"Is the street clear?" a
sapper colleague yells. "Get
them all back."
The police push everyone
back even further.
Suddenly, a blast booms
through the street.
make them — and not to make it personal."
Indeed, when Israel recruits sappers, it
specifically screens out people who want
"to make it personal. There's no room here
for a man trying to prove something, or
trying to be macho," explains an official in
squad management. "Our sappers must be
cool under pressure and make the right
decision at the right moment. We want
highly stable people."
rIb be accepted into the sapper's training
academy, an applicant must pass a battery
of psychological tests, including questions
designed to reveal undesirable personality
traits. For example: "You see a tall building
with many steps going up. You climb up
the steps and finally get to the roof and
look down. What are you thinking?" The
question hopes to identify those with a
death wish. "We can't use men who want
to die," says a squad management source,
"only the ones who want to live."
Death, in fact, is something the men
rarely contemplate, and almost never
discuss. It's not unmentionable. But every
one of them knows the danger. They can't
perform by dwelling on death, only by con-
centrating on survival. Why, then, do they
work on a job that can kill them a dozen
different ways a dozen times a week? "The
tremendous satisfaction it brings me,"
answers Pyoter, "is the knowledge that I
am making a valuable contribution to my
The families of squad members are re-
signed to the jobs. "I worry more about the
pedestrians who cross the street — now
that's dangerous in Israel," declared the
proud mother of Leni, a 21-year-old
newcomer to the Bomb Squad. "I know
that what my son does carries an element
of danger, but he follows the book,' and if
the situation is really too dangerous they
call in Hobo or Bambi."
If there are "heroes" in the Jerusalem
Bomb Squad, they are Hobo and Bambi,
the Squad's robots. Equipped with
mechanical arms, front and side cameras,
special analytical capabilities and a shot
gun — all mounted on step-climbing
wheels or small tank treads, the remote-
controlled Hobo can dispose of any suspect
package too dangerous for a man. The
smaller, more mobile version is Bambi,
deployed when the robot needs to squeeze
into confined environments.
"We don't believe in heroes," declares
Pyoter, "especially dead heroes." Yet the
men do believe in fear, and they each
remember vividly their most frightening
moments. In Yoni's case, it was at a govern-
ment building. "I was sent to dismantle an
obvious pipe bomb," remembers Yoni. "But
we couldn't see how much time was left on
the timer. The robot was not available. If
this bomb had gone off, it would have been
very powerful. I would have been killed and
many others. I disabled it, and when we
checked the timer, only five minutes re-
Perhaps it would be easier just to
evacuate an area and detonate a bomb
rather than risk defusing it. But "the PLO
claims victory even if the bomb goes off
harmlessly and only property is damaged,"
explains one of the men. "We can't have
bombs going off in the city every day."
But no matter how cautious the men are,
a device sometimes explodes. The protec-
tive gear usually reduces the risk to blind-
ness or loss of limbs. But two men have
been killed. Their pictures hang in the
squad room next to memorial lights.
Sometimes the job unnerves the men.
After hearing that a "real bomb" had ex-
ploded, a sapper gritted his teeth and
asked, "Do you hate Arabs?" Before
anyone could answer, he added, "Don't tell
me the official line, don't tell me the pro-
fessional line, just tell me 'Yes' or 'No.' Do
you hate Arabs?"
Someone replied, "There is no correct
answer to a wrong question." Someone else
chimed in, "They fight their war, and I
fight mine." Another interjected, "I kill my
enemy. I don't hate my enemy." Most
bombs are not planted by infiltrators from
Arab countries, or from terrorists slipping
into the country via Europe. They are
planted by residents from the West Bank.
This means that every car with a blue
license plate (designating a West Bank
vehicle) is suspect. Everyone speaking
Arabic is suspect. Every Arab carrying a
package is suspect.
Arabs are constantly questioned on the
street, parcels they carry are subject to ex-
amination, and police at roadblocks near
the entrance to Jerusalem check the iden-
tities of Palestinians coming into town.
West Bank drivers, accustomed to the con-
stant vehicle searches, have learned never
to carry luggage or boxes in their trunk,
thereby expediting the search.
Beyond the routine police searches, the
Bomb Squad itself conducts periodic in-
tensive -searches. Arab autos passing a
checkpoint are curbed. Within a matter of
minutes, the Squad unscrews door panels,
checks under the seats and in the trunk,
examines carburetors and searches per-
sonal parcels. The point is to both conduct
a search and demonstrate vigilance — to
make any terrorist think twice before try-
ing to smuggle a bomb into the city.
One carload of Arab students being
searched was asked how they felt about the
countermeasures. The eldest replied, "You
see they are taking apart my car. How do
you think I feel about it?" Asked if he
understood the necessity for such crack-
downs, he snapped, "But I am not carry-
ing a bomb. I only have my schoolbooks."
Jerusalem lives with bomb scares as a
daily fact of life the way London lived with
the blitz. Newspaper ads spread the word:
"Suspicion Saves." Public service spots on