The story of the Border Police begins in 1948, following the foundation of the state of Israel, when a Jewish Agency status committee was formed, headed by Golda Meir. The aim of the status committee was to establish the infrastructure necessary for the newly founded state.
The committee was divided into several teams, each responsible for the establishment of a different government ministry. The head of the team tasked with establishing the police ministry was Yehezkel Sahar, who would go on to become the first commissioner of the Israel Police. He submitted a plan to the committee for the foundation of two organizations that would work side by side – a police force and a gendarmerie. The Israel Police was established shortly after the foundation of the state, while the establishment of the gendarmerie was postponed until after the War of Independence.
In 1949, as the battles subsided, the need for a gendarmerie became more urgent, with the country plagued by infiltrators. Discussions between the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and the Israel Police led to the establishment of a military corps named “The Border Corps.” The Border Corps and its first commander, David Shaltiel, were granted 2,000 positions and a number of military vehicles. But the process of establishing the corps met with some difficulties, mainly in recruiting manpower, so the task was handed over to the police.
In 1951, three border companies were established within the Israel Police. The companies began operating along the borders, and on April 26th, 1953, Police Commissioner Yehezkel Sahar established a special police corps called “The Border Police,” with Pinhas Kopel appointed as its first commander.
The Border Police received military training and were provided with British weapons. The status of the personnel was equal to that of other police officers with regards to rights, duties and authority. However, contrary to other police officers who wore hats as part of their uniform, the Border Police wore green berets, symbolizing the “green line” (the Israeli border until 1967).
The first commander of the Border Police, Pinhas Kopel, captured the spirit of the times:
“We saw two main tasks before us: The first – to establish the units, train the men, and instill in them the importance of their role. The second – to provide the citizens, who had just arrived in the country, with a sense of security… Each night dozens of Border Police teams ventured out to the long and winding border… They are relatively unknown to the public; their path is not laden with glory and their deeds are mentioned only in brief, obscure lines in the newspapers. The ones who know them best are the infiltrators themselves, who cross paths with them – the men of the Border Police with their green berets…”
The Foundation Years
In its early years, the main activity of the Border Police was fighting infiltrations. It was a complicated task as a result of the country’s long, winding borders, which had no fences. The Border Police set up ambushes along the border, used scouts, conducted patrols and reconnaissance, and at times even dressed up as Arabs to locate infiltrators and prevent them from crossing into Israel. In 1956 the rate of infiltrations increased, eventually leading to the Suez Crisis.
When the Border Police was established, it was decided that in times of emergency the corps would be subject to the command of the IDF. This first happened in 1956 in preparation for the Suez Crisis. During that war, Battalion 1 of the Border Police participated in battles in the Gaza Strip in addition to fulfilling policing tasks and dealing with the civilian population in the aftermath of battles. Within the regions under their protection, Battalions 2 and 3 were responsible for enforcing curfews in Arab villages. Under the command of Shmuel Melinky, Battalion 2 received an order to make the curfew in the villages earlier. When asked what should be done with those who return after curfew, he answered: “Allah arahmu” (“God have mercy” in Arabic). Most of the officers in the battalion acted responsibly, but those in the Kfar Qasim area misinterpreted the order, killing 47 residents. As a result, 11 Border Police officers were convicted of murder and served lengthy prison sentences.
From 1953 to 1967, the Border Police operated around the “urban line” in Jerusalem, manning many posts. During these years, the Border Police conducted patrols, guarded the Mandelbaum Gate and set ambushes. The corps was successful in thwarting many terror attacks in the area. In 1963, it was decided that eligible army recruits could opt to serve in the Border Police, and in November of that year 50 recruits joined.
From Atop Mount Scopus to the Peak of Mount Hermon
Just prior to the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967, the Border Police was once again placed under the command of the IDF. The Border Police was tasked with guarding some of the country’s most essential facilities in times of war such as airports, reservoirs, and power stations, while also watching over the border with Jordan. During the Six Day War the Border Police participated in several battles, including a clean-up battle on Ammunition Hill following the main battle fought there by paratroopers. The clean-up lasted eight hours, during which the Border Police took 60 Jordanian soldiers captive. The Border Police also participated in a bitter battle against Egyptian Commandoes near Latrun, and were victorious despite losing 54 men. The Border Police fighters received Distinguished Service medals for their actions. Following the battles, almost the entire Border Police entered the West Bank and East Jerusalem to impose order in these newly-conquered regions.
