16 November 2005

The Smell of Fear


Originally published at the now defunct website,  Isralert.com
Copyrights © 2004, 2005, 2011, R. Kossover

Before I went on patrol Sunday night, 12 Sept 2004, I wrote a brief description of the first wedding on the Temple Mount to take place there in over 1,900 years. It had taken place on the previous Thursday. The Arabs were so enraged over it that they were practically threatening war. My last line in the description was, “I'll be on patrol tonight, watching for incoming.”

I never seem to learn not to crack wise. There was a massive demonstration down town against the planned expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif, the group of Jewish towns on the Mediterranean shore near Egypt. I was stationed far from the demonstration in a quiet duty post made even quieter by the fact that there were so many people down town.

After 2½ uneventful hours, several small trucks bearing policemen and heavily armed border patrolmen came hurtling down the road to our post. They exited their vehicles quickly and the commander called me over and outlined very quickly the situation. He explained that a terrorist was on the way in a certain vehicle and we were to keep watch. I was assigned to a bus shelter. I stood ready with the rifle, eyes peeled for the vehicle.

For the very first time in the two years that I’d been doing this, I was afraid. Questions gnawed at my mind. I’m not a war veteran or a member of the reserves, and had never faced a battle situation, which was what this had the potential of becoming. When should I shoot? Under what conditions? If a terrorist were to exit his car, should I cock the gun or no? Should I get pedestrians to lie down on the sidewalk in case firing broke out? No one gave me clear instructions and I had had no training for battle situations either.

So I clutched my rifle tight, finger hovering just near the trigger on the stock, as I’d been trained to do. I watched and waited. Minutes passed. Traffic passed by. The described vehicle did not pass by. I continued to watch and wait. I could practically smell my own fear. I certainly smelt my own sweat, even though it was a cool evening.

After a while, about half of the border patrolmen left. I was told nothing, but I could feel the tension ease in the other cops there. I stayed at the bus shelter because nobody had told me I could leave – one of those basic principles of soldiering, I guess. In spite of many years experience as a manager and take-charge type, I wanted no part of command. I knew I didn’t know enough. When it was time to leave and return to the base, I was very happy.

When we got back to the base, I turned in my arms, ammunition and equipment. That is a process in itself. Each item has to be accounted for. It took a little while. In the background I could hear the music and the speeches from the anti-expulsion demonstration, which was still going on. The music was prayerful. The speeches were, for the most part unclear. They reminded me of a politcal rally described in H. G. Wells’ story, “The Food of the Gods.” The speakers sounded like “wah – wah – wah!” But one speaker was very clear in his words. He said “Sharon bogéd, Sharon bogéd.” “Sharon is a traitor.”

I couldn’t help smiling. The truth was finally slithering out. I asked the night commander, ‘isn’t that incitement?’ knowing full well that it was. In addition, the speaker was breaking an Israeli law forbidding one to insult a civil servant.

The night commander just waved away my question dismissively. He had more important things to do. There were forms to be filled out before he could go home.I picked up a coupon allowing me to receive up to 50 shekels worth of “gift” at a special sale that ends on 15 September, my reimbursement for bus fair for the month of August and, after wishing everybody there a healthy and happy new year – the next Sunday night it would be the 5th day of the year 5765 on the Hebrew calendar – I headed out into a cool night. I was hungry and wanted a bite to eat.

At the corner of the Jaffa Road and Zion Square is a shop that sells French bread (which they call bagel). Usually, if I am hungry after patrol (and I have some money to spare), I go there and buy a veggie sandwich and cup of café hafúkh (with 1% milk instead of the normal 3%).

As I made my way down Jaffa Road from where the police station is, I could see the street had been closed off for the huge demonstration that was winding down. In most demonstrations where there is no violence, the folks in the crowd usually feel a high from having been with so many like minded individuals. So instead of making my way down a half deserted street with taxis and buses rushing by, I walked in the middle of the street crowded with the happy and smiling people. Most of them were young, young enough to be my sons or daughters, and they were, aside from being a little exuberant, very well behaved. Many of them had small “torch-lights” which they carried in their hands; some had draped themselves in the national flag of the country, which is modeled on the Tallit, the prayer shawl men wear in morning prayers.

