Monday, February 11, 2008

The Border

Day 3

Feb. 11, 2008
Today was tough; I’m still not fully acclimated to the time change, probably because I write this blog so late in the evening. I woke up so late that I barely had enough time to eat a basic breakfast before the mornings first session. Today was as granular as we have gotten since I have been in Israel. I hit the streets as one part student and one part tourist.

That’s right today was a sight seeing tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. Don’t get me wrong here I’m still working and besides we experienced sights that are left off the traditional packages that most people see when they come here. For starters, how many guided tours bring along an armed (M-16, yes with dark black sunglasses) former Israeli Intelligence office now civilian? My guess is not too many. But then again not many tours are brave enough to bring you right to the border with Palestine. Well that’s where we began. Our guide for the day was none other than a retired Major General with the Israeli Army.

Security Detail - These Guys Are Big!!
I'm on the right @ 5'11"
After passing by the headquarters of the United Nations, situated right in the middle of the conflict zone, we made our way to southern border of Israel and Palestine. It is here that a new source of controversy has ignited and tensions are high. The reason is that this is the center of the newly erected Security Fence.

Suddenly, upon arrival all eyes faced me. Then the barrage of questions came. Hey, didn’t you guys build something just like this on your border with Mexico? How is everyone taking it? Do you think it will work? Whoa! Slow down guys, were not at war with Mexico. Besides we haven't built anything. Well didn’t Mexico once own Texas? Yes.  Aren’t they still mad? No. So why are you building your wall? Hey, hold on guys we’re in Israel, let’s stick to where we are for now. If you want, you can all come to Houston (our treat) and take a field trip down to the border when we build our wall, I’ll explain everything to you then.

Back to the wall… It’s massive and stretches for miles and miles. They don’t really like to call it a wall over here; it’s really a security fence. Take it from me, from what I saw that description is an understatement. However, I am assured that in some places it really is only a fence.

When you build something this massive and you do it with a specific purpose of stopping terrorism, the natural question is….you guessed it, does it work? The answer is yes it works. There is a direct correlation with the building of the wall and a dramatic reduction in suicide bombings over the past couple of years. This has allowed Israel to focus their efforts on terrorist attacks coming from other areas or using other means. The other area is the Gaza Strip and the other means are the use of rockets. If that doesn’t seem much of a trade off think again. The number of deaths from attacks has dropped by the hundreds to now in the single digits, not including the terrorists who are killed in retaliation or from the attack itself.

But this doesn’t mean that the fence is with out controversy. If you learn anything while over here you quickly learn that every action is controversial. The Israeli’s don’t view the Palestinians as enemies, at least not all of them. In fact, the majority aren’t. Think of it this way, it’s no different from you building a fence around your facility to keep the bad guys out. The society around you, in general, is not your enemy and if they want to come they are welcome to do so at your controlled entrances. It’s no different here. At one of the entrances I saw business people and teenagers a like coming and going quite freely. But to some separation is deprivation and you will always have a hard time convincing them of your reasons.

I don’t have time to give a history lesson in this blog, so I encourage you to do some research on your own. Of course the best way to learn about this land is to come on over and experience it for yourself. This place is fascinating. I hope you can tell from all my pictures, if I can every get them to post (tomorrow, I promise).

Following yet another first rate lunch we began our approach to the Old City. It is home to over 40,000 people all crammed together in 1 square kilometer. It is here that the Christian, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim people all mixed together. You may think this is strange that people who have trouble getting along would all gather in one place (again no history lessons) but the reason is simple, they all lay claim to the same historical landmarks, and that my friends creates tensions.

It’s not for any of us to decide why; that will take many centuries more. However, it is the responsibility of law enforcement to protect one of the world’s most sacred and politically sensitive sites, and boy-o-boy this one is tough. That privilege falls to the local police. After a security check we were given a very comprehensive presentation with a follow-up tour of one of the most serious command centers I have seen, outside the one at Infrastruct Security that is. Here, they view, live, over 300 PTZ cameras, covering every path within the city. Every movement of every person can be traced and researched later for prosecution. This is where most of the sight seeing and praying takes place.

A word from the wise, don’t buy here in the Old City unless you are prepared to negotiate. That’s right I am the word from the wise. I needed to use my strongest negotiating skills to talk a peddler down from 15 Shekels to 5 Shekels for….you guessed it gang, a diet coke. If you remember, there are about 3.5 Shekels to the Dollar. Starting price $4.00, final price $1.40. Not bad, but it took 5 minutes I’ll never get back.

Many sites later and very tired feet we returned to the King David Hotel for a short rest before a late evening open and optional session. Optional meaning that you did not need to attend if you didn’t want to. Well, I’m in Israel what else do I have to do? So, I decided to go. I’m glad I did. We had a guest speaker join us in a tight circle as he began to recant his first hand account of a confrontation with a suicide bomber.

While working as a bouncer in a nite club in Tel Aviv he was right in the middle of a showdown with a person he had refused at the door. Well that person then rushed him and tried to force them both through the door of the club. Our guest pushed back and managed to get him near the street just as the person detonated the bomb strapped to his back. 3 people died including the terrorist. Somehow our friend did not. They say the reason is because the bomb was positioned in a way that the blast was directed in another direction. Whatever the reason he is alive today to serve as a first hand witness to the horrors and the effects of a suicide bomber. I don’t have it now, but there is a link on youtube to a camera that caught the whole thing. Not sure I even want to see it but I will post the link when I get it.

After reading this post you might find it interesting to know that I am an even bigger ‘believer.' This knid of statement can have significant meaning to the person who makes the claim. What does it mean to me? Good question, to be a believer I had to have my perspective brought into better focus. After all I am on a security tour.  And this unique insight confirms long held beliefs in the power of security and the power of the higher goals of the company I work for. While I'm on assignment you are welcome to call our CEO direct for a full explanation of what those higher goals are.  

As for me well, I'm going to bed ~ Shalom until tomorrow. 

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