By Seth Daniel
As Police Chief Joe Cafarelli approached a border wall in Israel earlier this month, on the Israeli side there was high security and a typical border situation.
The walls of the fence were clean and whitewashed, barbed wire running over the top.
On the Palestinian side, however, it was a different tale.
The wall was lined with graffiti.
Most of it was in praise of “martyrs,” with one particular panel depicting a woman with an automatic rifle who was smiling while apparently ready to die for her cause.
It was a tell tale situation for how two very different points of view exist in the same place with extreme tensions that are ready to potentially boil over at any time – and how it is that the Israeli National Police Force handle the daily policing of a place that could, and sometimes does, erupt into disorder at any moment.
It was just that for which Cafarelli and an envoy of other Greater Boston officials – including DA Dan Conley and Sheriff Steve Tompkins – went to Israel to observe through an invitation-only program with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of Boston.
Cafarelli was gone from Jan. 24 to Feb. 2 and was able to observe both the Israeli side of the police operations, and also the Palestinian Authority side of the operations – with both working cooperatively together despite the differences in viewpoint.
In particular, Cafarelli said one thing that stuck with him was how police in Israel deal with the idea of constantly being under a major threat – to be able to live a normal life with the stress of constant vigilance hanging over their heads.
“I was able to speak with the Israeli police commander who is in charge of the Holy sites,” he said. “That’s a guy who goes to work with a potential international incident that could happen on every shift. That’s one thing I brought back with me. He is a guy who does his day-to-day work with the possibility of an international incident at any moment. That’s tough, but they do it every day.”
DA Dan Conley said the trip was a great way to exchange information with their local colleagues, and international colleagues.
“The ADL facilitated this trip for law enforcement officials, and we exchanged a great number of successful ideas, initiatives, and strategies with our Israeli counterparts,” he said. “But the benefits go well beyond the criminal justice system. Any time you immerse yourself in a new culture, you get a better view of your own. It was a learning experience on many levels, and I’m so grateful to our hosts for the opportunity.”
Robert Trestan, the ADL regional director, said the Israeli counterterrorism trip has been happening since 2001, but the Boston area has been taking the trip since 2008. The exchange helps American law enforcement learn about the challenges Israel faces, and it also helps the Israeli police learn about how law enforcement works in the U.S.
“There are things they can learn from us as well,” he said. “They are very interested in learning about how we do community policing. In Jerusalem, the three major religions all converge. You have people of three faiths living together side-by-side. There is tension between some of the Holy Sites…It’s a tinderbox. A very small thing could become an international conflict very quickly. The police there are focused 24/7 on providing a very high level of service that allows people to practice their faith without it spilling over into a confrontation.”
Cafarelli said he was able to see security in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and even at the Lebanon/Syria border – a place he served many years ago as a U.S. Marine.
Through it all, he agreed that religion in that part of the world is much more serious. It almost permeates the land, he said, making it easy to see how necessary it is for law enforcement to always be on guard.
“Religion is a part of this,” he said. “I’m a religious person, but it seems that religion takes on a whole new level of seriousness. You can feel it. You can see why religious fervor translates into acts of violence. It’s palpable and almost like it’s in the air you breathe. It’s really electric.”
Bringing things back to Revere, Cafarelli said he related a lot to how young people are used in religious violence over there, just as they are for gang violence over here.
“One similarity I saw between the U.S. and Israel is it seems as if there’s a disenfranchised youth that provide the pool that’s drawn from for carrying out these terrorist acts,” he said. “You can correlate that with some of the gang problems. You have disenfranchised youth that are ripe for the picking here. They’re not going to commit jihad, but it is similar to what we deal with.”
And, Cafarelli said, he has found a friend in the ADL for Revere.
“They are an ally,” he said. “That’s someone I can bring on in future situations when hate crimes might happen. They deal with all hate crime, not just Anti-Semitism. We will work more with them.”