Sunday, November 1, 2015

Strangers In The Night

 As I have written before, our goal on our trip to Europe was to sample the local charm of the areas that we visited.  So often, the tour guides show you what they want you to see.  We wanted to see the things they might not want you to see.  I say all of this, because the story that I am going to tell you is true.  It may seem farfetched, or a plot from a movie, but it really happened.  I was sworn to secrecy, and didn't really tell anyone until about 20 years after it happened.  The person I told was in special forces in Vietnam, and he said the story didn't surprise him.  So, here goes.
 We got to Jerusalem and stayed in a hotel in the Arab Quarter near Herod's Gate.  It had a lot of character.  That first night, we asked the desk clerk where we could go to check out our surroundings, and they suggested we go down the street one block to a souvenir shop called the Jordan Bazaar.  Sandra, Talula, Judy, and I went to the shop.  There were three Arab guys who ran the shop.  Their names were Sam, Omar, and Sam.  Sam and Omar were brothers, and the other Sam was their cousin.  They were in their mid-20's.  We asked them if they could take us on a walking tour of Jerusalem by night, and they said they would, when they closed up the shop for the night.
 At around 10pm, we got together with the 3 guys and set out on our tour.  Each guy walked with each girl, and I walked behind them.  Sandra was directly in front of me.  At some point in our "tour", Sandra put her hand behind the guy and waved at me.  I thought it was a signal to "get lost", so I started to lag behind.  I continued to get further away from them, until I no longer saw them.  I was officially lost.  I walked through neighborhoods of squalor.  No street lights.  No signs.  I came upon a group of Orthodox Jewish men.  I asked for directions, but they wouldn't talk to me.  I finally found a taxi and asked him to take me to my hotel.  I gave him a dollar, and it turned out I was just around the corner from the hotel.  When I got back, it was nearly midnight.  Mr. Vivian was furious.  He said that the girls had gotten back earlier, and they didn't know where I was.  I apologized and went to bed.
 The next morning, Mr. Vivian had a meeting with me and the girls.  He had decided that we would stay together for the rest of the trip, and I would be their protector.  There was no debate in this decision.  I was to go everywhere the 4 girls went.  I didn't like the idea, and I don't think they did either, but it was a done deal.  So, if they wanted to go dress shopping, I went too.  It was also the majority ruled.  If three wanted to go somewhere, then everyone would go there.  We were all friends, but now we were all joined at the hip. 
 Our tour of Jerusalem was uneventful.  That night, we were having supper in the hotel, and an American man came to our table.  He introduced himself as an employee of the US consulate, and said he was a political attaché.  (For those of you not familiar with that term, that is code for CIA).  He said that he had become aware that we had made friends with the guys from the Jordan Bazaar.  We were surprised that he knew that piece of information.  He told us that we could no longer associate with them.  When we asked why, he said that Henry Kissinger was in town to try and broker a peace deal, and that these 3 boys were part of a group that wanted to see the deal fail.  He was afraid that Americans being friends with these "terrorists", as he called them, would be harmful to the process.  I told him that it might seem strange to them that we suddenly stopped seeing them, so the man said that we could find out all we could about them and their friends, and then the man would come back each night to our supper and find out what we knew.  That sounded dangerous, so I asked the man what if we refused.  He said that the US Government would revoke our passports and send us home.  They were serious.  We talked it over and decided to do it, since how would we explain to our parents why they lost all that money they paid for us to be in Europe, etc. 
 The next day, we continued on our tour of Jerusalem.  A little boy followed us around, trying to sell us rolls of mints.  He would say, "One for a quarter or two for 25 cents".  He was cute, but we kept brushing him off.  He stayed with us, and he started to become a nuisance.  We found out later that the 3 Arabs used the boy to keep tabs on us.  That afternoon, we hung out with the 3 boys, and found out what we could without sounding too curious.  When we got back to the hotel, we had a short time before supper.  I called Sandra's room and asked her what she knew, so that we could compare stories and make sure we had everything right before the American guy showed up.  While I was on the phone with her, we heard some background noise over the phone and a click.  We found out that the folks at the hotel's desk were listening into our conversation.  Our "cover" was blown.  The hotel called the Jordan Bazaar and told them what we were up to.  A message was sent back to us that we could continue our tour, but if they saw us away from our tour, they would do harm to us.  It became serious.  We didn't tell Mr. Vivian, because we were already in trouble with him.  That night, after dinner, there were hecklers outside our hotel windows, until some police showed up and moved them away. 
 The following morning was Saturday.  We had our regular tour of Jerusalem.  After lunch, the girls wanted to go to a hair salon, which was about a block behind our hotel.  So, we made an excuse that we were tired, so the rest of the tour group went onto other sites.  The girls and I went through a service entrance in the back of the hotel to get to the salon, because the front of the hotel was being watched.  We got to the salon, which was run by a very nice Arab woman.  Word got back to the boys where we were, and they showed up at the salon, pounding on the shop's glass.  Fearing that the glass would break, the woman called the police and got them to move the boys back.  We explained to the woman what was going on, and she said that she would protect us.  When the girls finished at the salon, I went out of the shop first; looked to see if it was clear; and then motioned them to run across the street back to the hotel.  This was very stressful for me, and I found that I needed something for my stomach.  There was a drug store across the street from the front of the hotel.  I ran across the street and into the store.  There was an elderly Arab man running the store.  I told him what I needed and why.  He told me to watch out for those 3 boys, because they were "crazy".  He also said he would protect us.
 On Sunday, the tour group went to the local Baptist church for the morning service.  It was a few blocks from our hotel, and we walked.  It was a little dicey, but we made it okay.  Sandra bought a solid wooden camel as a souvenir.  It was my duty to carry it, because it was heavy.  That afternoon was spent writing postcards and relaxing.  That evening, the American man came back to our supper, and we told him about the threats, and that was the first time that Mr. Vivian knew what we were going through.  Some words were exchanged between him and the government official, and it was decided that we would leave very early Monday morning to go to the airport in Tel Aviv.
 At around 2am, there was a knock on our doors.  The man said get packed.  We were leaving.  All 16 of us crammed into two cabs, and a trailer housed our luggage.  Soldiers with machine guns guarded us, as we loaded up our stuff and got us out of Jerusalem in the dark.  We got to Tel Aviv without incident.  We went through the toughest security checks we had ever seen.  They x-rayed the wooden camel, and sawed it in half.  Sandra was very mad.  She threw it away.  There was an Arab man in front of me in the security line who had an urn stuffed with socks.  He was on his way to France to sell tractors.  He was not allowed on his plane, much to his anger.  At 7am, wheels were up on our plane, and we flew to our next scheduled destination of Frankfurt, West Germany.  We were very relieved when we were out of Israeli airspace. 
 About six months later, I was at Presbyterian College and was listening to a BBC World Service radio program called "Victor Sylvester's Dance Party".  He took requests of songs for people all over the world.  I sent in a request of "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra as a dedication to the three Arabs in Jerusalem.  A month later, he played it, and said, "From Walter in the US to Sam, Omar and Sam in Jerusalem--'Strangers in the Night'".  It was my way of getting back at them one last time.
 Some three years later, Congress was having a hearing about the CIA using civilians for spying.  The CIA said they never had used civilians, and they never would.  I just had to laugh, because I knew differently.  For a few days in July, 1973 in Jerusalem, five American young people on a tour worked for the CIA.  And, just as a side note, Israel and Syria fought against each other in October, 1973 called the Yom Kippur War.  I don't know whatever happened to the 3 Arab guys, but I suspect they had a hand in the war.

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