In the aftermath of the war, the Border Police were charged with many tasks. They were deployed across Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, Tul Karem and Hebron in order to impose order and eliminate signs of resistance, while still under the command of the IDF until September of 1967. Another battalion was formed specifically for operating in Judea and Samaria – Battalion 4 – with headquarters in Ramallah. In 1971 the Border Police also entered Gaza.
Fighters of the Valley and the War of Attrition
During the battles at the Suez Canal, there was also a war of attrition taking place on the Israel-Jordan border. The focal points of the war were at the Beit Shean valley and the Jordan valley. Bands of terrorist from Jordan, backed by the legion, infiltrated these areas and attacked Jewish settlements. In September of 1967, G Company of the Border Police began operating in the area, waging a relentless battle against the terrorists. The amount of shooting incidents with which the company had to cope reached an average of 700 a month.
The war took a heavy toll on the company as many lives were lost. It was during this war that Sergeant Yosef Vakil was awarded a Medal of Valor, the only one in Border Police history. The war ended with the cessation of the events known as “Black September” in 1970, during which the terrorist organizations in Jordan were wiped out.
During the Yom Kippur War, the Border Police was once again subjected to the command of the IDF, and was entrusted with securing the northern border. The Border Police operated in the Lebanon area, setting ambushes deep behind enemy lines and wiping out bands of armed terrorists with the aid of night vision.
Following the Yom Kippur war, it was decided in April 1974 to transfer the responsibility for the country’s public security from the IDF to the Israel Police. This forced the police to prepare for threats they had never before faced.
In order to maintain public security, several of the Border Police companies were transferred from the Judea and Samaria region to within the green line to reinforce the police. The Border Police was charged with securing the ports and airports and preventing terrorism.
To cope with new security challenges, there was a need for a designated police unit that would specialize in takeovers and negotiations. In 1974 the YAMAM Counter-Terrorism Unit was established. Since its inception the unit has thwarted hundreds of terrorist attacks, captured wanted terrorists and rescued hostages. Today the YAMAM is considered one of the best counter-terrorism units in the world.
In the Land of the Cedars
Upon its establishment, the Border Police accepted responsibility over Israel's northern border. However, shortly before the outbreak of the First Lebanon War in 1982, the IDF took charge of the northern border – which had become the most dangerous in Israel – and relieved the Border Police. The First Lebanon War broke out and the IDF entered Lebanon. On the second day of fighting, Border Police battalions entered Lebanon as well and cooperated with the IDF in fighting terrorist organizations by conducting arrests and imposing order. During that time, two catastrophes occurred in the Lebanese city of Tyre: The first occurred on November 4th, 1982, when a gas leak in the Israeli military government building caused an explosion, resulting in the deaths of 34 Border Police officers. A year later, on November 11th, 1983, a terrorist drove a truck full of explosives into the courtyard of the Israeli military government building in Tyre, taking the lives of 17 police officers. Nonetheless, the Border Police continued its operations in the area until the IDF pulled out of Lebanon in 1985.
On the Front Lines – The First Intifada
The first Intifada broke out in 1987 and the Border Police played a central role in fighting it. Since it was civilians who were rioting and committing acts of violence, there was a need for a professional and operational police force to deal with this new challenge. As a result of the experience it had amassed during its activities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the Border Police was placed on the front lines facing terrorism, rock throwing and stabbings. Later, the Border Police also established an undercover counter-terror unit known as YAMAS. The first YAMAS unit was established in Gaza in 1989, a second in Judea and Samaria in 1991, and a third in Jerusalem in 1994.
