Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Sapper Robot

My walk to the bus stop after work takes me through a beautiful, quiet neighborhood. Usually, the walk is uneventful, but today it was a bit different. As I was walking to the bus stop, this is what I saw:

Sapper robot inside police van

It’s a police van containing a remote-controlled sapper robot, which drags suspicious objects away from crowded areas and detonates them. Every so often, police officers and soldiers will stop passersby on the street and tell them, “Stop! You can’t go any farther. You have to stay here—there’s a hefetz hashud [suspicious object].” When that happens, we watch the sapper van pull up as police officers open its rear doors, lowering the ramp so that the robot can roll to the street to begin its work. Eventually, the police give the all-clear, usually after the sharp boom of the sapper robot detonating the cause of all the trouble and delay. Traffic resumes on both street and sidewalk and we go on our way, sparing a thought for the poor schnook who will be turning up later on, searching frantically for his backpack only to find that it was taken for a suspicious object and blown to smithereens.

Israelis have been sensitive about suspicious-looking objects for decades, and with good reason. From time to time, the television channels broadcast public-service announcements reminding people to avoid and report suspicious objects; signs on buses warn people to pay attention to their surroundings and report any abandoned items. Parcels from the post office come with a bright red sticker in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian warning customers not to open them if they do not recognize the return address or are not expecting a package. Occasionally I hear someone calling out in a public place, or I call out myself: “Whose bag/box/backpack is this?” until somebody claims it. It’s a part of living in Israel that one gets used to fairly quickly.

I happened to pass by at the end of the incident, as the police officers were packing the robot back into the van and preparing to leave. Apparently, there was no danger this time.

I guess that someone in that quiet neighborhood saw a suspicious object and reported it. I’m glad they did, even if it turned out to be an innocent item in the end. One can never be too careful, especially now.

(Read about Jerusalem’s bomb squad here.)

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