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JINSA Homeland Security Program in the San Diego Jewish World

Former Jerusalem police commander tells of hard decisions involving suicide bombings
By Donald H. Harrison - San Diego Jewish World

Members of local law enforcement, always concerned about the possibility of terrorism, are meeting on Tuesday with Israeli experts on the subject at a one-day conference sponsored jointly by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
One of the featured speakers is Mickey Levy, a member of the Israeli Knesset who served from 2000 to 2003 as commander in Jerusalem of the Israeli Police during the height of the Second Intifada. Along with Steve Pomerantz, former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who now directs JINSA’s programming on counter-terrorism, Levy met with San Diego Jewish World in the offices of Charles Wax, whose late father Morris had been a longtime national JINSA board member. Pomerantz will serve as a moderator at the daylong JINSA conference.

Levy shared three anecdotes of his experiences battling suicide bombers, including one in which he continued to work on the scene of a suicide bombing even though at the time he was experiencing a heart attack.

In that terror attack, he said, he was at his desk when a large explosion shook his office. It turned out that the first female suicide bomber, who originally had planned to go into a restaurant, instead detonated herself on the street, killing one person and injuring 32 others.

Levy said as he ran out to assess the damage on nearby Jaffa Street, “it was unbelievable, like someone had put a nuclear bomb in the middle of the street. Everything was destroyed; signs, windows. Unbelievable, it was a mess. So I said to myself. ‘Oh my God, maybe there were 100 people killed today. I can’t explain to the people of Jerusalem that it is happening again and again. I would like to die — that’s it!’ That is what I was saying to myself, and after a few steps I felt like somebody hit me. I looked around me. Nobody was there. After a few steps, I felt so bad and I understood it was a heart attack.

“I looked up to the sky and I said to the sky (HaShem) ‘Do me a favor. Give me 25 minutes to do my job! That is what I need!'” Levy recalled. “I felt so bad. It was a lot of pressure in this area (his chest). I felt so bad, but I gave the orders to do this and to do that, and we took the injured people to the hospital, and at the end, I thought what should I do now. I have to give the interviews (on-camera briefings) to the Israeli journalists and the television — they are waiting for me, and wouldn’t accept anyone but me. I have a picture if you look at my face it’s like the white house — white, white, white — it was unbelievable. I felt so bad, this bottle of water in my hand, but I gave the interview. Then I said to my driver, ‘Eddie, where is the police ambulance?’ but there was no ambulance there. ‘Where’s my police vehicle?’ It was fifty meters from there. I said ‘Take me to the hospital.’ So when he went to get the vehicle, he saw the police doctor and told him to check the commander. I said ‘Doctor, I had a heart attack’ and they took me immediately to the hospital.”

Levy said he made sure he was driven without sirens or lights, so as not to call attention to his condition. He didn’t want those who had planned the suicide bombing to congratulate themselves for taking the police commander — whose rank was major general — out of action.

“So they took me into the trauma room to do surgery and put in stents and I asked the doctor ‘shouldn’t you be treating the people who were injured?’ and he said, ‘shaah, right now I am the commander.’ He said ‘you have to rest a little bit, two months!’ Levy’s reply? “Hah!” as in not very likely.

Levy, who now is in the parliamentary opposition as a member of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, related that in two other instances, he had to make life or death decisions involving suicide bombers.

In one case, he said, the bomber had been grabbed by police, but still had his explosive belt around him, and he was struggling to fall down upon it, which would have killed not only him but everyone around. As a police officer struggled to keep the terrorist’s arms behind his back, Levy asked if anyone could disconnect the explosives by cutting the wires. No, came the answer. It could not be done. The terrorist continued to struggle as the policeman behind him tried desperately to keep him from falling. Feeling he had no alternative, Levy ordered that the terrorist be shot in the head, telling the policeman who was holding him to make sure the terrorist’s body was pulled onto its back and not permitted to land on its front. There was quite a bit of controversy over Levy’s order to execute the terrorist, but he was exonerated from wrong doing. Had the terrorist not been slain, innocent lives would have been lost.

Another such situation involved an alert from the Shin Bet (Israel’s equivalent to the FBI) that a terrorist was headed for Jerusalem in a car loaded with explosives. A description of the car was given along with the approximate time the terrorists might arrive. Levy put up barricades and stationed snipers, but when a car arrived at the approximate time, it was the same model as the Shin Bet described but neither the color nor the license plate given in the description. If he permitted the car to go farther, it would reach a populated section of Jerusalem. On the other hand, if he fired on the car, and its occupants were civilians, not terrorists, he would have put to death innocent people. He had only a short time to deliberate before he gave the order to the snipers to fire.

The car blew up with a tremendous explosion. It had been the car occupied by the terrorists, after all.

Nevertheless, Levy can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had been wrong.

In his speech to law enforcement officials, Levy is expected to tell what it’s like to be a commander who sometimes has to make split second decisions.

Pomerantz said hearing such stories can help local law enforcement decide what they ought to do in similar situations. At the same time, he said, some of the experiences that local law enforcement share with their Israeli visitors can be beneficial to the Israelis.

Read in the San Diego Jewish World

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