My bit part in the war on terror

There is a common saying that all politics is local. The same can be said for the war on terror.

It was only about a year ago that Modi'in, a city of some 70,000 residents, landed on the terror map. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) uncovered and averted a plot to blow up a synagogue there by a group of Hebron-based terrorists, who had planned to carry out other attacks including kidnapping an American citizen. The terror cell had been 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 Arab laborers like Sharwana, who lack a permit to work within the Green Line. Modi'in municipal boundaries lie just within this line. Mayor Moshe Spector frequently touts Modi'in as the fastest city 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, unlike cities that do not even have one train station, boasts two. Another major milestone occurred recently with the opening of a huge mall that houses 130 retail stores, eateries and a movie theater. 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. To feed this insatiable need for growth there is a constant demand for unskilled labor. Contractors claim they have to use Arab and foreign labor because Jews will not work for the salaries that they pay. They turn a blind eye to the use of illegal workers because of an acute shortage of legal workers. Arab workers from the Palestinian territories who are permitted to work within the Green Line have permits that restrict their presence to daylight hours. However, due to the lengthy process of crossing checkpoints day-in and day-out and the expense in commuting from places like Jenin and Hebron, they try to stay near the construction sites during the course of the work week. This past January, a Modi'in resident was stabbed in the neck while walking her four-year-old daughter to nursery school. The attacker, who like Sharwana was an Arab laborer without a work permit, came within less than an inch of ending this mother's life. Terror groups recruit or use such laborers to gather intelligence or to carry out attacks. There is a common saying that all politics is local. The same can be said for the war on terror. While various leaders pontificate on "shelf agreements" and so called truces, it is the local security forces that are left to face the "facts on the ground." The Israel Police, in addition to its role in crime prevention, is also responsible for security within the Green Line. There is arguably no other police force in the world that is tasked with as much of a duty in not only preventing terror attacks but also fighting crime. The Israel Police is undermanned and has one of the lowest police-to-citizen ratios in the Western world. The police force is supplemented by thousands of volunteers, many of whom have varying degrees of police powers while on duty. Since moving to Israel almost four years ago from Baltimore, 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. The Modi'in 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 members of the SWAT team 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 SWAT team 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 on our mission. Despite the various peace talks that are going on, there continue to be many warnings about possible terror attacks. The presence of the SWAT team indicates that someone has determined that there is a need for a little bit more firepower and experience than the usual group of police officers and volunteers who periodically raid sites where illegal workers tend to spend the night. We are told that our role will be strictly supportive. After our briefing, the SWAT team suits up in their gear. They are an impressive and intimidating looking bunch. I certainly wouldn't want to get woken up by them in the middle of the night. The actual mission will not last long and we should be finished within an hour or so. We spend far more time waiting around than we do in the field carrying out our mission. When the appointed time comes, close to midnight, we rush to our cars and depart for a rendezvous point from which we will then 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 and 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 SWAT team methodically enters the building and does their work. There is a hush that settles over the area interrupted by the periodic crackle of our radios. One of the other volunteers becomes frustrated as 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 SWAT team has found a large number of illegal workers. We assist in doing some additional searches and then it is time to bring everyone back to the station. The illegal laborers are locked up and wait to be questioned. The SWAT team packs up and heads off for another mission. The police officers brace for yet another long night trying to catch some car thieves. The volunteers head for bed. Our bit part in the war on terror is over for now.