When a Palestinian vehicle pulled up at the Azaim Crossing point between Jerusalem and the West Bank on April 9, the day of Israel’s national elections, the two Military Police officers guarding the site had a feeling something was wrong.

Sgt. Michael Sivan and Sgt. Roman Ambar approached the vehicle and saw that the male driver was behaving in a suspicious manner—he was hesitant, fearful and acted with insecurity—they said. They diverted the driver to a lane where more in-depth security checks occur.

When they opened the trunk of the car, they discovered two M-16 automatic assault rifles, a Galilee assault rifle and hundreds of ammunition rounds. The policemen cocked their weapons and arrested the man, passing him on to the Shin Bet for questioning.

“I always had a motivation to get drafted to this role. When these incidents occur and you understand what you did, the motivation only grows. My friend Michael and I handled this incident together throughout, cooperating with a clear objective,” Sgt. Roman Ambar told JNS.

The ability to quickly identify hidden threats and respond in time is a core part of Military Police training, but it is also a skill that develops over time in the field, a Military Police company commander explained.

Maj. Tal Charash, a 23-year-old officer who commands a company in the Military Police’s Taoz Battalion, which is stationed in the West Bank, himself served in the company he now commands.

Each Military Police company is assigned its own area, and cooperates closely with other Israel Defense Forces’ units to secure Israeli communities and crossing points into Israel.

The Military Police’s crossings are up and running 24/7: “It never closes. We operate around the clock.”

“It very much depends on the gut feeling of soldiers,” said Charash. “Training teaches us to identify all sorts of suspicious activity—an ability that makes our work easier. Yet with time, we start developing a gut feeling, and we pay attention to details, to things that look a little suspicious. We don’t want to take any chances. Especially when our mission is to defend the State of Israel and its residents,” the company commander stated.

Weapons seized during an inspection at the Azaim Crossing between Jerusalem and the West Bank on April 9, 2019. Credit: IDF.

Sometimes, the units receive prior intelligence about a suspicious vehicle or individual, and sometimes they must operate ‘blindly,’ seeking out terrorists and differentiating them from ordinary civilians with no prior intelligence.

“We can stop a car for a routine check, and as the check unfolds, we discover more details that we did not know about; this is how we intercept suspect vehicles. And in this case, the vehicle that was intercepted [on April 9] was very significant,” said Charash.

Security forces are still investigating the precise intended purpose of the firearms found in the car.

Ultimately, Charash said, such weapons seizures are part of the Military Police’s routine as part of its terrorism-prevention activities at crossings used by Palestinians to enter Israel.

Knives, guns and those illegally entering the country with false identification are part of this routine. “We found illegals hidden in car trunks or in false panels at the crossings,” he said. “Some try to pass us with fake identification cards. And it is clear to us that their purpose is not to get into a club, but to conduct terror attacks inside Israel. We also capture gun parts that smugglers hide in vehicles in very creative ways.”

The Military Police’s crossings are up and running 24/7, the officer said. “It never closes. We operate around the clock.”

‘Acting with professionalism and respect’

One of the key aspects of the Military Police’s work is striking the right balance between respectfully conducting security checks and making sure that the concealed threats do not slip into Israel.

“Part of my job as a commander is to address this question. It is very challenging,” he acknowledged. “One the one hand, the forces are taught ethics and the need to be respectful to all. But we are also obligated to conduct our checks and prevent the wrong things from making it past the crossing,” he said.

“We respect everyone, but we also have to suspect some, while clearing others. We will stop anyone who looks suspicious for a check, but then we will proceed professionally and quickly to avoid harming the fabric of life. If we find nothing, we won’t hold them up. We are ambassadors of the State of Israel. Often, when they see us at the crossing, the way we act is what determines how the encounter will go, for good or for bad,” said Charash.

Asked how the Military Police’s personnel feel about the fact that so much of their work is unknown to the wider public, Charash said “after seizing weapons or intercepting attacks, they feel they’ve stopped someone from getting hurt. That’s the best feeling. They are protecting their families and homes.”

A day later, again at Azaim Crossing, Military Police officer Sgt. Vlad Kolisevitch had just begun his duty, inspecting a truck when a bus arrived behind it carrying Palestinian passengers.

As he checked the truck, the passengers disembarked and headed for the pedestrian terminal for the routine check, except for one woman, who suddenly approached him with a knife. Kolisevitch began the arrest suspect procedure, calling out warnings in Arabic for her to stop and firing a shot in the air when she continued advancing. Civilian police at the crossing joined the incident, tackled her, and Kolisevitch disarmed her. There were no injuries.

“I stayed calm and began the procedure, calling out warnings in Arabic and firing a warning shot in the air,” he told JNS. “I feel like I did something significant. This is the kind of incident that causes me to feel and understand that my role is important. Who knows what we prevented?”

Separately, on April 15, the IDF’s Unit for Coordination of Government Activities (COGAT) announced that it had upgraded Rachel’s Crossing between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, greatly reducing the waiting time for Palestinians.

Following an upgrade costing tens of millions of shekels, the new crossing features a wider passage, a wider lane for security checks and technological checks that have reduced the waiting time from one to two hours to a matter of minutes in mornings.

More than 13,000 Palestinians a day enter Israel through its gates for work, commerce, medical care, studies and other purposes, according to COGAT.