(or, "In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time", or "Timing is everything",
depending on your view of God's Grace, Media exposure, and additional grey hair)
This is an email composed during the day just after the invasion and sent at about 11:30 pm on the Tuesday of the invasion (Tuesday, 1:30 am).
Since my last report, I have ventured down to Ein Arik to view the road blockade there, and then did some more interviews with students at the Evangelical School, similar views to the other interviews, with the exception being the last class seemed more aware of the Israelis who work for justice and human rights.
I then made my way back to Jerusalem, a 40 minute wait at the Kalandia check, Arab version of single file (a mass of bodies about 20 feet wide), where the soldiers pick us one by one to come forward with identity cards etc. The group gradually inches itself forward, usually everyone taking a step as each person is called forward in a weird Palestinian version of "Simon Says." Once the group gets a certain distance past the barriers, one or more of the soldiers then starts yelling and pointing his gun, the group then slowly inches its way back, and the cycle resumes again. Once thru that check it took 3 separate taxis to make it the 7 Kilometers to Jerusalem. Total time, 2 and a half hours.
I then met up with Jeremy Milgrom from Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) (rhr.israel.net) and we proceeded to go to visit the Jahalin Bedouin living near the exclusive Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim.
The Jahalin Bedouin are refugees from the Beer Sheva area in what is now Israel. They were kicked off their lands in 1950 and moved to the area between Jerusalem and Jericho. In 1993 the illegal settlement of Maale Adumim expropriated their land and tried to move them. The Jahalin resisted in the courts, but were forcibly evicted in 1997, moved to a few hundred meters of the Jerusalem municipal dump and "given" steel storage containers for accommodations. They are still fighting this in court and hope to be at least given permission to build real homes where they live now. Its an exposed hilltop not suited to the Bedouin tents. They have a pipe for water, but no sewage system, and a generator for electricity only runs 2 hours per day. There are about 70 children in the camp. Poverty isn't the word for it.
It was dark by the time I made it back to the Ram checkpoint, but no problem going thru.
After a long day I went to bed at 10pm (unheard of for me). This turned out to be a fortunate thing as we were awakened at 1:30 am by heavy machine gun fire and helicopter cannons. About 20 minutes later we could hear the tank treads on the main road and by 2:00 pm some Israeli tanks had taken up station just down the road from us. We could regularly hear small arms, heavy machine gun, and some tank cannon fire.
The sounds of tanks, APCs, and sporadic weapons fire punctuated the rest of the night.
I managed to catch a few winks about 8:00 am,, Sister Vreni at the Girls School called up and wanted me to come over and do something with the kids in art. She couldn't hear the occasional chatter of small arms fire from where she was a few hundred yards away, but I wasn't all that inclined to go out for a stroll with sporadic shooting going on. A few hours later you could see some people moving around, and the odd car running an errand. The children in one of the houses below us were playing in the yard. One man came out of his house, saw someone else off in a car, but had a child glued to him like an octopus, just wrapped around with arms and legs.
Called up Samira Nasser, Principal of the Evangelical School, who lives in the Evangelical Technology Center across the road from the school, and found out that the soldiers were saying it was a hard curfew,, anyone outside could be shot on sight. I called Sister Vreni, and the kids were now sleeping, but would be up about 3. She later called back and said she asked the soldiers who had taken over the new school building about being OK to go outside and was told it was a hard curfew, no one on streets.
Talked to Cathy from Sabeel in Jerusalem, she suggested that if I needed to get to Jerusalem tomorrow (and I do need to), it would be best to go very early, as that is the best time if everything is closed. Somehow venturing out with heavy pack at first light in this situation just doesnt appeal to me.
This truly is a bizarre place.
The afternoon was fairly quiet till about 5 o'clock when a firefight broke out just outside that lasted for over an hour.
Its now 8:00 pm and the tanks have returned, with numerous APCs.
