Friday, August 29, 2008

WRAP -- Gilad Schalit and Little Rose

Police Blues

Aug. 26, 2008

Lurid details are now emerging about the murder of four-year-old Rose Ron - allegedly by her grandfather, with the complicity of her mother (the two were married). Police suspect Rose's body was placed in a suitcase and dumped in the Yarkon River.

Since the story of her disappearance first broke on Sunday and her haunting portrait seared itself into the public consciousness, we all feared something evil had happened to her. Now we know it did.

Meanwhile, two alleged organized crime figures, brothers Itzik and Meir Abergil, are facing extradition to the United States over their reputed involvement in the 2003 murder of an Israeli drug dealer in Los Angeles. Their syndicate is also reportedly implicated in the botched mob hit on a Bat Yam beach last month that saw an innocent bystander, Marguerita Lautin, shot dead in front of her children and husband.

Chaim Nachman Bialik, the legendary Hebrew poet, was said to have coined the Zionist credo: "When the first Jewish prostitute is arrested by the first Jewish policeman and sentenced by the first Jewish judge, we can consider ourselves a sovereign state."

Israel has achieved this, and more.

Protecting law-abiding citizens from evil and the criminal falls mostly to the guardians of civilized society, the police. Yet as the Post has been reporting since Monday, the police itself is under criticism: Key field assignments, set to take effect next year, have apparently been made on the basis of cronyism. Even the appearance of favoritism, let alone the reality, shakes the already wobbly faith of Israelis in their political and legal systems.

WHEN ISRAEL'S top cop, Insp.-Gen. David Cohen, decided to transfer his number two, Deputy Insp.-Gen. Shahar Ayalon, to the post of Tel Aviv police chief and replace him with the current head of the Tel Aviv district, Cmdr. Ilan Franco, he created at least the appearance of impropriety, casting himself and Avi Dichter the minister for internal security, in a dismal light.

Franco would be positioned to replace Cohen as Israel's top cop, even though a 2007 panel headed by former District Court Judge Vardi Zeiler specifically recommended against giving Franco the country's top police post. The Zeiler Committee was set up to examine the police command's questionable handling of suspicions that a rogue cop had maintained ties with underworld figures Oded and Sharon Perinian.

Besides his plan to promote Franco, Cohen also embarked on a series of appointments intended to help old friends (Dep.-Cmdr. Jackie Bray and Cmdr. Shai Amihai, for instance) and hinder those who aren't - specifically, Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, a reform-minded manager credited with a huge drop in crime in the southern district.

Rather than advance him through the ranks, Cohen allowed personal animosities to rule and ordered Bar-Lev to take paid educational leave. Bar-Lev, a decorated veteran of an elite IDF unit, already holds two undergraduate degrees and refused to waste public funds on unnecessary study or be put out to pasture. Cohen then released a bogus statement announcing that Bar-Lev had decided to quit, to which Bar-Lev responded: "I have no plans to resign for the next 10 years."

Bar-Lev is precisely the kind of policeman a good boss should be nurturing, and a chorus of universal outrage has rightly erupted over Cohen's abysmal treatment of him, and Dichter's failure to date to decisively rectify it.

CAN A force plagued by a lack of professionalism and a leadership vacuum afford to lose a commander of Bar-Lev's caliber? And for what? To make room for more of the commissioner's good ole' boys?

Israelis cannot help but wonder how we got saddled with the apparently mendacious Cohen and, in Dichter, a minister who seems more concerned with respecting "the organizational culture" of the police than its effectiveness.

This episode is not only about an honest, dedicated and charismatic cop being unwarrantedly shunted aside, but, most fundamentally, about a law enforcement organization begging for upstanding leadership, adequate resources and competent ministerial oversight - and, so far anyway, getting none of these.

The buck stops with Dichter, a former Shin Bet head and now a candidate for Kadima's leadership. The minister of internal security, who appointed Cohen to the commissioner's job, is failing the public, and should get a grip or hand over to someone who can.

