The day I almost went to Jail in Jerusalem!
About three years ago, I was leading a tour throughout Israel. We had just come through a time when there had been a lot of stabbings—particularly in Jerusalem. Thank God that has now passed! However, I wanted to protect my people.
So, because I was not allowed to own a gun (believe or not, Israel has very strict gun laws), I decided to buy a knife. It was a small knife, but it was big enough to protect people if I needed to use it.
Here’s what I did not know: It is illegal to walk around Israel carrying a knife! You can go to jail for several years! I had no idea. Of course, the logic is a little bit strange. It was legal for me to purchase the knife in the hiking store, but apparently illegal for me to bring it home. Hmmm.
Well, we had a great tour. We traveled north to the city of Akko, where we ate hummus and visited the ancient ruins. We enjoyed the Sea of Galilee, eating delicious St. Peter’s fish. We spent a night in the desert, riding camels and eating with the Bedouins. And, now, it was time for Jerusalem. Not just Jerusalem, but the ancient Western Wall – the most sacred symbol in all of Judaism. There was only one problem: I had forgotten what I had in my pocket!
When we were about 20 feet from the security check (Israel has the best security), I suddenly remembered. Thinking I was being smart, I walked up to the security guard, still not knowing that simply possessing the knife was a crime, and I handed it to him. I explained to him the situation. I told him that I had no evil intent and he could keep the knife.
He told me to hang out for a little bit. Next thing I knew, several police officers showed up. I explained the situation to them—that I went to the security guard on my own free will. They told me in Hebrew—anu chayvim l’akev otcha—we need to detain you! Suddenly, I was being escorted to a police station.
There was a police station right above and in front of the Western Wall that I didn’t know was there. I sat in that police station for quite a while. My mind was racing. I had 40 people outside who had paid a lot of money to be on my tour. They expected me to take them around, for the time of their life. I felt guilty. I also felt embarrassed. They must think I’m crazy. How does your tour host get arrested?
A young lady sat down with me and began to ask me what happened. Again, I explained to them that I initiated the contact with the security guard. I gave him the knife. I wanted him to have it. He only knew I had the knife because I gave it to him. Of course, I could have just thrown it on the ground. I didn’t do that because I thought of how that could cause an uproar, if somebody found it. I was trying to do the right thing.
It was only then that it was explained to me that carrying a knife was a crime. I have this little lawyer that lives inside of me. I could not keep him quiet. So I said to her, “So what you’re saying is I can buy the knife legally, but I just can’t take it home?” She was not interested.
Over the next hour, my mind began to race. Was I going to jail? Surely not over something so small. It wasn’t like I had a loaded gun or planned to do anything with the knife, other than to protect my group, if necessary, and myself. But the mind goes where it wants to go—if you don’t control it. I began to imagine being in jail for the next five years – apparently that was the penalty. How would my family handle it? Could God use me in the Israeli jail to share my faith? My Hebrew would certainly improve. Could I get a computer? If so, I could write a few books…
The young officer told me they would have to open up an investigation. Again, I told her there was no need for an investigation, as what had happened was very clear. She said that an investigator would come take me to the Jaffa gate. My mind raced again — in my mind, I was wearing a prison jumpsuit and dining on prison food for the next several years. I should be able to drop 20 pounds. I would leave the prison ripped.
After about an hour, her commander came. He looked at me and he said to her, “What is he still doing here? He’s got a bunch of tourists waiting for him! Let him go.”
I couldn’t believe it! The young lady was not happy. She argued with him like a kid who was not ready to go to bed. But he was firm, “Let him go!” She took my phone number and said that the investigator would be calling me. That was at least four years ago.
Then, the comedian in me replaced the lawyer and asked with a smile, “Can I have my knife back?” Fortunately, Israelis have a great sense of humor. We had a great laugh and I was off to find my tour group. I was still really embarrassed about what had happened, thinking that they must be thinking that I was ridiculous.
I was told that the team was already on the bus and headed towards the Garden Tomb, the most precious place in Jerusalem, and possibly the place where Yeshua was buried and rose from the dead. We always have communion there and it is powerful. Everyone absolutely loves it. But this time it was different—I was on the lam.
I began running through the Old City, through the Arab quarter, feeling naked without my knife. At that time, every few days there had been a stabbing in Jerusalem—and many of them had occurred right there in the Arab market. As I was running towards the Jaffa gate, passing all the colorful Arab-owned gift shops that sold everything from wooden camels to handmade jewelry, from exotic scarves to hookahs and ceramics, I noticed an Ethiopian Jewish police officer who began to run right next to me. It was very strange, but super cool. God was providing me with protection.
As I got to the sunlight, where the Arab market turned into the colorful square just before Jaffa Gate, I ran past Christ Church and the tomb of the two who had been killed by Suliman. (They built the walls of the city, but Suliman the Muslim worried that they would build something more magnificent elsewhere, so he killed them. It was a different time back then.)
Seeing Jaffa gate, I picked up the pace. I ran through the gate and, up in the distance, I saw our tour bus stuck in traffic. I started running faster, and just as I got to the bus, the doors opened and I ran in. Instead of finding 40 people who were laughing at me or ridiculing me for almost getting arrested, they were singing the Indiana Jones/Raiders of the Lost Ark theme song! Well, I did have the hat for it.
They thought that it was cool, not foolish, as I had expected. They thought I was an adventurer. In their eyes, I was the daring tour leader who broke out of jail! They continued with the theme song as I smiled, so grateful for a wonderful group.
And that, my friends, is where the video picks up.