Okay, let me start off by saying we are all okay and no one got hurt.
There is a course you take before you go overseas with the Foreign Service called Security Overseas Seminar. In it, they tell you that a really high percentage of foreign service officers are the victims of crime at some point in their careers, something like 85% if I recall correctly. Like everyone else in the room, I thought, well, hopefully I will be in the lucky 15%. But as you probably already know, my apartment here was robbed two months after I arrived at post. So I had already done my part to contribute to the percentage. And I hoped that would be the end of it.
Yesterday, M and I, along with two other friends from the consulate, decided to do the ramparts walk in the Old City. That is where you walk around the top of the Old City walls. The views are great and we all took some great pictures. We were all talking about what a beautiful day it was, how much fun we were having and how Jerusalem overall is a pretty easy place to live. That is probably what jinxed us.
We walked up the stairs to a wide part of the rampart (maybe 20 feet wide by 40 feet long....most of it was only a few feet wide). In hindsite, all of us looked up at the two Palestinian teenagers and thought it was odd that they were up there. But all of us dismissed it...true we were on a remote part of the walk, but we were barely a few steps from Lion's gate, the end of the tour, where the police stand. And we knew most of the Old City is covered by cameras, so few crimes more serious than pickpocketing ever occur there.
I was in the lead and the first guy, by the stairs up onto that part of the rampart, asked me in English "what clock," pointing to his wrist. I told him it was almost 1. He said thank you in Hebrew, then stammered a bit and said "you're welcome" in English. I continued on across, figuring this wasn't a place to dally and plus I was hungry and ready to go get lunch. And I as I walked past the second guy, who was standing near the stairs going down on the other side, he said, "wait wait." I looked at him and he said, "give money." I thought he was begging and I said no. Then he pulled out his knife and said "give money." This made me mad, and I said no again. Then he pointed to my camera (a little canon elph) and said "give camera." And I yelled no and put it in my pocket. What I didn't see was that the first boy, the one I had told the time, was clearly the leader (the guy demanding money from me was clearly nervous) and was angry at my defiance. M said he lunged towards me with his knife, a switchblade. She yelled, "Give him the f**king money." This stopped the first guy, and I reached in my pocket and pulled the first bill off the money in my pocket, a 100 shekel bill (a little less than $25 dollars) and handed it to him. M told him I had her money and I told him that was all we had.
In the meantime, our two friends pulled out their wallets. One handed them everything she had, $150 and 120 shekels. The other pulled out a 20 shekel bill and when they demanded more she gave them another 20 shekels (she had about 800 shekels on her). They kept demanding more, but Mary yelled "that's enough." And since some more tourists were coming, the two ran off. In retrospect, I think the one friend giving them so much money was what kept them from continuing to demand more or from hurting us. I don't think the one who asked me for the money and my camera would have hurt us. He was clearly nervous. But the other seemed more dangerous.
We went straight downstairs and reported it to the police, who ran into the city and grabbed every Arab kid they could find in a red shirt (none the right one). One poor group of boys got brought to us twice. Our security came down and sat with us while were inviewed in the police station. It took hours. We didn't get out until nearly 5.
I am hopeful they will catch the guys because of all the cameras. Plus, the police seemed really concerned about the boys having weapons and attacking diplomats.
So like I said, now I REALLY need a vacation!