Palestinians in Beit Ommar plant olive trees next Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)
Located just north of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, the entrance to the Palestinian village of Beit Ommar is also the site of an Israeli military post. A large yellow gate is opened and closed at the will of the Israeli army, which can cut off the inhabitants of the town from the rest of the West Bank at any time. Beit Ommar has been resisting since 1948, when the town’s inhabitants fought the original settler population of Gush Etzion and today many continue to suffer the impact of the many surrounding settlements. Jody McIntyre interviews Beit Ommar resident Amal al-Montallab for The Electronic Intifada.
Jody McIntyre: Please introduce yourself.
Amal Abed al-Montallab: My name is Amal Abed al-Montallab, 45 years old, and I have six children — three daughters and three sons. We live in the Thahr al-Burrahesh area of Beit Ommar. My oldest son, Ammar, is 17 and in jail. The rest of my kids are young and still at school, so only my husband works, but he can’t work inside Israel because he’s been imprisoned twice before, so his wages are low. But we know that our story is not unique; there are many more families here with the same story.
JM: Can you tell me about the time the Israeli military came to arrest Ammar?
AM: It was just over two months ago. They army invaded and occupied the neighborhood, and started asking where they could find the house of Mohammed Abdul Hameed Abu Maria, my husband, but the neighbors told them that they’d never heard of such a house. Someone must have given the army inaccurate information, because they were looking for someone called Omar, not Ammar.
A week later they came back, but this time they were sure about his name and the location of our house. It was 2am. Ten soldiers invaded our home and were very violent with our children. They asked my husband where his son was, and he told them that he was working in Jericho. Then, they forced him into a separate room, and asked our children the same question, one-by-one, but they all gave the same answer: “Our brother works in Jericho.” They tried to trick my husband by telling him that one of the kids had informed them that Ammar was in the village, but he replied, “I know that none of my children said that to you, and it is simply from your mind.” Finally, the army left.
We shut the door, intending to get some sleep, but five minutes later the same soldiers invaded our house again, this time from the back door, and stayed for another two hours. The military commander came and took our phone numbers; he told us that he knew Ammar was sleeping at his uncle’s house, but he didn’t want to go there because it would make problems. They gave us a paper ordering us to take Ammar in for questioning at a nearby military base, situated in the settlement of Gush Etzion, but I refused because I knew that Ammar still had his final exams to study for. The commander said, “If you don’t bring him, tomorrow we will shoot him dead.”
The next day, they phoned us and said that we had ten minutes to take Ammar to them, otherwise they would arrest him themselves, and shoot him in front of our eyes.
We were worried because we knew that someone in the neighborhood could quite easily work with the Israeli army and make problems for Ammar. We were also worried that they might arrest Ammar at school, in front of all the students, which would inevitably result in clashes and many further arrests.
My husband told the commander that we would take Ammar to them after he had finished exams, and offered to pay money or even be arrested himself until then, but they refused.
Ammar is still in prison now; it’s been two months so far, and the lawyer thinks he will stay there for between five to seven months overall. The army says that our son threw stones, and he could’ve killed someone, but they have not one shred of evidence.
JM: Why do you think they arrested Ammar?
AM: They wanted Ammar because he’s studying for his final exams. The army does this every year, they arrest boys when they are preparing for the final exam so they aren’t educated. Because they arrested him at the start of the exams, he automatically loses one year of his education.
There was one kid in the neighborhood who was arrested three years in a row. Each year, they arrested him right before the final exams, and then two months later released him.
If the soldiers are scared of the kids throwing stones, they should know that we are suffering a much deeper fear. But we are patient, and when he is free again, he will go back to school.
Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom. He writes a blog entitled “Life on Wheels” which can be found at jodymcintyre.wordpress.com. He can be reached at jody [dot] mcintyre [at] gmail [dot] com.