Jewish mysticism holds that dogs can sense the presence of the Angel of Death.
Now Jewish settlers are reviving an ancient partnership, acquiring specialized canines to fend off Palestinians waging a 22-month-old uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
By night, settlers from the self-styled “Jewish Legion” patrol their hilltop communities with Belgian shepherds donated by foreign friends and trained to sniff out and pounce on intruders before they can go on shooting sprees.
“Generous donors from abroad — gentiles and Jews alike who believe in our right to live — supplied the dogs hoping they will prevent men, women and children being butchered in their homes,” Legion director Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov said on Friday.
He said dogs were considered by ancient Jewish canon as gifted with a “sixth sense” for danger. They are mentioned in the Talmud as guardians of ancient Israelites. “Our sages say dogs are blessed because when the Israelites fled Egypt at the time of Exodus, they did not bark and alert the Egyptians,” Ben-Yaakov said. “They looked out for us then, and they’re looking out for us now.”
He declined to disclose how many of the dogs — costing between $3,000 and $10,000 each — had been deployed, saying only that they were already in use in several West Bank settlements which had suffered serious attacks.
In one of these, Itamar, two night-time Palestinian infiltrations in as many months killed nine people this year.
In nearby Tapuach this week, Legion trainers put a dozen trainee handlers through their paces with the dogs.
A sleek bitch called Zara bared fangs on command and galloped across the settlement’s open field to seize the kevlar sleeve worn by a trainer posing an attacker. The moment he put his hands up in surrender, she backed off watchfully.
Smell becomes the animal’s trigger after dark.
“Fear, exhilaration and hatred make a person exude a distinctive odor, which the dogs pick up. Their rudimentary bomb-sniffer training means they are also sensitive to the presence of ordnance,” Guy, a Legion trainer, told Reuters.
Around 200,000 Jews live in 145 settlements built in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel took the two territories in a 1967 war. The international community regards the settlements as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.
Though common household pets in Israel, dogs are not used extensively in its security forces aside from select police and army bomb-sniffer units.
The Legion, and a government-backed initiative called Kalbi designed to supply Israelis with dogs trained to spot and subdue Palestinian suicide bombers, are recent exceptions.
Some experts believe Jews are burdened by their unhappy history with the beasts.
“Our problem is that the use of dogs by us immediately invokes memories of the Holocaust, because the Nazis used dogs in the concentration camps,” veteran trainer Nir Harman told Israel’s mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
Palestinians are also uncomfortable with canine culture, shunning the animals because Islam considers them unclean.
Many Palestinians also believe Israel’s use of sniffer dogs at border crossing points in the Gaza Strip is designed to intimidate and humiliate them.
Ben-Yaakov rejected such associations with his work.
“Our dogs are not attack dogs, per se. They are defensive guard dogs trained to subdue, rather than kill,” he said.
The Smooth Stone Team has first-hand experience with defensive guard dogs that spans over 30 years. Dogs, and the love and loyalty they provide, continuously prove that Adam did indeed walk and commune with the animals in the Garden of Eden. The relationship between a dog and his loving Master is so very spiritual and the relationship presents an ongoing opportunity for the observant Jew to perfom the ethical treatment of animals, as prescribed by Judaic and Halachic law.