Yesterday, upon leaving the Kotel and heading towards the southern security checkpoint, my eyes caught sight of a battered, grey SpongeBob backpack, resting on the ground, all by itself.
Looking around I could not see a single person who might be its owner. Had someone forgotten it by mistake? Was it too heavy for its owner and the naïve tourist decided to leave for a while and pick it up later? Or was the innocent-looking bag actually holding an explosive device?
My first exposure to suspicious objects happened in my early years in Israel. I still remember how I blithely strode down Yaffa Road in Jerusalem. My head was in the clouds, full of all sorts of lovely daydreams, and suddenly some young soldier reached out and grabbed me. He was upset and annoyed. Apparently I’d been told several times to halt but I hadn’t heard anyone. Stopped short, I focused and realized there was a suspicious object on the road. (This was years before the light rail and Yaffa was open to traffic.) Waiting for the army sappers to come neutralize the object could take time. I thanked the soldier and headed off down a side street.
Over the years I’ve grown used to being inconvenienced by suspicious objects. Usually they are nothing more than abandoned items. Sometimes, though, they are not. My neighbor told me how her brother and sister came to Israel for her wedding and ended up in the hospital instead of at the ceremony. They’d been strolling down the sidewalk the day before and saw a plastic bag in front of them. Her sister kicked it to the side. And then it exploded. Thankfully, no one was killed. However, her sister walks with a limp until today.
So when I saw that SpongeBob backpack I was unsettled. Had it been years earlier, before I’d made my home in Israel, and had I seen it at The Grand Canyon, I probably would have opened it looking for identifying information so I could find its owner. The reality of living with Arab terror for so many years has taken its toll, though. I didn’t open the backpack. In fact, I gave it wide breadth and made my way to one of the security guards.
The minute my words of concern were out of my mouth he leapt to action. Glancing around the area it seemed that he immediately made the same conclusion I had. Barking out orders that everyone should move back, two barricades were swiftly set in place. All worshippers and tourists were detoured around the bag. I was already safe on the other side of the security checkpoint. Watching the frenzied action I longed to know what the true identity of that SpongeBob backpack was. For better or worse though, I had a bus to catch and could not stay on as an observer. I knew, that if it had indeed been a bomb, the story would be on the news. I would be an anonymous heroine knowing that I’d saved others from injury or worse.
Thankfully, there were no stories of a near disaster at the Kotel yesterday. Still, I don’t feel the least bit embarrassed at causing inconvenience to others. I know I did the right thing being an aware and concerned citizen. Here in Israel we don’t have the luxury of being apathetic. We have to keep our eyes open and watch out for each other all the time.