consuming process of crossing checkpoints - and the expense - of commuting from places like Jenin and Hebron, prompts many to try and squat in the building projects during the work week. There is a common saying that all politics is local. The same can be said for the war on terror. While leaders from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States, Egypt and a host of other countries pontificate on "shelf agreements" and so-called "truces," local security forces are left to address the facts on the ground. The Israel Police, in addition to preventing crime, are also responsible for security within the Green Line. The police are understaffed and have one of the lowest ratios of police-to-citizens in the Western world. The police, who have recently reported difficulty in both recruiting and retaining new officers, is supplemented by over 70,000 volunteers. Since moving to Israel from Baltimore almost four years ago, I have served as a volunteer police officer. When I applied, the police appreciated that I had "experience," because I had volunteered with the Northwest Citizens Patrol (NWCP) in Baltimore. However, as a member of the NWCP, I didn't drive a patrol car, carry handcuffs, and - least of all - carry a semi-automatic rifle. Modi'in lacks a home for its police force. Our "police station" consists of a series of trailers that have been converted into office and storage space. It is here, on a comfortable summer's night, that I find myself and a couple of other paunchy, balding volunteers gathered with a team from the police's elite Yasam anti-terror unit and a large number of undercover cops. From time to time, I have participated in what are termed "special operations," but tonight, things are different. I have never been involved in an operation with the Yasam anti-terror unit, and the atmosphere is far more serious and professional than usual. We drink some form of coffee out of plastic cups while waiting to be briefed. Despite the ongoing peace talks, security forces continue to receive many warnings of possible terror attacks. The Yasam team's presence indicates that someone has determined that there is a need for a little more firepower and experience than the usual police officers and volunteers who periodically raid illegal workers' squats can boast. We volunteers are told that our role will be strictly supportive. After our briefing, the Yasam team suits up. They are an impressive and intimidating bunch. I certainly wouldn't want to get woken up by them in the middle of the night. When the appointed time comes, close to midnight, we rush to our cars and we depart for a rendezvous point, from which we will proceed to our target. I drive the patrol car and we're last in a line of vehicles. The adrenaline begins to pump as we set off for our target. It is just a minute or so until we get to the building, jump out of our vehicles and throw magazines into our weapons. We take a perimeter position and shine our flashlights, looking for illegal workers. We watch and wait as the anti-terror team methodically enters the building and does its work. A hush settles over the area, interrupted by the periodic crackle of our radios. One of the other volunteers becomes frustrated - he has stayed up late, and so far it doesn't appear that we will accomplish anything. He curses the police for their faulty intelligence and wasting his time. The crackle of the radio summons us into the building. The Yasam team has found a large number of illegal workers. We assist in some additional searches, and then it's time to bring everyone back to the station, where the illegal laborers are locked up and await questioning. The anti-terror team packs up and heads off for another mission. The volunteers head for bed. Security concerns prevent me from providing more specific information, but our bit part in the war on terror is over for now. The police officers are headed for another long night trying to catch some car thieves. There is a baffling disconnect between those who tell the Israeli people that we have a "partner" in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA itself, which has stolen and siphoned billions of dollars in aid money intended to improve its citizens' quality of life. The PA could have invested in its own infrastructure, which would have provided much-needed jobs. The PA could have abided by the agreements under which they were supposed to rid their education system of hate. Until Israel has a true partner, our security forces will have to remain ever vigilant, because we cannot rely on miracles to protect us.