Lessons to learn from Israelis on suicide attacks

Flowers are left in St Anns Square, Manchester, the day after a suicide bomber killed 22 people, on May 22
Flowers are left in St Anns Square, Manchester, the day after a suicide bomber killed 22 people, on May 22

A Belfast rabbi who spent 22 years as a paramedic in Jerusalem has outlined a number of ways the UK could potentially learn from its battle against suicide attackers.

Rabbi David Singer of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation was speaking in the wake of suicide attacks at the Manchester Arena on May 22 which claimed 22 lives and the London attack on June 3 which claimed eight.

He dealt with the outcome of too many suicide attacks to count during his time in Israel. Mr Singer was born in Birmingham and went to live in Israel when he was 19.

He praised the UK police for stopping the three radical Islamist terrorists in London eight minutes after their van and knives rampage began on June 3.

“That kind of rapid reaction goes on in Israel as well,” he said. “There are regular exercises with Israeli police and other emergency services in Israel.

“Stopping such an attack in London in eight minutes is a tremendous response time in a city where you are not really expecting these things.”

Asked what he thought the UK might consider learning from Israel in light of the Manchester suicide bomb attack, he said: “One marked difference is that during the Troubles someone was always checking people’s bags. That still goes on in Israel. That is still the system over there for 99% of public buildings.

“If I walk into a department store in Belfast nobody looks at me but in Israel there are security personnel on all the doors. It is wonderful not to be checked, but maybe people would want to start thinking about that.”

Another common approach in Israel is to protect all bus stops and pedestrian areas from terrorist vehicle attacks with concrete bollards.

Even delivery areas for trucks have retractable bollards which are only taken down when goods are being dropped off, he said.

There are also constant security adverts in public areas asking people to be aware of anything suspicious and report it to the authorities.

On all bus and trains there are security personnel and people are asked to be vigilant.

There is also a mixture of uniformed and plain clothes armed police on patrol in public areas.

Asked how many suicide attacks he responded to in Jerusalem in his 22 years there as a paramedic, he replied: “Too many to count.”

In July 1989 he was the first paramedic to arrive at the scene of a bus where a suicide attacker had yanked the steering wheel to divert it over a cliff.

Sixteen civilians were killed and the attack signalled the beginning of a fresh wave of suicide attacks.

“There are now concrete barriers along the cliffs so this could not happen again in the same place.”

He also worked through the second intifada [uprising] which cost over 4,000 lives from 2000-5.

While security is constantly under review in Israel, there is no permanent solution to suicide attacks, however.

“In the last few months there have been incidents,” he added.