Only the walls are left now of the al-Obed family home near the entrance to the village of Khobar. All the furniture and clothing have been removed, the door frames and doors ripped out, along with the tiles, marble slabs and faucets in the kitchen and bathroom. Abd el-Jalil and Abtisam al-Obed knew they had to prepare for their house’s demolition and save what they could as soon as it became known that their son, Omar al-Obed, had murdered three Israelis in the settlement of Halamish.
Now everything is scattered among the extended family. “At any rate we have trouble sleeping since Friday night,” Abtisam, the mother, said Sunday morning. “We sat in the yard and waited for them, for the army, and a drone flew over us constantly.”
The mother is staying with her married daughter, and women from the village come to her in the yard to strengthen her in this difficult time. The men are sitting in the yards of the two nearby houses, the one to be demolished and the house that belongs to Omar al-Obed’s brother.
About a year ago, Omar was injured in the eye, the mother said. “They wanted to operate but I washed it out a few times with water from the Well of Zamzam [a spring considered sacred near the Kaaba in Mecca] that a relative gave me and his eye was healed. His faith healed him. God bless him.”
Omar al-Obed had studied administration at the Al-Quds open university. From time to time he plowed fields to support himself. The family has a small plot of land with olive trees. A month ago he began working at the A-Ram quarry. He would leave the house at 5:30 A.M. and come back at 6 P.M. He could afford to join a gym about two weeks ago, where he lifted weights. “On Thursday he didn’t go to the gym. Later I realized he wanted to save his strength for Friday, when he walked through the mountains for about two hours, to the settlement,” the mother said.
At this point I shared with Abtisam and her sisters the difficulty of a journalist: “I’ll doubt everything you say. If you say you were against the act, I’ll think it’s because you’re being interviewed for an Israeli newspaper or you’re afraid you’ll be harmed further. If you say you support it, I’ll think you’re under social pressure and that you don’t want to distance yourselves from Omar now.”
One of the women said, “I don’t accept this,” but added: “Did they punish the entire family of Elor Azaria?” she asked, referring to the soldier convicted of killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian terrorist. “Did they destroy the house? Did they close off his neighborhood the way they closed off our village? In Jerusalem mounted police injured a boy. If it were a Palestinian on the horse, they would have killed him, no?”
Another woman said, “No mother would accept such a thing. Mothers close their children up at home so they don’t go throwing stones at the army. But there is a distance between being proud of your son, who went to sacrifice himself, and the fact that if you knew, you would do everything possible to stop him.”
Speaking of her two-year-old grandson, the woman said: “Once, when the army broke into the house, he was upset by the sight of their pointed guns and he ran to get his plastic gun. One of the soldiers smashed the gun underfoot and scolded me: ‘You educate your children for terror.’ I told him, ‘No, you educate for terror.’”
Mother: 'Entire nation sees courage in his act'
Abtisam said: “I don’t accept it. But the entire nation sees courage in his action, because he went into an illegal settlement, fenced off and protected. He didn’t hurt the children. He moved them away so he wouldn’t hurt them.”
The fact that Abtisam, as well as one of her relatives, kept to this false version might indicate the difficulty in absorbing the gravity of the act. Abtisam said that among the dozens of soldiers who broke into the house on Friday night was an officer who gave his name as Firas, apparently from the Civil Administration. “He said to me: ‘Do you know what your son did? He left a pool of blood on the floor.’” To this, another woman responded that during the first intifada she was a nurse at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. “Teenagers that the army had shot died in my arms and the floor was full of blood.”
At this point, the father, Abd el-Jalil, enters the conversation, saying he doesn’t have a problem saying exactly what he thinks. “I don’t support it, not the killing of Jews and not the killing of Arabs. But the reason for my son’s action is bigger than anything else: Al-Aqsa, the holy place for all Muslims. Omar saw what was happening, the worshippers who were beaten, stopping the prayer. I blame the occupation.”
Early Friday evening the parents said they had gone to a wedding in the village. When they came back, they found a large group of young men. They described the post Omar had left on Facebook, about the reports that were coming from Halamish. At first it was rumored that he was killed and then they said they heard from the Israeli media that he was alive, and they were very relieved. That night, the army broke in.
“They bound us, they beat my children in front of me, they threw Korans into the bathroom. Next to the toilet, they stepped on them,” the mother said.
Omar’s brother, Munir, was arrested, and now both of their sons are at the Russian Compound police station in Jerusalem. The mother says she fears what will be done to Omar under interrogation. “Don’t worry, at the Russian Compound they’re not allowed to strike [detainees]. Only if the court says so,” said a relative who knows all about being arrested, trying to calm her down.
Until Saturday morning, nine people lived in the al-Obed home and the upper story was still under construction, intended for their son Khaled, his pregnant wife and their little girl. Only after talking for three hours, when we entered the bare house and the empty kitchen, did Abd el-Jalil turn his back and cry.
In 1987, in this very same spot, the Civil Administration demolished his first house. According to Abd el-Jalil, two soldiers in a civilian car had driven into the village by mistake. Young men threw stones at them. The soldiers managed to flee, he said, but the car was set ablaze. Nine of the village houses, including his, were demolished on the pretext that they had been built without permits. He built his present house in 1995, he said, when the Oslo Accords gave hope that at least they would be able to build their homes without fear.
Omar was born three years later, and grew up into the second intifada. “He never visited Jerusalem,” the mother said. She herself doesn’t remember when she last visited Jerusalem. Here she allowed a little humor to creep in, pointing to her husband. “It’s because of you. I was busy having children, I didn’t have time.” The previous week, Abd el-Jalil, a plasterer, began working in Jerusalem, in Neveh Yaakov. But he is no longer allowed to go back to work, or to Jerusalem.
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