9:00 pm and the Israeli army is has now broken into our building, and we can hear them breaking in doors. An APC has jammed itself into the driveway entrance so no one can leave.
They haven't come to our door yet.
Earlier there was much shooting just outside the building and near the main road.
After getting this email, Rachael responds with the following, but Kent doesnt read it till later Wednesday when he is able to get a few emails out.
Portion of an email sent by Rachael after the invasion but before the "detention"
.......So PLEASE don't take any unneccessary risks just to catch a plane.....it's not important, because it can be changed....maybe the good Lord allowed this to happen while you were there for reasons that we had already discussed. Think about it!!!!! Also you don't HAVE to be back this week,,,,, To be honest I would prefer you to be in one peace/piece than wanting you home now....I'm doing fine by the way (my sense of humour is still hanging in there ...most of the time :) This has certainly been a challenge for me too remember. The more I think about it the more I feel that you shouldn't try leaving tomorrow.
This is a compilation of the events just prior to our "detention" and the next several days.
Midnight Tuesday, March 12, 2002
The IDF soldiers who broke into the building at 9:00 pm have come to our door and forced us from apartment, told no use of phone, I told Pat to call her daughter, soldiers said no, Pat did it anyway with two soldiers pointing guns at her. Both soldiers were quite menacing,, but I didnt think they would shoot a 70 year old widow for making a phonecall. We were taken to the lower stairway in the building and told to wait while they cleared the rest of the building. I thought this was a bit odd as we would have been much safer in our flats while they cleared the building. Then took us into the lower floor apartment. I gave one of the soldiers one of my "Sea of Galilee" prints with Hebrew Arabic and English, he read it and gave it back. Rula who owns the flat upstairs was giving the soldiers a hard time, they had kicked in her door and told her to gather everyone and go out. She asked to where? They didn't answer. She told them she wouldn't go out and they were welcome in her flat. She also told them she had 5 young children and an elderly aunt who wasn't well, that the kids were asleep and she wasn't going to wake them up. They still insisted on getting them up and out. One of Rula's parents was from Jaffa, the Israelis kicked them out and never allowed them to come back. Rula's other parent was from West Jerusalem, they were forced to leave and never allowed to return. Rula decided to stay. Rula is the wife of Dr. Shukri Odeh, a gynecologist who works at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. Rula also has a degree from a western university (cant remember what or where).
Soldiers decide Rula isn't worth the hassle and move us all up to have a "visit" with Rula.
We also have another doctor, a general surgeon with us, his family and 3 other families as well. Twenty-three people, a 69 year old British/Palestinian widow, a British/Canadian artist (me), and 21 other Palestinian "nationals". There were 2 elderly, and 10 children aging from 18 months to 10 years old
The doctor gets a phone call and tries to answer it, but is told not to with guns pointing at his head. He decides discretion is the better part of valour, but complains that it might be a patient. The soldiers are not impressed. I realize I have left my daytimer upstairs, and ask the soldiers if I can go up to get it, am told I can later. I ask after a bit, am told later, but told to keep asking. This soldier we had been "talking" to indirectly, having discussions on peace issues, human rights, war criminals etc. His initial hostile attitude melts a bit.
Dr. Odeh offers me a whisky earlier, but I decline. A bit later I am offered a tea, coffee, etc., but decline,, then they suggest a beer, to which my head snaps up quite quickly,, "a beer? yes please!" The soldiers crack a smile at this and have a chuckle between themselves. I am soon allowed to go up and get my daytimer (with escort of course).
At 1:45 am the soldiers leave the flat we are confined in, and take the phones with them, and attachment cords (or they thought they did). We all start to look for places to rest, with most of the Palestinians in the other informal "family room" leaving Pat and myself to the "living room." Pat gets the loveseat and I take the couch. Rula brings in some bedsheets and tucks Pat and I in. It was fairly quiet that night (or I thought it was). Pat didn't get a wink, with the other ladies talking for half the night, then I took up snoring the other half. Told her to give me a thump next time.
