Sheriff Ken Christesen visits with Israeli security forces

Diplomatic missionFROM THE AZTEC TALON, by Debra Mayeux

A nation without secure borders could be a
nation in trouble. Israel learned this several yearsc
ago, and put together programs to keep its people
safe.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen traveled
to our ally in the Middle East to observe their
border issues and discover ways to solve the problem
of dangerous individuals easily moving in and
out of an unsecure country.

He was selected as one of 15 sheriffs across the
United States to go on this diplomatic journey as
part of the 2013 Law Enforcement Educational
Seminar from April 28 to May 4, where participants
shared ideas and learned about the Israeli’s
practices in border security and intelligence analysis
and sharing. The trip was sponsored by the
American Israel Education Foundation and the
American Israeli Public Affairs Council, which has
a mission to “strengthen, protect and promote the
U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the
security of Israel and the United States,” according
to the council’s website, aipac.org.

“I was pretty blessed to be chosen,” Christesend
said to members of the 9-12 Tea Party, during a
Jan. 7 meeting at the Totah Theater in Farmington.
The Israelis have border issues similar to those
in the United States, Christesen explained, adding
that Israel is surrounded by countries with citizens
that want to kill its people. The Southwestern
United States and the border with Mexico has people
trying to cross it illegally to bring in drugs and
often to commit crimes.

“We can’t have the things we want in this country until
we secure our borders,” Christesen said.
The trip consisted of sheriffs from across the U.S.,
including Arizona, California, New York, Florida, Texas,
Michigan and three from New Mexico.

Christesen was included in the mix, because he is the
chairman of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association.
“We exchanged ideas. They wanted to show us their
dilemmas, which are similar to ours,” he said. They
shared about intelligence and what they are doing and
why. Much of that Christesen could not comment on,
because it is highly sensitive information. “Every night,
every day, every hour was filled with briefings and
informational meetings.”

The sheriffs met with such diplomats as Brig.-Gen.
Zohar Dvir, head of the Israel National Police Logistics
Department; Col. Danny Tirza, general manager of Dan
Tirza Yozmot, a consulting and management firm; Israel
Media Expert Amos Harel; Inspector General Yohanan
Danino, commissioner of the Israel National Police; and
the Honorable Mickey Levy, deputy minister of finance
for Israel.

The sheriff toured Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and all of the
borders, including those with Jordan, Lebanon, Syria,
Egypt, and the volatile Gaza Strip. “We traveled to every
border. We looked at every problem,” he said. “We can
learn a truckload from the Israelis in border security.”
He also met with the police chief of Israel and toured
a “super-secret” facility that consists of thousands of
camera feeds from all over Jerusalem. These feeds are
monitored by 20 people, 24 hours a day, looking for the
possibility of terrorist attacks or violence and unrest in
the city.

“It’s a different world than we live in,” Christesen
said. The Israelis are “pleading for our help,” but they
think we as Americans are not “doing a real good job of
standing up for our friends and allies.”
Israel has learned to protect itself through constant
vigilance, and its citizens grow up with a knowledge of
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen stops to meet
with a member of the Israeli Military, while touring the
Israel-Lebanon border an unfriendly world. This has been the only way to keep people alive.

All bus stops in the country have bomb shelters
and schools are built with “blast shields”
and reinforced concrete roofs, with two feet of
concrete on top to keep rockets from killing
children.

“When they (the Palestinians) fire a rocket,
the military gives warnings and you have anywhere
from 0 to 15 seconds to find shelter,”
Christesen said.

A heavy military presence in Jerusalem
makes it the only “safe place” where Muslims,
Christians and Jews can all mingle, Christesen
said. There is a heavy police presence, and the
police work hand-in-hand with the military.
Christesen shook hands with approximately
200 members of the Israeli military. Every
Israeli citizen, including women, has to serve in
the military. Some members of the Israeli military
are citizens of the Unites States, who also
have an Israeli citizenship. “They all would
give their life for their country,” Christesen
said.

While there is military presence in the cities
there is also an active military along each of
Israel’s borders. They are always watching for
breaches in security. The story of one such
breach was shared with the U.S. Sheriffs.
It happened when a group of Palestinian terrorists
killed some members of the Egyptian
military and took their armored personnel carrier. Then,
the terrorists drove the vehicle through the fence at the
Israeli border and began shooting at every person they
could find. A member of the Israeli military was able to
leave his post and “take out” the armored carrier before
any Israeli citizen was killed.

There also are instances where suicide bombers
attempt to enter the city. When entering Jerusalem,
Christesen said, there are different pathways people are
directed toward. When a person is a suspected terrorist,
they are led down a path that takes them into a concrete
enclosure where they are given the opportunity to surrender.
Typically, the surrender does not happen and the
terrorist detonates the bomb, killing only himself in the
concrete room.

“The Israelis have reduced the number of deaths and
bombings – not by accident, but because they have taken
strong steps to protect their borders,” Christesen said.
His trip was not only about security, the sheriff also
had an opportunity to experience the birthplace of
Christianity in a spiritual and moving way. He visited
the Western Wall, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee,
and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses the
stone that Jesus’s body was laid upon when he died.
“I was able to put my hand on that stone, and I can’t
tell you how moving that was,” Christesen said. He also
walked the trail that Jesus walked carrying the cross
before being crucified. “It’s just powerful. Israel is the
birthplace of Christianity. Shouldn’t we be trying to help
them protect  it, instead of allowing terrorists to try and
destroy it?”