Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #6 Israel 2002

Monday, June 10

(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: I guess my e-mail to Anna Marie was a little premature and positive. About 2 a.m. I stirred a bit in my bed. In a state of being mostly asleep my mind was trying to reconcile the strange noises with where I was sleeping. I was always in so many different places and so many different hotels and so many different beds that in the twilight of consciousness I had to really concentrate on where I was at that given time.

It seemed to me that I was in an old hotel room somewhere and the steam pipes to the heat register were going “bang-glub, glub, bam, bam, pock, pock, bang.” That was my murky mind trying to determine what it was that I was hearing. I had just recently been in Tbilisi, Georgia, and was thinking, “Why don’t these old Soviets ever fix their steam heaters?”

Then, suddenly, I was totally awake and up on both elbows. What I was hearing was definitely not steam banging in the pipes of some rust-riddled hotel. I was hearing cannon fire and shots from some very big caliber guns.

I jumped out of bed and opened my window to the darkness. The roar of the engines of armored military machines flooded into my room. I could see the silhouettes of men standing on their garden walls and porches atop their houses trying to see what was going on. As I watched, I saw that the streets of Ramallah had suddenly filled up with tanks and armored personnel carriers. They moved quite quickly, seemingly in groups of four units. First in line would come a very large, wide-tracked, Israeli-made tank. They handily fit within the curbs of some of the streets. When they came to a roundabout or sharp corner they would simply rev up the engines and roll over anything in their way. 

Not being too familiar with tanks, I couldn’t tell you the model or the caliber of the rotating cannon on the top, but it was huge. Following the large tank were two armored personnel carriers. They had small machine guns mounted on the front and on the very back was a vertical door where the troops entered and exited.

Behind the tracked personnel carriers was a smaller, more conventional tank. Those tanks had a large movable gun at center-top and smaller, mortar-type guns and machine guns mounted at various spots. As they sped along, I could hear their cleated tracks tearing into the asphalt and chewing up the curbs and sidewalks.

I was so fascinated with their proceedings into the city that I just stayed glued to my open window watching and listening and smelling the spent powder from the continual volleys of large and small gunfire. Overhead, guarding the entire entry were large attack helicopters, which would randomly open fire at some pre-planned target.

About 4:15 a.m. all the lights in the city went out. Then, all that could be seen were the headlights and spotlights from the crawling machines and whining helicopters. The shooting increased continuously and it seemed that the shots were coming from all different directions at one time. The tanks were pretty much deployed to nearly every intersection.

Ramallah was built on a series of small mountains and valleys, which made it difficult to follow the lights of any set of tanks. Even though the tanks seemed to have an assigned intersection or area, they didn’t stay in one place very long, but instead, kept moving back and forth on the streets.

Ramallah was not my first visit to a city that was under military siege. But, the awesomeness of the incredible show of force was enough to send a shiver up my spine every once in a while. And I couldn’t help thinking about all the shots that were being continually fired. Where were the stray or ricochet bullets or bombs going? Even if a shell were shot straight up in the air it had to come down somewhere.

Another thought dancing in my head as I stood at the window was the irony of Anna Marie and me being such friends with many Israelis and actually serving on the board of the Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tel Aviv and now, I was in the West Bank trying to take help and hope to the hurting Palestinians. Meanwhile I had gotten caught right in the middle of the crossfire of history. I could only pray that I had not bumbled into the wrong place at the wrong time.

Many times before the Israelis, I had been told, would blitz into a West Bank or Gaza city, grab the person or persons they were after and be gone by 8:30 the next morning. I felt certain that by the time I had showered and taken a cup of hot tea out on the patio under the lemon trees that things would be back to normal and we would simply carry on with our scheduled appointments in the cities of Jerusalem and Nablus. But the tanks never left and the shooting was increasing, not decreasing.

Israeli trucks crossed the streets using bullhorns to announce a total curfew. No one was to move; no one was to leave their house even for emergencies, giving birth to babies, or keeping medical appointments. The city was under total lockdown.

The hours of the day dragged on. The electricity was restored for a while but by nightfall all was dark again. 

The Jodeh family just looked at each other communicating fear and anger, and concern for other members of their family and their business dealings. When the electricity was on they gathered around the television set to learn as much as they could about what was going on. There was more coverage on the local Ramallah or Nablus stations, but, of course, the reports were in Arabic and I had to depend on Mohamed passing on any new information to me.

Monday evening Mohamed and I sat on the front veranda

and enjoyed the cool breeze after the scorching hot day. We watched as the Israeli troops were deployed to certain blocks. None of the soldiers worked alone. They were going door to door. Their walk, with their automatic weapons brandished, seemed to say, “We told you to stop the suicide bombing of innocent Israeli citizens and you did not. We told you and gave you sufficient time to rout out the known terrorists from your towns and you wouldn’t. So, now, we are here to do the job you wouldn’t do. Don’t underestimate our determination.”

The soldiers never knocked or rang the bell. They walked to the door and use the butt of their gun to pound on the door. If no one answered they would affix an explosive device on the knob or lock and take cover behind a wall or tree or another building. Soon the device would detonate and blow the door open and the soldiers would enter, sometimes shooting.

The soldiers were also deployed to barricade certain streets. We watched as they used trash dumpsters, stones, pieces of fencing, tree stumps, or anything else they could get their hands on to block the streets. Usually, three soldiers would sling their guns on their backs and work while one soldier crouched in a shooting position to protect them.

Monday night I went to sleep listening to a cacophony of gunfire. Perhaps, overnight, they would pull out.

Next Week: When will all this be over? 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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