Think twice before you swipe a tchotchke from the Old City’s Arab shuk. You’re being caught on candid camera – 320 of them.

Braided between the oldest sites in history is one of the most modern security systems on Earth – “Mabat 2000” – a complex network of visible surveillance cameras in Jerusalem’s Old City, established at the turn of the century.

Sixteen staff members are assigned to different cameras in the Old City’s Observation and Intelligence Center, with special attention paid to the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Temple Mount.

The cameras can be maneuvered 360 degrees to follow and track movements – and range from the aerial view of a parking lot to the searing detail of a single license plate.

According to National Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, there is a reason the area has approximately one camera for every 125 permanent residents.

“Over 40,000 people live in the 2-sq.km. area of the four different quarters,” he said during a tour of the facility Monday afternoon. “This doesn’t include the thousands of tourists each day.”

Although Rosenfeld said it is presently a relatively quiet period in Jerusalem due to the West Bank security barrier, he noted that there is still daily crime – 80 percent of which he described as “criminal” and 20% involving terrorism.

To ensure order, he said, there are 800 police officers roaming the Old City on an average day, and even more during the religious festivals.

“During Ramadan there are at least 3,000 officers or more,” he said. “Towards the end of Ramadan there are 5,000.”

Although the majority of security comes from highly trained foot-patrol officers, Rosenfeld noted that even the best officers cannot see crime on rooftops or behind buildings.

That is where the security cameras come in.

“Can you imagine 100,000 people coming through a small pathway?” he asked.

“That’s very, very claustrophobic.”

Rosenfeld said any suspicious activity is immediately transferred to officers on the ground and acted upon immediately.

“If we receive an official complaint, we can check when the incident took place and use the camera system that we have here to find out who the suspects were, what they look like, how they were dressed, and exactly where they were,” Rosenfeld said.

He noted that there is footage of almost every terrorist attack and incident that has taken place since the security station was created.

“All of the video surveillance is proof that is used as evidence in court – it’s very important,” said Rosenfeld as he pointed to the enormous display screens transferring high-definition images in real time, 24/7.

A cursory look at one of the screens shows two young boys passing a soccer ball, a man walking to work in east Jerusalem, activity in shops and tourists coming and going.

Rosenfeld said if you look long enough you are likely to witness a petty theft, such as a pickpocket preying on visitors.

Each staff member watches a computer that displays an illustrated map of the Old City spotted with camera icons.

When Rosenfeld clicks on a camera icon in the shuk, a real-time, high-resolution video pops up. A tall, greyhaired tourist passes an aggressive vendor selling lutes. The tourist walks out of view.

Rosenfeld then clicks on another camera and the tourist enters the viewfinder again, his sun-burned head peaking above the crowd.

Rosenfeld zooms in: The tourist inspects an orange scarf. He considers buying it.

Rosenfeld continues to track him this way, jumping from static camera to camera with the click of a mouse.

The only thing he can’t do from the surveillance center is warn the tourist not to buy.

However, Rosenfeld said the power of Mabat 2000 is more useful for protecting civilians than catching petty thieves.

“The real reason we have the cameras is to ensure the status quo stays even between the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities,” he said.

Unfortunately, preventative measures are not always enough. Terrorist attacks are sometimes witnessed on realtime video.

In 2007 Rosenfeld said he watched as an unarmed terrorist suspect trailed two private security guards.

“They had two pistols and the suspect followed them,” he said. “At a certain point he pulled out one of their pistols and an on-screen gun battle took place for 15 minutes.”

Rosenfeld continued, “We were literally maneuvering different officers from different locations as it happened… They have to respond and react to save lives.”

Today, Mabat 2000 serves as a paradigm for most major cities.

In addition to visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, foreign surveillance representatives regularly visit the Old City to study the cutting-edge technology.

So before you worry too much about getting your wallet stolen, remember Rosenfeld’s words: “We are watching and looking at all times.”

The ancient structures may seem like relics of the past, but they are very much alive.

“These are the eyes of the Old City,” said Rosenfeld.

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