In Bethlehem, a Life Turns Upside Down

After he lost his son to an army bullet, Ahmed Amarin sought solace in his work in Betar Ilit. Now that has also been taken away from him.

Umm-Salah takes a shirt and pants out of the closet and tries in vain to stifle her weeping. This was the outfit her son wore before he changed into his soccer team’s uniform, shortly before his death. He had the uniform on when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head and killed him; it was soaked in blood and got lost at the hospital he was rushed to.

Umm-Salah lays the shirt and pants on her son’s bed, as though imagining him wearing them again. The rest of Salah’s clothes are still neatly folded in the closet in his room. The walls are decorated with posters of the Barcelona soccer team that he loved; the computer is off and the clock on the wall stands still. On the dresser are a bottle of cologne, hair gel and toothpaste. A cigarette butt rests on the computer: It is the sole cigarette Salah smoked in his life, and he kept it as a souvenir.

Salah Amarin was a 15-year-old boy whom Israeli Defense Forces soldiers killed with live fire near Rachel’s Tomb; he was shot on January 18 and died five days later. We documented the circumstances of his death at the time and this week returned to the tidy apartment in the center of Bethlehem, which has in the interim become something of a shrine to Salah: Photos of him decorate every room in the house and in the corner of the living room his parents erected a tiny memorial site, with the Lionel Messi medal he once won, a green soccer ball, a pair of miniature soccer cleats, and two little Barca pennants.

Salah was Ahmed and Umm-Salah’s only son; the couple also has four daughters. Theirs is a Bedouin family that was originally from the Negev and has relatives in Ramle.

We returned here this week because the bereaved family was dealt another blow: the loss of the source of livelihood of the bereaved father, a veteran cleaning and maintenance worker in the ultra-Orthodox settlement Betar Ilit. Ahmed has worked there for eight years, a dedicated employee, judging by the letter written on his behalf by his employer and sent to the Civil Administration. Ahmed continued working in Betar Ilit after the tragedy, but when his work permit ran out two weeks ago, the Civil Administration informed his employer that it would not be renewed − for “security reasons.” The father who waited ‏(in vain‏) for the IDF to issue an apology for the unnecessary act of killing his son has instead received notice that he cannot continue to work.

So Ahmed Amarin sits at home idle and unemployed, while his wife is mired in her grief. Both speak Hebrew, and he says, “This entire story is like a dream to us. All we have left is the pictures of Salah, his soccer clothes, the medal and ball.”

Salah was apparently destined for greatness: A star player at the Bethlehem soccer academy, his parents say his club had plans to send him to Barcelona’s soccer school. “He had a big chance − and the chance was blown,” Ahmed says sadly as his wife weeps again.

Salah was killed in the nearby Al-Aida refugee camp, across from the concrete wall and fortified watchtower that lay in siege over Rachel’s Tomb. He was buried in the cemetery a few dozen meters away from the spot where he fell, before the eyes of his cousin Karam, with whom he had gone to play soccer that day. In January local incidents involving stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails multiplied; it was in one of these that Salah was killed. The circumstance of his death by a sniper’s bullet to the head is under investigation by Military Police.

Following his son’s death, Ahmed took some comfort in his beloved job in Betar Ilit. He never told his employers about his tragedy, but he thinks they know. “They give me the feeling that I am part of the family there: We’ve been friends for years, years. I feel their love, for me they are more than brothers, good Israelis. It’s not just a job, it’s relations between people.”

He calls his employer abouya ‏(Daddy‏), and it was he who told Ahmed that his license to work had been revoked. “Why am I forbidden to work? Why? What have I done? I don’t understand what happened. Honestly, I don’t get this story,” he says. “I thought we would get a word of apology for what happened − and now the opposite: I am being punished once again.” And Umm-Salah adds: “Anyone who has children, Jew or Arab, would understand this feeling.”

Recently, when Ahmed’s employer ‏(who asked to remain nameless‏) was injured in a traffic accident, Ahmed took over as head of the work crew: “I told myself: The moment a person like this is injured, and you’ve worked for him for years, you must pitch in to help him and his family.”

This is what the employer wrote this week to the Civil Administration: “Ahmed Amarin has worked at our company for about eight years in an administrative position. His role in the company is indispensable to the point where we cannot do without him. Particularly as the manager of the company was injured in a traffic accident and cannot function at the moment. I beseech you to lift the injunction against this, insomuch as this is possible in your opinion.”

The spokesman for the administration, Guy Inbar, told Haaretz this week: “Ahmed Amarin was turned down because of a security issue,” and referred us to the Shin Bet security service. A spokesman for that agency stated: “The permit allowing Ahmed Amarin to work in Judea and Samaria was revoked due to security information related to him, and not because of the death of his son. It should be noted that Mr. Amarin has submitted a petition against this decision to the High Court of Justice. At the present time, an evaluation is being conducted of the perceived danger in this case.”

Ahmed Amarin: “I understand there is concern about me after what happened. But I worked, after all, for three months since what happened and that was a big test. All I hope for now is to keep together a family that has been broken. I have reached the point where I have to stand on the road and look for work. Suddenly, in one day and night, my whole life turned upside-down. In our religion we say that the best person gets the biggest punishment. Maybe that is what happened to us?”