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Afula Police Station – Colorful History in Black and White

Courtyard and wall of framed photos showing history of the British built station

Photos and text: Lydia Aisenberg

Sitting slap bang in the middle of a busy shopping area in the northern Jezreel Valley town of Afula is a starkly unattractive British built concrete block building constructed in the late 1930s, one of a network of almost 80 such fortified interrogation centers built throughout British Mandatory Palestine.

The 2-story blocks of offices, interrogation rooms and holding cells in Afula are built around a nowadays very well-tended square shaped central lawn and garden, the lush greenery of the palm trees, shrubs and grass of the square making the greyish walls of the various sections of the ominous building appear even more wretched.

Almost identical buildings, known as Tegart Forts as their construction was masterminded by an infamous Londonderry born British officer Sir Charles Tegart, can be found throughout Israel. Some of the largest are situated alongside major junctions and used as prisons, such as that at Megiddo where over 900 Palestinians are presently detained, whilst other smaller versions can be found in the center of Israeli towns and cities, generally used as police stations and, here and there, IDF bases.

In over 55 years since making Aliya to Israel, this writer has – thank goodness – only had occasion twice to enter an Israeli police station, the first time 30 years ago when a then IDF serving soldier son was struck down by a hit and run driver on his way home for leave, and the more recent one to Afula, after his youngest brother – training for an Ironman event – was knocked off his racing bike by a careless driver on a main road near Afula and who later, when sufficiently recovered, needed to present himself at the Afula station to give a statement. 

Two of the early 1940s photos on the wall

The last thing one would expect to see when entering an Israeli police station would be a wall full of framed sepia photographs depicting scenes of the station under construction in the 1930s and when completed, British Army officers and officials meeting with local Jewish and Arab dignitaries; British Army personnel training both Jewish and Arab would-be-policemen and a post 1948 War of Independence typed letter from David Ben-Gurion encouraging the recruitment of more Jews to the then nascent Israeli police force.

On another wall, opposite that already mentioned but only noticed on exiting the station, were a number of plaques naming Afula based Israel Police officers who had fallen in the line of duty during terror attacks in Afula, the first Jewish town in the Jezreel Valley and constructed on land purchased by American Zionists in the early 1920s from Beirut resident Aias Sursock. Agricultural communities had already been established in other parts of the valley, also on land previously bought from Sursock.

Quite fascinated by the history on the wall display, which also included another panel with photographs of all those who had commanded that station since the late 40s to present times, one is moved along from the rather dingy corridor by an impatient police clerk – and a few steps later one is entering the sun-drenched greenery filled courtyard to wait outside the office of a police investigator of traffic accidents.

However, also waiting to be interviewed, crouched on their haunches outside the door of an adjoining office, were four relatively young Palestinians - their clothes, shoes and lunch boxes splattered with paint and plaster. All were handcuffed but holding lit cigarettes in one hand and small bottles of water they had just been handed by an Israeli policeman, in the other.

The young men hailed from a small village near the West Bank Palestinian town of Jenin, visible in the near distance from the town of Afula but over the other side of the security fence built on the 1949 Armistice Line (also known as the Green Line) in the eastern portion of the Jezreel Valley after the Second Intifada in the year 2000.

All four young men had been working illegally on a building site on the outskirts of Afula – and all had been arrested for the same offense in the past. In a short conversation they explained they 'usually' got fined and sent back home through one of the major security fence checkpoints in the valley and, if not sent to prison for the latest attempt to work in Israel, would try their luck at returning to work, on a different building site, a week or so later!

On leaving the station, statement given, forms signed, and once more passing the Palestinians - still crouched down on the concrete pathway – they nodded hi, and in unison two shouted out "Shalom."

"Alevai!" they are answered.

The station’s quadrangle inner courtyard
 

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Saturday, 26 November 2022

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