Waiting out battle, reporter finds unlikely companion: Palestinian boy
JENIN, WEST BANK
BY the time it is over, one hour and 50 minutes of cowering in an empty garage as Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers rattle and rumble around outside, Adass has wet his pants in fear.
Adass and I were in the garage for different reasons. A brown-haired boy of about 8, he had been playing in the street and had hidden because he didn't want to get in trouble for violating an Israeli-imposed curfew.
I had spent the day getting into Jenin, at one point riding on a tractor and walking across an onion field, and I did not want the soldiers to evict me from the city.
The worst part was the shooting. Adass and I did not share a language, but he would look at me when he was most frightened, his face crinkling into despair, and his eyes welling with tears. I comforted him as best I could, patting him on the shoulder and telling him everything would be OK.
We took shelter together at about 5:30 Saturday afternoon. I and a fellow reporter were walking on a street near a center for refugees from the Jenin camp.
With dusk approaching, people had appeared on the street in defiance of the curfew in part to try to get food from the refugee center. Suddenly the grinding, clanking sound of moving, mechanized armor forced people to change their plans.
My colleague, a reporter from the Netherlands, hustles back to the center. Thinking the Israelis won't stop, I opt for the garage. Adass follows me. We huddle behind a tank hitched to a tractor. Peering out the door, we see a tank and two APCs go by. We can hear one vehicle idling nearby, so we stay put. Then its engine dies. Talking to my colleague on my cellphone, I learn that the APC is just up the street from our garage.
Adass and I stay behind the tanker, which I hope is filled with water and not something combustible. At 6 p.m., the armored personnel carrier (APC) driver starts the engine, but three minutes later its gunner begins firing. At least six shots ring through the neighborhood.
At 6:08, the engine dies again. So do our hopes that the Israelis are about to leave. But at 6:10 p.m., the engine revs up. Adass huddles behind the wheel of the tank. I sit on the cement floor behind him, next to a grimy rear seat from a van.
The engine noise grows louder and louder, and we realize the Israelis are moving. Soon the clanking and crashing of metal on metal becomes deafening, and the time begins to pass very slowly. At 6:18, two tanks and two APCs, the last one with soldiers gazing in our direction, pass by the garage.
Adass quakes. I cower. I learn from my colleague that a remaining APC is now in a field in front of the garage. He advises me not to move. For half an hour, Adass and I stay in place. Sometimes the APC engine is on, and sometimes not.
I try to ease Adass's fear. At 6:28 another shot cracks the silence. I feel my chest moving between the ceramic plates of my flak jacket. At 6:35 there are two more shots. Adass is really having a hard time. My colleague and I discuss emerging with a white flag, but another reporter friend, reached by phone in Jerusalem, advises against it. The Israelis will leave, he says. Adass and I lie low. The minutes pass.
At 7:05 there is another shot, but this one turns out to be of the parting variety. At 7:06 the APC's engine comes to life and the vehicle begins to move. Fifteen minutes later my colleague comes from the refugee center, since his cellphone battery has died, to tell me the coast is clear. As Adass and I get up, I notice that he has urinated on the floor. As he heads home, he looks back sadly. We wave to each other.