The Country's Bulletproof Vest
In 1993, following a lengthy negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians, an agreement of understanding was signed, known as the Oslo Accords. The state of Israel, the IDF and the Israel Police, all prepared for the new status and the new and complex challenges that the Oslo Accords would pose. As part of the agreement, Border Police officers were required to conduct joint patrols with Palestinian police officers. In preparation, significant changes were made within the Border Police: forces deployed in Gaza, the south, the center and in Judea and Samaria were expanded and reorganized. In 1994 a new division headquarters was established within the Border Police, located at the Eyal military base. This opened the door for further change, and in 1995, for the first time in Border Police history, women were integrated into the force, making the Border Police the first force to integrate women into the ranks of combat fighters
The joint patrols with the Palestinian police that began in 1993 faced its first significant challenge with the outbreak of riots in September 1996. The riots began shortly after the opening of the Hasmonean Aqueduct in the Old City of Jerusalem and soon spread across the country, reaching Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The Border Police actively fought to subdue the riots and protect the lives of civilians. However, there was a new element to the fighting: for the first time rioters fired at Israeli security forces and the Palestinian police actively participated. Dozens of Israeli soldiers and police officers were injured and 13 soldiers and two Border Police officers were killed. As the riots subsided, the joint patrols were renewed.
In the year 2000, the second intifada began. Rioting followed the breakdown of peace talks at Camp David between Israel and the Palestinians in July of that year. The reason given by the Palestinians for the outbreak of violence was the visit of Ariel Sharon – then opposition leader – to the Temple Mount in September of 2000. In the ensuing intifada the Border Police were at the front lines facing suicide bombers, shootings and daily terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
A short time after the violence began, Police Commander Yossef Tabaja was murdered by a Palestinian police officer who was his patrol partner, leading to the dissolution of the joint patrols. During riots around Josef's Tomb in Nablus, several Border Police officers were trapped and fought for six days. Border Police officer Madhat Yossef was killed in the fighting. During a training exercise (Credit: Border Police History Dept.)
During this time, the Border Police faced severe rioting and public disturbances in Judea and Samaria, the Gaza strip, and other areas of conflict across the country. The Border Police learned many lessons from these difficult situations and as a result, a national training center for dealing with public disturbances was established.
In 2002 the first Border Police reserve service began, with 12 companies enlisted to assist the Border Police and provide reinforcement in times of crisis. Today the reserve force numbers 16 companies.
In light of the complex and major terrorist attacks in the Gaza Strip and the continual need for military intervention, in 2003 the Border Police in Gaza was redeployed along the Israeli border with Egypt and became known as the Ramon Border Police. New headquarters were established and its main mission became preventing smuggling and infiltrations. In 2008 the Ramon Border Police was relocated to the Israel-Jordan border. At the same time, personal security Border Police units were formed to combat urban crime.
The beginning of the second decade of the 21st century saw the Border Police undergo a number of substantial organizational changes: In 2011, the Border Police left the Jordanian border and new headquarters were established on the coastline. In 2012 the personal security units were disbanded and the number of companies was reduced. In their place came the Shahar 101 units, with the goal of fighting urban crime.
The Border Police Today
Since its establishment, the Border Police has maintained its original goal: to serve as a versatile police force that fights crime and terrorism, provides security and maintains order. The corps continues to serve as the operational agency of the Israel Police for fighting terrorism and maintaining public order, and continuously strives to provide quality police services to rural communities, with a particular focus on agricultural crime.
The Border Police is currently deployed across six districts: northern, coastal, central, Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and southern. There are 68 diverse units including operational battalions, units responsible for maintaining routine security, the YAMAM special counter-terrorism unit, the undercover YAMAS unit, units for the security of essential facilities, the 101 units, an anti-riot unit, a rural patrol unit, a k-9 unit and a scouts unit. Border Police forces currently constitute about 22% of the operational forces in the Israel Police, and are under the command of the Border Police headquarters. There are some 8,000 Border Police officers currently serving.
Recently, staff work began in an attempt to formulate a framework for the Border Police’s areas of responsibility and to define the corps' mission and a means of measuring its achievements. The process has revolutionized the way the Israel Police views the Border Police, and in the long run, these changes will enhance the professionalism of the Border Police officers and will help better incorporate them into traditional police work. Due to these changes, last year – and for the first time in Border Police history – a Border Police station was established, entirely under the command of the Border Police. In the near future, additional sub stations will be established in Jerusalem. All the stations provide the same services that are offered to the public by regular police stations.