Learning your lesson

Posted: March 16, 2010 by Jonathan Boyko in Israel, Israeli Palestinians, Own Articles, Palestinians, Various

IT TOOK THEM years – quite a few years, in fact – but they finally did. Israeli police force officers finally understood using high volumes of violence against as high violence might work short-term, but causes political harm in the long term. While in the past Israeli riot police extensively used rubber bullets – which can cause great harm in extreme cases – nowadays you will rarely see the masked officers using this tool. Officers do their best to keep distance, assaulting in rare instances when violence reaches critical levels.

The new tactic – implemented only in past year and a half – is no doubt the result of sweeping changes – in both political and operational branches of the police force. The arrival of Yitzhak Aharonovich – former deputy police Chief and former Commander of the Border Guard unit – brought a new operational era, with explicit orders for the police units to control use of force. Together with current police Chief – Dudi Cohen – Aharonovich revamped the strategy and tactics for riot dispersal.

First and foremost, the strategy bases on riot police heavily outweighing the rioters in numbers. While in the past usually several hundred policemen participated in riot-dispersal measures, currently there are nearly 3,000 police men, women and officers. Cohen’s men can be found all over the dangerous areas, from the Temple Mount to Shuaffat neighborhood. Riot police, border guards and even some IDF soldiers stand by, closing off troublesome areas.

Secondly, the riot units changed the way they operate against the rioters. As I mentioned above, rubber bullets gave way to less violent means, such as CS gas canisters, flash grenades heavier armor, protecting the officers. Nowadays, police prefers less contact with the rioters, which seems to work fairly well. The pictures you see on TV are way less "exciting" than previously. Officers carrying "silenced" weapons (actually rubber bullets dispensers) are scarcely visible now, and the protests are much less violent than previously seen. While some reporters – particularly based in Middle Eastern countries – constantly attempt to spread the hype of non-existent "popular uprising", the picture on the streets of Jerusalem is quite different.

Partially, relatively few cases of violence are result of low attendance levels among protesters. While dozens of thousands participated in October 2000 riots, mere hundreds were actually violently participating, with many taking the post of bystanders. While some public figures – such as Hamas’ Ismayil Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal – outdid themselves trying to add fuel to the fire, their efforts mostly went unanswered. While Hamas activists – few in numbers in Fatah-controlled West Bank – fought the police, most Fatah supporters chose to stay home or go to work.

The restraint comes with a price, however. Unlike the past, Israeli Police sees increase in injured officers; today (March 16) 14 officers received physical injuries, versus 33 Palestinians. Yet, the government sees political gain worth the physical injury.

The new strategy might be put to the test soon. If riots increase in volumes, officers would find it harder to use restrained force against thousands of violent rioters, using everything from stones, concrete blocks and Molotov cocktails. That would be the real test for the men and women under fire.

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