TA University operates undercover campus security force

16 March 2011 | Israeli Occupation Archive

By Gili Cohen, Haaretz – 15 March 2011

A recent announcement published by the TAU students union calls on students who served in elite IDF combat units to join the university’s security detail voluntarily

Tel Aviv University operates an undercover security force on campus, in addition to the armed guards at the entrances. The undercover detail, consisting of volunteer students, is intended as emergency back-up in case of a terror attack in the university grounds, TAU sources said.

A recent announcement published by the TAU students union calls on students who served in elite IDF combat units to join the university’s security detail voluntarily.

“They gave them weapons owned by the university and very clear instructions, and they had a special shirt, hat and card they could pull out in case of emergency,” said a TAU graduate who was involved in setting up the security detail over five years ago.

A student who recently applied to join the detail says he was told “the job does not require training but going over several regulations,” he said. “The procedure is not expected to take more than two hours. [They said] the job is only when you’re on campus, and then if an event occurs you will be spoken to.”

TAU officials said the volunteer detail operates as part of the university’s security department as a reserve force in case of a terror attack. “The volunteers are armed with university-owned weapons and undergo a periodical training similar to the one given security guards. In case of a terror attack, they can be called in to help,” university spokeswoman Orna Cohen said, in answer to Haaretz’ query.

However, security officials who heard of the volunteer detail said excessive motivation, weapons and the lack of an organized unit could lead to disaster in case of emergency. “The university’s demand for former elite commandos implies it wants a force that can act in extreme cases, like when a terrorist holes up in the university or starts firing in all directions,” a reserve IDF commando officer said.

“Despite their past training and experience, they will find that without coordination and planning it is very difficult to act effectively in a terror incident,” he said.

TAU lecturers and staff members were surprised to hear of the semi-security detail consisting of students operating on campus.

Attorney Dan Yakir, legal advisor for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said “‘Secret agents’ units operating in TAU is worrying. The very operation of such a detail is wrong, as is basing it on volunteers. Academic campuses should by nature be free, safe places. The security guards in them should be employees who have been properly trained, act within clear rules and are identified by their uniform,” Yakir said.

TAU officials said the volunteers’ authorities are similar to those of the university’s security guards. The security guards’ instructions authorize them to detain a suspect up to three hours, search a person’s effects and vehicle and use reasonable force to catch a suspect and hold him until police arrive, prevent sabotage, stop the public disorder on campus, etc.

“They’re not looking for sheriffs,” a student explained. “They say if you have a weapon from your work in another place, the university would like to keep in touch with you. It’s a sort of on-call detail, but as far as I know it has never been activated.”

The TAU website says the security detail’s job is to maintain security and keep order on campus, deal with and enforce [the rules] of traffic and parking on campus, man the security hotline 24 hours a day and issue tags and entrance permits to the campus.

Students who volunteer for the undercover detail receive a parking permit on campus – an extremely coveted commodity.


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