Its 7:00 am and some heavy machine guns have just let loose,, creating quite a din of noise. This continues for about an hour. We hear that the Israelis have penetrated to within 150 meters of the downtown of Ramallah, although we know out in the west end the area still isn't "secured." There's some more shooting about 8:20.
At 8:48 a soldier comes in, just pushes the door in without knocking, (lock wasn't working due to similar but more dramatic entrance the night before). We would put a chair in front of the door to keep the wind from blowing it open. I asked the soldier if he could knock next time, then come in, as it was more polite that way. He just continues to stand there with a very menacing attitude. I don't think he likes Palestinians. I suggest to someone in front of the soldier that perhaps he didn't get much sleep the night before either. Still no change in expression, but he backs up lowers his weapon and leaves. (We find out later that one or two soldiers were shot upstairs so perhaps he was unhappy over that. The odd part of his behavior was that they always came in a group of three or four, one on the stairs, one in the hallway, and two would come into the flat with safeties off and guns at the ready (pointing at us), this soldier came in by himself with no backup).
The kids are being entertained by Mr. Bean speaking his universal language, he is a favourite of the Doctors.
Sporadic shooting lasts till about 9:00 am. A different soldier comes in at 9:20,, Rula been fiddling with a phone she had stashed, but didn't think it would work cause the base station cord had been taken. She is doing this in front of the soldier, who takes the phone, we ask for the phones back, as we have every time the soldiers show up, and also explain every time the reasons for phones, calling my wife, who will be worried sick by now, calling Pats daughters for similar reasons, and the most pressing, the two Physicians need to be in contact with their patients and hospitals. The soldier gives us one phone, says we can make one phone call, but leaves and doesn't come back for the phone. We now have a phone and start putting it to good use. I get to call Rach,, she sounded quite relieved to hear from me. Pat calls her daughters. The other families get in contact with their loved ones. Now the problem is how to keep the phone charged with all the use.
I had told the soldiers my flight was the next day (today), and that I would need some way to get out.
I've also been taking snippets of video of the families, kids, the tanks and APCs outside and "sound footage". I wish I had figured a way to get a shot or two of the soldiers coming in the door, but didnt want to risk losing the camera or film.
The soldier I had been "working" comes in and tells me I can go and catch my flight. I tell him I have rebooked it for Tuesday next week. He gets a funny look on his face, wondering how I had done that without phones as they didn't know the other soldier had given us one and forget to come back for it. He asks why,, tell him I can go, but to where? I'm also told if I leave I cant come back. I'm not sure if he means that its an inevitable byproduct of my leaving and walking up Ramallah with my suitcases in tow. Sporadic shooting is going on, biggest gaps are an hour or so,, Ramallah is still a free fire zone,, I ask him if he thinks I should take my suitcases and wander up the road into Ramallah,, tell him "no thanks." Also there are ten children, the other Palestinians, and Pat to make sure they stay safe and sound. Pat has a few hours of rest in the morning, but is feeling quite stressed from the soldiers and lack of sleep. She's lived in Palestine for 37 years, so can take quite a bit, but is getting older and has high blood pressure.
11:00 am, we are watching Al Jazeera news and told One Israeli officer is dead, 3 Palestinians, One Italian Journalist. I call Rami to see how he is doing (a friend who I met as a boy in the Evangelical Home for Boys that Pat and her late husband ran). Rami and his extended family are fine, but surrounded by troops,, I tell him to stay inside. (something tells me I really didn't need to tell him that)
We find out they have stopped the Ramallah water and electricity in the hospitals. Some ambulances have been shot at again. (during the Tulkarm invasion they killed 3 ambulance attendants and one physician, then ran tanks into the ambulances).
