Issue Date: December 2006 Issue
Being Abducted by Palestinian Gunmen
In July 2005, the Rev. Harry Bury, a 76-year-old professor of organizational behavior and systems management at Baldwin-Wallace College, was invited to be a “peace observer” with a group of other priests and nuns as Israeli soldiers withdrew Jewish settlers — and themselves — from Gaza. “Research shows that when international people are there, the belligerents tend not to shoot each other,” Bury explains. “I didn’t have the expectation that I was going to put myself in immense danger.” Unfortunately, he was wrong.
We had finished breakfast and, because it was 100 degrees, we had the door open. We were waiting for one of our interpreters when a huge man appeared at the door with a rifle over his shoulder and a pistol on his belt, saying he was the police. I’m sort of an affable person and, when I saw him, I said, “Happy Sunday. Have you had breakfast? Come on in. We have some coffee and juice.”
He took my arm and said he’d like to speak to me in the hall. When I got out there, there were three more armed men. They immediately put a hood over my head, led me down a flight of stairs, put me in a car and drove away - not very far, probably only about 10 minutes.
We got out of the car and went down a very narrow walkway into a house - a room maybe 14-by-14 feet with prayer mats on the plank floor, one barred-up window and a bed. The guy sat me down and said, “If you do what I tell you to do, you won’t get hurt. But if you try to get away, we’ll shoot you.”
I couldn’t see anything, but my senses were sharp. They were carrying on conversations in a whisper and people were coming and going out the door. Through the window, I could hear children’s voices. It sounded like they were playing ball.
Finally, another person came in and said, “We’re going to videotape your response, and I want you to answer some questions. I want your name, nationality, profession and say you work for the CIA.”
He mumbled something about saying I’m in the Israeli army.
“But I don’t work for the CIA. That would be a lie,” I said.
“Say it anyway or I’ll shoot you,”
I didn’t even question it then. It didn’t seem like a big deal - to save my life - so I said, “OK.”
He took my hood off. I was facing a hooded man holding a phone that records. I said what he wanted, that I was in the CIA and worked for the Israeli army, but I deliberately smiled so that anybody seeing it would see that this was not true.
I thought it was the end of my life. I thought it was over. I was thinking to myself, so this is how it’s going to end. I just accepted that that was how God was going to end it. And it seemed better than dying in bed.
As I was praying the rosary, a thought occurred to me.
“What is this all about?” I said. “Are you the police?”
“Are you Hamas?”
“Well, are you the Israelis?”
He said “no” and kind of laughed.
“What is this about? What are you doing?”
He pointed to his legs and chest and said, “I’ve been shot in both legs. I’ve been shot up there.
My house and my family’s house has been demolished. There’s no medicine in the hospitals. We don’t have any schools for our children. We don’t have any work and [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas doesn’t seem to care.”
It became evident to me that this was an issue between the Palestinians. They were upset that if there was any money, it was going to the West Bank, not to Gaza. So they were trying to demonstrate to Abbas that he had better take them seriously as a power to contend with, if they could take an international and hold him in broad daylight.
There was a knock on the door, and they told me they were moving me to another house. They put two hoods on my head, handed me my cell phone and led me outside. We left and walked 20 paces, when one of the men leaned in and said, “Go home.”
He ran away. I slowly pulled off my hood and decided to walk toward the children. I had just gotten to the playground when I remembered they’d given me my cell phone back. I was reaching for it when it rang. It was Mary from the Michigan Peace Team.
I was never terrified. I’ve been a war protestor. I flew into Hanoi when the U.S. started bombing in 1972 and brought out three American pilots. I was chained to the U.S. Embassy gate in Saigon in 1971. I’ve been in dangerous situations. I just want to do whatever I can to stop people from killing each other.
But I do have regret. I should never have said I was in the CIA. I feel like a coward. I feel embarrassed.
If I was a man and a saint, I would never have lied.
- as told to Colleen Mytnick