Wood County Sheriff Mark Washylyshyn tells fellow Rotary Club of Perrysburg members about his spring trip to Israel at the club's weekly luncheon Friday, at the Carranor Hunt and Polo Club in Perrysburg.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn is a man of law and a man of faith. He had eye-opening experiences on both fronts during a visit to Israel this past spring.
"Of course, the first thing you think about is safety and security," the sheriff said, sharing photos and stories with fellow members of the Rotary Club of Perrysburg last week at the Carranor Hunt and Polo Club in Perrysburg.
Those are daily concerns for the National Sheriffs' Association, the group with whom Wasylyshyn traveled and on whose board he serves. The American Israel Education Foundation sponsored their weeklong trip in May, 2012, as it often does for U.S. congressmen and other public officials.
The sheriff said one of his tour guides recalled facilitating a trip by Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio's 5th Congressional District and was familiar with Wood County in Ohio.
One of the first things Sheriff Wasylyshyn observed in Israel was a prevalent display of national pride.
"Extremely, extremely patriotic people," he said, adding that the white and blue flag with the star of David could be seen everywhere.
Perrysburg Rotary members Rick Gilts, left, former Perrysburg police chief, and Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn chat before the sheriff's presentation on his trip to Israel at the Rotary Club's weekly luncheon.
Security forces in Israel told the NSA guests that a particular security challenge was the small country's geography.
Tel Aviv, Israel's most populous city and financial center, is situated on the Mediterranean Sea coast only 10 miles from the border of the West Bank. The major airport of Ben Gurion is only 4 miles from the same border.
"Surface-to-air missiles easily make that distance," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said.
The capital of Jerusalem -- and its significant historical and religious locations -- is surrounded on three sides by the West Bank and could be cordoned off from the rest of the country, he said.
"No one wants to give up their authority on those sites," he said.
Three sacred sites of three separate religions are within a few hundred feet of each other: the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, a Christian church on the site venerated as where Jesus was crucified; the Western Wall, a remnant of the enclosure surrounding the ancient Jewish Temple and among the holiest sites for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage; and Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslims believe the prophet Muhammed was transported from Mecca and then to heaven in one night.
It was in Jerusalem where Sheriff Wasylyshyn had some of his most spiritual experiences, he said.
In the Holy Sepulcher, he put his hand in the hole where Jesus' crucifixion cross is thought to have been placed. He visited the archaeological site uncovering King Herod's castle and walked where Scripture tells Jesus performed miracles.
"Those very blocks of that road, Christ walked there," he said.
The Old City part of Jerusalem is monitored by 360 surveillance cameras that have been installed in the past decade, he said.
"Their crime went down 80 percent by having the cameras," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, second from left, visits the archaeological site of King Herod's castle during a National Sheriffs' Association trip to Israel in May.
PHOTO COURTESY MARK WASYLYSHYN Enlarge
He said he contacted Toledo Police Chief Derrick Diggs, whose police forces are monitoring certain parts of that city with cameras, about how well the technology was aiding Israeli forces in solving crimes and even stopping them in the act.
"Big brother watching? For them it's great," the sheriff told Rotary members.
Israel has one police force that is divided into six zones. Sheriff Wasylyshyn said officers can respond anywhere in the country within one and a half hours, which he said was impressive compared to Wood County's maximum one-hour response.
He also noted that Israeli police -- who have global media reporting on their activities -- have the goal of gathering evidence at a bomb site within two hours and having the area repaired and rebuilt by the end of the day.
"The idea is we don't want to have this memory, this monument to something bad that happened," he said.
Sheriff Wasylyshyn said the NSA group was particularly interested in a presentation from the security chief for Ben Gurion Airport.
Every day, about 280 flights from 150 airlines carry 62,000 people in and out of the airport. That's an annual total of 12.5 million people who have to be secured during 84,000 takeoffs and landings, as well as 370,000 tons of cargo.
There is a critical difference in its security practice from that of Americans, according to the security chief.
"In the United States, in your airports, you're looking for a bomb. In Israel, we're looking for the bomber," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said he was told.
He added that the Israeli security chief felt it was a waste of resources to randomly search travelers, citing an example of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger being patted down at LaGuardia Airport in New York, which happened while the NSA group was visiting.
The sheriff said Israel uses advanced technology to screen people and vehicles, places agents posing as fellow travelers in waiting lines, and has multiple checkpoints.
"Everyone is challenging you," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said, noting that the involved process was still efficient and quick.
It's not just at airports. Every person and vehicle going in and out of a large shopping center is searched and screened, he said, and the people seem accustomed to it.
He said the most "intense" security experience he had was when the group visited a checkpoint on the Syrian border, though they did not cross. The timing was just prior to the eruption of violence during that country's unrest, with civilian protest against President Bashar al-Assad and the government's backlash.
"You could tell it was coming to a boil. ... You could cut the tension with a knife," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said.
Some Israeli settlement areas along borders face daily threats of missiles and bombs from Hamas and other groups disputing borders and Jews' very presence in the area, he said.
Fencing had greatly reduced suicide bomber threats, he said. Homes and locations like bus stops and school yards had reinforced steel roofs to act as bomb shelters, and even trash bins were designed to contain an explosive force.
The AIEF took the NSA group into the West Bank to meet with a Muslim journalist who was very critical of Israel's policies.
"It was great to hear another side of the story," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said.
The sheriff said one of his most interesting experiences was floating in the Dead Sea, which has almost 30 percent salt content and increases buoyancy.
"The most amazing sensation I've ever had," he said.
Contact Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer at 419-356-8786, email@example.com, and on Twitter @RebeccaConklinK.
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