Jeremy Cook calls from BBC and wants to interview Pat, but she is sleeping and I wont wake her. Jeremy wants to come and do the interview live, we find out later they were not able to get to us. We also find out later that the British Embassy armoured car was trying to get to us as well, but the Israelis wouldn't let them through.
Talked to Rami, the helicopters were using cannon on a nearby public buildings. Rami suggests that this is a really scary situation, I tend to agree and once again suggest that he stay inside, out of sight, but to keep in touch.
Its 1:45 pm and the soldiers from the night before come back, the phone rings while they are at the door, they take it and want to know where we got it. We told him the soldier in the morning gave it to us. They want to know what he looked like. We tell them he was dressed in green, with a helmet, boots, carried an M16, also suggested they all looked pretty similar. Told no phones. Darn.
Some are allowed to be escorted to their flats and get some food. Pat is allowed up to get her knitting, but forgets the scrabble game. Pats door is still the only one not kicked in, and she is allowed to lock it when she leaves from getting her knitting.
There is still shooting outside, but its sporadic.
We still have water and electricity. Food supplies are good for now, as most Palestinians are in the habit of stocking up when things aren't going well, just part of the "lifestyle".
Wednesday 3:00 pm and am able to get computer hooked to the Internet in Doctors bedroom, and use his Palnet card for access (didn't know it was a phone card type, which when your time credits are up, no account), got a few emails off. I briefly fill Rach and Pats daughters in on the most recent info, and ask Rach to "give the kids a real big hug for me, and try not to let them know what's going on, OK."
Next attempt to access cant get online. Pat has an account which is the normal type, but we don't know the dial up number, and it isn't in the phonebooks in the flat, or in the "This week in Palestine" guide. With no phone we cant call anyone to get the number. I figure if I can get up to the flat for something, turn the computer on, and then open the dial up,, I will then have the number, but that assumes the soldier doesn't come in the flat with us.
I have been spending my time videoing the days events, then hiding the camera, taking the odd still shot, reading a novel, writing notes, answering the door, and just trying to keep track of things. The surgeon spends most of his day staring at the TV and doesn't seem to be in a good mood for some reason. Dr. Odeh varies between calm and stir crazy, pacing back and forth. The kids spend all day playing and running around laughing and having a ball with all of them cooped up together. The racket they make almost competes with the noise of the shooting outside. Competition for the TV is between the kids and their videos and us adults wanting to watch the news. Pat now spends much time knitting. The ladies do various things between making meals. The soldiers come by occasionally to check on us,, one time I suggest that its rude to point weapons at people. Sporadic weapons fire continues outside.
Its now Thursday morning and the doctors are very worried about their patients. We find out later that Dr. Odeh's patients had four deliveries without access to medical facilities, or a doctor. The surgeon is upset as he had seven surgeries scheduled for today, and had one very ill patient who needs attention.
At 8:00 am heavy shooting erupts outside after a long calm period.
At 9:08 the soldiers come up and give us some bread. We find out later that Sister Vreni from the Evangelical Home for Girls has walked past the snipers and shooting to find out how we are and bring bread.
We continue to ask the soldiers for phones and continue to give the long list of reasons for the need for phones. This time they say they will bring them in 2 hours.
Its 10:45 and Patricia has realized she has gone 2 days without her high blood pressure medicine. We open the door and call out to the soldiers, and ask that Pat can go up and get her medicine. We get no definite answer.
Heavy shooting is going on just outside, has even gotten the kids attention this time.
A soldier brings by some more bread, but wont allow Pat up to get her medicine, he stops on the stairs looks back at me, and tells me I need to stay away from the windows or I might be shot. I assume the snipers in the building down a bit have been practicing with their sighting.
The kids are still having fun, but the adults are starting to show the stress.
Water from Ramallah is cut off and we have noticed a sharp drop in the water pressure and amount coming out of the taps is quite low in volume and slow. (we don't know at the time but the water tanks on the roof are now somewhat porous.