The restaurant was crowded to capacity. I found a spot to sit with my sandwich and coffee, and enjoyed the food, the quiet in my mind contrasting with the noisy happy conversation of young men and women around me. I decided to walk up the Ben Yehuda Mall to King George V Street and then see how far I’d have to go to find a bus. It was a nice night for a walk, and I needed the exercise badly.

I ambled slowly up the Ben Yehuda Mall to its end, an uphill walk. There I turned left and slowly wandered down the middle of King George V Street. I asked a fellow cop where the street opened up to buses traveling out of the center of the city and he answered, “ein li muság,” “I have no clue.” So I kept walking down King George V Street, past the souvenir shops, past the bus stop on near haMa’alót Street. The street was still closed and it appeared that it would be for quite some bit. I soldiered on, answering questions from civilians every now and again as to where this hotel or that street was.

When I got to Rambán Street, I felt a strange prickling on the back of my neck. I progressed on to Rambám Street, from where the Prime Minister’s House could be accessed, and the street was blocked by a fence and a line of cops and Border Police. One of the Border Policemen was a big beefy type, with his arms folded, the kind you’d find as a bouncer at a biker’s bar. His face was just as friendly. He looked at me fixedly with a glare that was decidedly unfriendly. A word that I had not used in this context for nearly thirty years slid into my mind like an unwelcome guest, especially considering that I was wearing the blue uniform of an officer in the service of Mishtéret Yisraél, the Israel Police.


This was the word we used as demonstrators in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s to describe cops sent to suppress the demonstrations and “restore order.”The pigs were there.

That was the thought that went through my mind. But the emotion that I felt, the raising of the hair at the back of my neck, was fear. But it wasn’t my fear. It was the fear of the men looking at me from behind their barrier. I could feel their fear.I do not mean to impart the wrong impression. The men and women serving in the defense of this country – soldiers, Border Police or regular police – are not cowards. They are brave men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of Israel every day of the week, every day of the year. But these men were scared.

I passed this line by and decided to hang back and examine the phenomenon and try to understand: Why was the smell of fear in the air?

Understanding was not long in coming. Apparently, the torch-lights that the kids had been holding were part of a torch-light parade to the Prime Minister’s residence. One can imagine the warnings these men got of wild-eyed ideological settlers who would storm the Prime Minister’s residence. And here was this thin line of men facing a huge crowd of kids with torch-lights. The leftist media tried to underestimate the size of the crowd in the street so that the readers would dismiss the demonstration, but the men guarding Rambám Street were seeing the truth of the huge crowd that had come to express their feelings. Had the crowd broken forth in real anger, the righteous anger they are entitled to feel at the prospect of being uprooted from their homes, it would have been a disaster for these men.

It seems clear to me that this country is heading for a very pivotal internal confrontation. The fear I felt in the air that mid September evening was probably the very first dose of what is coming down the pike. We have a lot to pray for.

There needs to be peace and understanding within our people, particularly those of us Jews who live in this embattled vessel of our dreams and destiny.

Otherwise there will be a terrible price to pay. Every day I see it in the news reports of a government determined to uproot its own people from its rightful heritage. In these news report, too, there is the smell of fear.

Author's note: Since September 2004, when I wrote this, the expulsion has been carried out. The rending of the fabric of our society grows greater with each day. I can't look at soldiers and Border Patrolmen with the same respect I used to, after having seen what they did in Gaza and Northern Samaria, creating 10,000 homeless people out of settled farmers and tradesmen. Now, many of the young people I saw last September have pledged never to serve in an IDF that expels Jews from their homes. For them to serve, there will have to be a revolution in this country - a régime change of the most elemental type, one that rids us of the traitors at the top who presently ruin our country.


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