Held Hostage

Rating: NNNNNramallah, west bank -- we've allbeen moved to one flat -- 13 adults (two elderly) and 10 children ranging.

Rating: NNNNN

ramallah, west bank — we’ve allbeen moved to one flat — 13 adults (two elderly) and 10 children ranging in age from 18 months to 10 years old. Two of the adults are physicians: a surgeon who had seven operations scheduled today and a gynecologist who has now missed four deliveries. Israeli soldiers have set up shop above us in Patricia’s apartment. Most of the rest of the building has been taken over, as have others in the area.Rula, who owns a flat upstairs, is giving the soldiers a hard time. They tell her to gather everyone and leave. To where? she asks. They don’t answer. She tells them there are five children and an elderly aunt who isn’t well. The soldiers kick them out. Rula decides to stay.

The soldiers who were here earlier have taken the phones and cord attachments with them. But we’re able to hook a computer to the Internet and get a few e-mails off. I’m also able to fax the Canadian and British embassies requesting that they call my wife Rachel (in Tobermory) to let her know we’re fine. I disable the sound so the soldiers won’t hear it. Later, the power to the flat is turned off.

Many vehicles outside now sound like tanks, and so do the birds chirping. I am really getting to hate it when doors are closed too loudly in the building. I don’t like the sound of people going up and down the stairs either.

It’s 7 am, and some heavy machine guns have just let loose, creating quite a din. This continues for about an hour. We hear that the Israelis have penetrated to within 150 metres of the downtown. At 8:48 am, a soldier pushes the door in without knocking. (The lock isn’t working due to a similar but more dramatic entrance the night before.) We’d put a chair in front of it to keep the wind from blowing it open. I ask the soldier if he could knock next time. He continues to stand there with a very menacing attitude.

Sporadic shooting lasts till about 9 am. A different soldier comes in at 9:20 am. He gives us back one phone, says we can make one call, but leaves and doesn’t come back. We now have a phone and start putting it to good use. I get to call Rachel. Pat calls her daughters. The other families get in contact with their loved ones.

More intermittent shooting is going on. Ramallah is still a free-fire zone. Pat is feeling quite stressed from the soldiers and lack of sleep. She’s lived here for 37 years, so she can take quite a bit, but she’s getting older and has high blood pressure.

11 am. Watching Al Jazeera news, we’re told one Israeli officer, three Palestinians and one Italian journalist are dead. I call Rami, a friend whom I met as a boy in the Evangelical Home for Boys, to see how he’s doing. Rami and his extended family are fine but surrounded by troops. He tells me attack helicopters are turning their cannons on nearby public buildings.

Soldiers escort some of those we’re confined with here to their flats to get food. Pat is allowed up to get her knitting, but forgets the Scrabble game.

I have been spending my time videotaping the day’s events, then hiding the camera. The kids run and play in this cooped-up state, and the racket they make competes with the noise of the shooting outside. Pat now spends much time knitting. She’s gone two days without her blood pressure medicine. The soldiers come by occasionally to check on us. The doctors are very worried about their patients. Heavy shooting erupts outside after a long period of calm.

Sister Vreni from the Evangelical Home for Girls has walked past the snipers and shooting to deliver bread, which a soldier brings up.

He tells me I need to stay away from the windows or I might be shot. I assume the Israeli snipers in the building down a bit have been practising with their sighting. I do some calculations and figure we have a few days of water left. The old man from the building next door tries to come over with some eggs. The soldiers yell at him, then let some shots off for punctuation, which get him shuffling back to his place real quick.

The soldiers have been smashing things upstairs and down. This time they allow Pat to return to her apartment to get her medicine. The soldiers have now moved into her flat with their kits and packs. An ambulance goes by outside, then another shortly after.

At 4:22 pm the soldiers deliver three faxes. It seems that the Canadian and British embassies are trying to contact us, with no success.

At 10 pm there’s a large explosion near the scout troop building. We find out later that an army personnel carrier has been taken out by a rocket-propelled grenade. The most intense firefight of the three days starts at about 11 pm and lasts till 1:20 am. You get fairly good at figuring the difference between a Kalashnikov and an M-16.

You can hear the helicopters overhead now, back and forth, but not too low.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s the Palestinian Authority police telling us to return to our flats — the Israelis are gone. We head upstairs. What a mess! The Israelis have trashed the place. The furniture has been smashed and bullet holes dot the walls. There’s a note stuck to the bathroom door. It reads, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back.”

Kent Wilkens, a Canadian visiting friends in Ramallah, describes his three days spent confined to an apartment as Israeli troops laid siege to the West Bank city last week.

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