Each flat has 3 1000 liter water tanks. I do some calcs, assume they are half full, estimate number of toilet flushes per day for 23 people, dishes, etc., and figure we have a few days of water left, but the amount coming out of the taps seems to indicate that I still retain some optimism despite the circumstances.
The old man from the building next door tries to come over to us with some eggs, the soldiers are yelling at him. His wife is on the porch and a couple of the sons or daughters kids are also outside to give him moral support in the journey to us. The soldiers argue with him for a bit, then let some shots off for punctuation, which gets him shuffling back to his place, and the kids, etc., scampering inside real quick.
Pat just told me how she had gotten supplies for a needy family when I did my trip to visit the Jahalin Bedouin, rice, olive oil, etc., so was going to wait till I got back to deliver it as it was very heavy. It was in the trunk of the car. A "voice" told her not to wait, to do it herself. She did, which was fortunate as that was Monday just before the invasion, curfew, and shooting. The family would likely have run out of food if Pat had waited.
Its 1:15 pm and they have been smashing things upstairs and down. They came to the door and wanted the key to the apartment opposite. We continue to ask for medicine for Pat, the phones, and have now added my toilet kit to the list. We are told in 10 minutes.
Heavy shooting at 1:40
The soldiers come again at 3:00, refuse phones, but allow Pat and myself to go up to get the medicine and kit. We get up and find her door kicked in. The soldiers have now moved into her flat with their kit and packs. An ambulance went by outside, then another shortly after.
At 4:22 the soldiers come and deliver 3 faxes to us. It seems that the Canadian and British Embassies are trying to contact us with no success. The British fax asks that we be given a phone and that Sister Vreni be allowed to see Pat and how she is. We assume from this that the brave Sister Vreni has once again walked the several hundred yards from the Girls Home to visit us in between shooting events. The officer tells me I can phone my wife, I ask for a phone for the doctors to call their hospitals and patients, and for Pat to call her daughters,, the officer leaves but gives us no phone.
Thurs 4:40 pm. I am standing by the door with the faxes, reading them, noting that there are return fax numbers,, hmmmmmm, We still have our fax machine, but they removed the handset and the connection. We are able to reconnect and get it working without the handset. I type a letter for the Canadian and British embassies on the computer and fax them. It works. Also Fax Sister Vreni with request to call my wife and have her hook up the fax and find out what our fax # is. We are able to get a fax off to Patricia's daughter Susan, but no further ones. I am unable to get a fax to Rachael, but my fax to the Embassies requested that they call her and let her know we are fine. The first few faxes make quite a racked during the dialup so I disable the sound so the soldiers wont hear it, but its next to the door so we hope that they wont come when a fax is receiving, or when we are sending.
Its now 6:35 and the power has been turned off to the flat. We thought at the time it was a general outage, but found out later it was the breaker being turning off by the IDF. Guess they were informed by their superiors that we had been sending faxes to the Embassies who were then irritating the liaison offices.
When the power is cut we had to do everything by candlelight and a propane lamp. Also wasn't able to have access to the refrigerator as we want to preserve the food in it for as long as possible.
Its now 8:20 and there hasn't been shooting for a bit, but we notice that whenever that is observed, it doesn't usually take long for the condition to change.
At 10 there is a large explosion near the Scout troop building,, we find out later an APC has been taken out by an RPG(rocket Propelled Grenade).
Ten minutes later an officer comes to the door, tells us not to open the door, touch the handle, go near the windows, or look out them till 8:00 am the next morning. He is quite hostile and menacing. Pointing the gun directly at us. I ask him not to point the gun at people, that we are just civilians. Hindsight is 20/20 and I really wish I had told him there was nothing to fear from us and we weren't going to hurt him. I'm told that I will be able to phone my wife at 8:00 am.
