The news is terribly familiar: a suicide bomber in Israel, at a Beersheba bus stop this time. We breathe a sigh of relief to hear that the death toll so far is limited to the bomber himself, although two security guards were seriously injured, and forty to fifty others were slightly wounded.
This has become good news, compared to those bombings in which scores die. I guess it’s all relative.
Here are a few details:
A Palestinian suicide bomber tried to board a bus at the central station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba during morning rush hour at the start of the work week. But he aroused the suspicion of the bus driver. Police say security guards chased the bomber, and he blew himself up.
In those terse words “security guards chased the bomber, and he blew himself up” lie unimaginable heroism as well as terrible horror. We’ve grown accustomed to the players in this story, both the destructive bomber and the guards who give pursuit. The actions of all are astonishing, although the former and the latter stand on opposite ends of the moral spectrum.
By his actions, the bomber courts–even embraces–almost certain death in the service of his goal: to destroy the lives of a maximum number of innocent people. In contrast, by their actions the security guards risk somewhat less certain–but still very likely–death or serious injury in the service of their goal: to save the lives of a maximum number of innocent people. When all instincts of self-preservation would tell most people to run away, the guards run, willingly and deliberately, towards the person who is suspected of having the determination and the ability to blow himself up and take those guards with him. And yet still they approach.
It’s hard to think of a more heroic occupation than that of these guards. There are many heroes in civilian life–firefighters, police, rescue workers of all kinds–who regularly risk their own lives for those of others. But I can’t think of any other category of civilian worker who regularly takes on the sort of risk that security guards in Israel are accepting every time they approach a person suspected of being a homicide bomber.
Who are these guards? Some, such as those who work the El Al counter at the airport, are highly trained and respected professionals. But since the second intifada began, Israel and its businesses have faced the necessity of employing an unprecedented number of new security guards to meet increased security needs.
A great deal of this increase is in the category of private sector security guards–those who patrol theaters, restaurants, stores, and the like. And it turns out, according to this very troubling article, that these guards are not only courageously risking their lives, but they’re doing it for long hours and low pay.
The article appears on the website of a group dedicated to defending the legal rights and improving the working conditions of Israeli guards in the private sector. As such, I suppose the information continued therein should be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration–but somehow I doubt it’s very much of an exaggeration (I welcome opinions from anyone who is familiar with the situation).
It’s not all that different in this country, although our needs are not nearly as great and the risks not nearly as high–so far, that is. Here’s an article describing the generally poor pay, training, and working conditions of security guards in this country.
The problem seems to be endemic in the security guard industry, no matter what the country–so much need and such a rush to train. The wonder, really, is that the guards still perform so well in so many circumstances, despite their relative lack of preparation. And none of this detracts at all from the heroism of the Beersheba guards; if anything, it intensifies and enhances it.