If my story through the eyes of the Israeli people and especially the first responders has a real meaning and theme over the last Decade, it is surely one of silence, one of heroism, one of patience, one of pain and ongoing suffering but most of all one of resilience.
Unlike the United States, who hailed the spirit on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 in a manner that only the United States can do, honoring the fallen and the heroes of that tragic day etched forever in my memory. No one in Israel, officially, has revisited the people who were first responders. No one has undertaken to step forward and acknowledge my dedicated fellow professionals and simply thank them for giving up so much.
Remembering Ten Years of carnage, chaos and hell while providing my testimony of One Hundred and Thirty One terror attacks that took place in Israel in One Short Year. Yes, just One Year, is probably the only way I can ever give something back.
Where almost five hundred innocent lives were lost. Where thousands were injured never to be able to enjoy some of the simple things in life. Where shock and trauma set in and slowly but surely, like a cancer, destroyed so many people; in some cases only to be discovered ten years later. Where the survivors and families of those murdered or injured by ruthless cowardly killers, strapping bombs to themselves with shrapnel that certainly meant suffering with excruciating pain through extended periods of time. Where the survivors of these inhumane terrorist attacks that targeted innocent people jump at the sound of a siren or a car backfire. Where all I can offer to inspire my fellow first responders is a simple memory and a simple hug of affection.
Just like the heroic first responders of Ground Zero defined what it means to meet adversity, and then overcome it. Our first responders, here in Israel, relentlessly meet the same adversity over and over again and we have to overcome it again and again and again, and I ask why?
My behind-the-headlines and personal account of a simple Israeli policeman’s experiences tackling brutal suicide terrorism, violent crime and delinquency is one that has not been heard or made public before.
A very ordinary, human approach permeates my real life account of extraordinary and highly unsettling events; but hidden deep within, the agony, stored inside me like a massive archive of data, needs to be released and told.
My life is not just one of facts and headlines that were too often taken out of context by an unethical code that some of the worlds journalist chose to abide by. I also quietly share, for the first time, my struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (that I stubbornly refused to accept until recently) and by a silent battle, I have with myself and to an extent with my family, both immediate and extended, to ultimately rid myself of this now obvious condition.
I want to allow people everywhere to understand the daily struggles and dilemmas I faced while serving as a first responder, to learn of the solutions I helped formulate to these issues, and to gain a personal perspective on events that are often simplified, to say the least, in international news reports.
As an intelligence detective and then commander of the Tourist Police Unit in Netanya during the height of the wave of suicide bomb attacks on a city that is on a par to any major tourist vacation in the world, I have no doubt served on the frontlines against carnage and terrorism for many years.
Ironically, before that, I worked amongst and got to know the psyche of the Palestinian inmates convicted of terrorism charges while serving at maximum security military facilities during my compulsory military service and most of my reserve duty.
My life story should have a broad, universal appeal to all who are curious to catch a glimpse through the eyes of one Israeli policeman’s personal perspective while serving in one of the more volatile regions in the world, where the media and press are ever present, mostly for all of the wrong reasons. Where a cop is bound by a code of silence and the typical Israeli “macho” stigma places a massive role in the respecting of this unwritten code which forbids even a hint of self expression.
As a person, I certainly must be a universal theme of resilience, trauma, recovery, history and hope. I start and finish my day by scanning the global news to see where there has been another deadly terror attack. I deplore hearing when these events occur, no matter where they may be, but still I seek the news, just like I spent a year in 2002 with the police radio so close to my ear; not wanting to miss the suspect or the suspicious object, trying to thwart the next blast, the next attack and more terror, more blood.
I somehow find myself in the epicenter of terror attacks and even though I retired close to six years ago, last Monday put me back on the job while hosting law enforcement officials and a film crew from the United States. Again I witnessed yet another terror attack, not in the form of a homicide bombing but this time in the form of an attempted lynching of two elderly Jewish men in a very hostile area close to the Old City of Jerusalem. The vehicle they were travelling in was bombarded with rocks and bricks and by a miracle only, their lives were spared. Again the blood stained clothes and fear in these innocent faces looked at me in the eye, but I refuse to give in or give up.
I spent almost Seven years in the front line of a war of terror, I witnessed Palestinian suicide bombers launch one bloody bombing after another. Witnessing the horrors of these cowardly attacks over and over again certainly takes its toll and after either being present at or responding to sixteen of these attacks, I relentlessly searched for anyone who was even remotely part of this terror campaign as a priority of my policing duties. I made hundreds of arrests of potential terrorist suspects. At times I was successful but mostly these terrorists sowed carnage and death on all of those around me. My own family became secondary and sleep was deprived of me as the battle to prevent another attack was constant.
I watched those that worked with me or those that I worked with in the civilian sector lose loved ones to these insane acts of horror. I watched people’s lives shatter and become worthless after they were either mentally or physically maimed. I saw the pain and the suffering. I suffered then and I suffer today; certainly even more so today but at least in an open manner. I allow myself to ponder, ever so deep, over how these attacks could have been prevented and thwarted and if they could have been.
I am not sure what the statistics are on how many people face death in their lives by a suicide bombing, but I am sure that I am a statistic in my own right.
I have been present and active in sixteen terrorist attacks. I have responded to over fifty. I have spent many hours blocking roads so that terror could be contained and thwarted. I have spent many hours backing up fellow police officers in the Old City of Jerusalem, protecting this ancient, historic and religious city which means so much to so many.
I have almost been physically injured or possibly killed by at least a few of these attacks, and I have faced my own mortality more times than I care to remember, yet I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I never dared to speak. In every such attack, I saw blood and carnage in ways that are hard to imagine and describe. I recognized people I knew, that were killed, burnt and injured in the bombing scenes. And I left these scenes with a heavy load on my chest. But I kept it to myself.
It was my wife who alerted me to my simmering post-traumatic stress disorder. I never noticed it myself. As the bombs continued and the carnage scenes mounted, I spent up to 20 hours a day at work. I’d come home, take my shoes off, lie on the couch for three to four hours, and leave the police radio on next to my ear, on alert for the next blast.
Gradually, nothing else seemed to matter. I missed bringing up my kids, I missed out on the best years. Once upon a time I was an avid red meat eater – a relic of my South African origins. I stopped eating meat for months after the attacks of 2002. It reminded me of the bombing scenes. It still does at times. The smell lingers as does the taste in my mouth.
Today, I teach and train those that want to learn, those that want to understand, those that are aware and most importantly, those that know complacency can kill.
This article specially written for Law Enforcement Today is dedicated to first responders. Together we will remember.
(click on this link to view a short video) http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Article by Marc Kahlberg: CEO MK ISC
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