I don't remember exactly when it happened, but the tank APC discipline changed during the course of our internment, initially the APCs operated separately from the tanks, but midway thru the invasion the discipline changed. We observed two tanks backing down the main road, with their guns pointing uptown Ramallah, out from between them scoots an APC down to our building, drops off a package, then scoots back up to the security of the tanks, and heads back uptown with two tanks protecting it.
The most intense firefight of the three days starts about 11:00 pm, and lasts till 1:20. You get fairly good at figuring the difference between a Kalishnikof, an M16 fired from the building, or one towards the building, the 50 caliber on the roof (shakes the building), the 30 caliber heavies, the thuds of the bullets against the building, etc.
Its quiet for a bit, then there is much sound of soldiers going up and down the stairs, it sounds like more troops are coming in. I look outside at 2:20 and all the APCs are gone. At 2:39 the tanks on the road guarding the APC withdrawal depart as well. It is now quiet.
You can hear the helicopters overhead now, back and forth, but not too low.
5:55 there is shouting outside, a Palestinian vehicle with various soldier types is outside, one guy on a cell phone others yelling to someone upstairs. Five minutes later there is a knock on the door, I answer it, and its the PA police to tell us to return to our flats, the Israelis are gone.
We look for the phones, but there are none. While looking in the other apartments for the phones, we head upstairs on the top floor. What a mess! the Israelis had trashed the place. There was garbage everywhere, the furniture had been smashed, bullet holes in the walls and top it off there was a note stuck to the bathroom door that read "don't worry we'll be back".
I then grab my cameras and head downstairs to take some outside pics of the devastation.
Come back inside a minute or two later, the phones had been dropped in the apartment opposite.
I grab my cellphone and head for the roof (it only works high up in this end of Ramallah). Call the boss. She answers sleepily,, I say "love you,," she says "huh,, what,," I say "Hi, how ya doing",, "Kent, is that you?"
Kent, from Jerusalem
We ended up taking advantage of an earlier offer from the Canadian Embassy of a ride in an armoured car which allowed Patricia and I were able to get to Jerusalem on Saturday. The vehicle sent to pick us up is the same armoured car that was shot by the Israelis in Nov 2000. (A grey GMC Suburban with a big Canadian flag on it).
Portions of an email from Rachael to Kent on Wednesday
This has got to be the limit you realize...you may be an adrenaline junky but this is pushing it too far.....
............Fiona just came around and made me eat some toast and made a cup of tea....she's going to go and buy me a bottle of white..her idea.
Joan was by earlier to offer her support.
Told the kids that you are staying an extra couple of days to look after Auntie Pat, they were ok with that.
email from Rachael a bit later
"just watched the bbc news, on one of their captions it said that the Israelis were asking all men between the ages of 16-45 to turn themselves in for questioning....so are you going to join the queue>>>??? Armed with your video recorder..you could get some good footage Hey, this is my attempt at humour. love Rach"
an IM (immediate email message) between Kent and Rachael on Friday after the Israelis have left
RachWilken: Rose was sooooo happy to here you on the radio and that you were ok
RachWilken: she suggested to put screws in your feet to anchor you
RachWilken: we both agreed that it probably wouldn't work
...........KentWilken: I was so burnt after talking to people on phone I could scream
KentWilken: the israelis are easier on the nerves
RachWilken: I know the feeling....really I do
Rachael had spent the last several days on the phone, External Affairs, Live Radio interviews, inquiries from reporters, well wishers etc, etc, etc.
PPS,, have been asked several times,, "were you afraid", but have a hard time relating to the question, if that makes any sense. Finally figured out why,,
Its not about fear, its about faith.
Link to Religious Studies
Link to Sabeel Jerusalem (Palestinian Christian organization dedicated to finding a peaceful solution)
Israeli peace groups dedicated to a peaceful solution
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
www.rhr.israel.net (Rabbis for Human Rights)
www.icahd.org (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions)
B'Tselem Human Rights Israel and Palestine
Link to Peace Now
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