'Unparalleled cruelty'
Aug. 26, 2008

There are an estimated 8,500 Palestinian Arab prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza in Israeli custody. Over 5,000 of them are serving out sentences; 2,300 are awaiting trial, the remainder are in administrative detention.

No one would suggest that Israeli prisons are fun places. Each inmate has loved ones who presumably miss them dearly. That said, the incarcerated are menacing figures in the Palestinian "resistance," many having planned, executed or enabled attacks aimed at murdering or maiming Israelis in buses, cafes, nightclubs and hotel banquet rooms.

Recently, prisoners in a high-security wing of the Sharon penitentiary - killers mostly - complained to a visiting delegation from the Israel Bar Association of mistreatment: stuffy rooms, poor lighting and such. A more serious allegation, which requires a response from Prison Services Commissioner Lt-Gen. Benny Kaniak, is that members of the elite Nachshon Unit have used dogs to "humiliate" the inmates.

The lawyers also questioned the continued incarceration of Mahmoud Azan, who reached Israel from Afghanistan and has been held in administrative detention for 10 years. Israel is reportedly prepared to deport Azan, but no country will have him. Bar Association chair Yuri Guy-Ron declared that the lawyers' subsequent report shows the importance of "having objective professional representatives of the bar continuing to visit prisons in order to view prison conditions."

It certainly does. Which is why we are gratified that, on any given day, Israeli prisons are hosting Red Cross representatives, journalists, lawyers and prisoners' advocates, as well as family members. Prisoners are even permitted conjugal visits.

WITH THESE thousands of prisoners in Israeli custody, Palestinian society cannot fathom - yet is delighted to exploit - Israelis' fretting over Gilad Schalit, their lone Israeli prisoner, who will mark his third birthday in captivity this Thursday.

Putting aside the fact that Schalit is not a terrorist but a simple soldier who was guarding sovereign Israeli soil when he was abducted on June 25, 2006; and that he had done no Arab any harm, probably never having fired his weapon except in training, the biggest distinction between him and the thousands of Arab prisoners Israel holds is that not one of them would want to switch places with the Israeli captive for even a day.

Why? The IDF soldier - who under international law should be treated as a POW - is not allowed to see Red Cross representatives or consular officials (Schalit also holds French citizenship). Hamas boasts that he is not permitted to exercise in the sunshine. Not only are his parents forbidden to visit him, only rarely has even a letter or video reached them - and any that did were intended to serve the enemy propaganda machine.

Insight into the heartless environment in which Schalit is being held can be gleaned from the popularity of a mock recording of the soldier's mother addressing her son. Gazans by the thousands have downloaded the sound file onto mobile phones and computers.

Yesterday, meanwhile, Israel released 198 long-serving Palestinian prisoners, including several killers, in a misguided gesture intended to boost PA President Mahmoud Abbas's standing among his people.

Abbas could have used a Ramallah ceremony welcoming the men to talk about reconciliation; to say that the sooner the 60-year-plus war against the Zionist enterprise was halted and a two-state solution accepted by the Arabs, the sooner many more prisoners would be released. He could have mentioned Schalit, if only on humanitarian grounds.

Instead Abbas told the crowd: "We will not rest until [all] the prisoners are freed and the jails are empty," specifically citing Marwan Barghouti, serving five consecutive life terms for murder; Ahmed Saadat, imprisoned for the assassination of cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi; and Aziz Duaik, a Hamas politician taken into custody in response to Schalit's abduction.

It is sobering to remind ourselves that Abbas reflects the most moderate of Palestinian opinion.

Writing in Yediot Aharonot on Monday, novelist and playwright Yoram Kaniuk, a government critic who has long expressed compassion for Palestinian suffering, did what Abbas should have done. He urged ordinary Palestinians to call for better treatment of Schalit, and say: "Keeping a young person imprisoned without trial, without his parents being able to visit him, is unparalleled cruelty."

It is.

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