The plight of those who stand on guard for us

By Robert Sarner, Detroit Jewish News, July 4, 2003

JERUSALEM - A few mornings ago, I went to a supermarket near my home to do some grocery shopping for the weekend. What could be more banal? Not in Israel. In Jerusalem, such an outing can be a death-defying act, or worse.

Arriving at the entrance to the grocery store in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, an armed security guard greets me dryly. "Yesh l'cha neshek? (Do you have a gun?)," he asks me robotically. All the while he guides his handheld metal detector across my torso and legs, before doing a thorough hand-search of my knapsack.

He is risking his life. In a way, so am I.

In this very spot, just over a year ago, another security guard blocked a Palestinian suicide bomber from entering the store. In so doing, Haim Smadar, 55, was blown to pieces along with a teenage shopper when the female terrorist detonated her explosives.

"The alert response of the security guard prevented a much greater tragedy," said Jerusalem Police Commander Mickey Levy, shortly after the attack. "He saved many lives."

Sadly, this was but one of many such incidents in recent years in which a security guard thwarted a far worse atrocity and in the process was killed or severely wounded.

"Yesh l'cha neshek?"

These days this is one of the more frequently asked questions in Israel where Palestinian violence has led many people to carry guns. Several times a day, I answer no to security guards and then prepare for the inevitable frisking. As startling and invasive as this search would be to most people in Western countries, it's perfectly normal in Israel's abnormal reality.

Throughout the country, especially in the main cities, security guards are everywhere. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, their inspections have become a necessary nuisance and standard procedure at the entrance to bars, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, bus stations, hotels, supermarkets, shopping malls, office buildings and even hospitals.

We have Palestinian mass murderers to thank for that. Security guards have become one of the defining images of a society under siege from terrorists. They are a testament to the more than100 attacks that Palestinian homicide bombers have carried out in Israel since September 2000, mostly on civilian locations, not counting countless other planned attacks that the army and police have aborted.

Israelis have long been accustomed to security guards posted at high-risk, sensitive sites. But now they guard places where once no one would have believed they would ever be needed. Alas, with Palestinian terrorists hell-bent on killing as many Israelis as possible, every place where people frequent is a potential target.

As a result, the security guard business is thriving. The country's 300 security companies that provide guards can barely keep up with the demand. If the job is virtually the same at every location, the guards on duty vary widely. Standing at entrances like human scarecrows, some are armed with automatic weapons while most pack pistols in holsters or clipped to their belts. Many wield hand-held metal detectors, the odd one also has a can of mace.

Some guards look neat, others disheveled. Their uniforms differ according to the firm that employs them. Some are spiffy, with well-ironed shirts and vests sporting logos and crests. The attire of others is austere and ruffled. Many are new immigrants from Russia or Ethiopia. Some are young, fit and well trained, many are not.

Despite their differences, security guards all face the same risk and poor work conditions. Amid reports of widespread mistreatment of guards by their employers, the Knesset Interior Committee looked into the matter last month. Committee Chairman Yuri Stern said that every day Israelis entrust their safety to security guards who risk their lives for a pittance. He decried the shameless exploitation of those who, like human shields, are often the first and last line of defense against Palestinian suicide bombers.

Alexander Bukin, a representative of the Security Guards Association, told the Committee that most companies pay the guards less than the minimum wage, impose on them an excessive work schedule and abuse their basic rights. He said guards must put in nearly 300 hours a month to earn a living.

Surely, for their vital role and often live-saving acts of courage, security guards deserve a whole lot better. Surely, our security is worth it.

< Back