Congratulations. Ala al-Dik was born via C-section on September 9 in Istishari Arab Hospital, near Ramallah. He weighed three kilos (6.6 pounds) at birth, suffered from neonatal diabetes and was discharged four days later. Anhar, his 25-year-old mother, had been discharged two days earlier. On Monday afternoon this week, Anhar sat in the living room of her mother Aisha’s house, in Nima village, in the central West Bank, where she is under house arrest. Her face bespoke restrained happiness and demonstrative weariness. All she wanted was for us to leave so she could be with her husband and children.
We had visited here two weeks ago. At that time it looked as though the military court was not going to release Anhar from prison. Israel Prison Service authorities decided at that point that she would have a pre-scheduled delivery by C-section on September 12 in an Israeli hospital, while still under detention. It seemed unlikely then that the court would wake up at the last minute and order the release of this woman who was in her ninth month and whose family attests that she suffers from mentally instability.
Anhar, too, didn’t believe she would be released before giving birth. This week she told us that she had been certain she would have the baby behind bars, in the Damon Prison, south of Haifa. A few weeks earlier she had written in a letter from her jail cell: “You are familiar with the C-section. How will it be performed inside the prison, with me handcuffed and alone?... I have no idea where I will be after the operation and how I will take my first steps after the birth with the help of an Israeli guard who will hold my hands in disgust.”
She was concerned, she wrote, about how she would raise her son in jail, how she would see to his needs and protect him against the frightening noises of the prison. This week she told us that she had wanted the prison authorities to at least show her the items that would be provided to the infant at birth, the cot he would sleep in and the clothes he would wear. The authorities at Damon told her that after delivering her baby she would be supplied with whatever is needed to raise a newborn in one of Israel’s oldest and shabbiest prisons, where 40 Palestinian women are now incarcerated and where Anhar spent the final months of her pregnancy.
She was released in the evening of Thursday, September 2. Israel Defense Forces Maj. Sivan Omer, a judge in the military court at the Ofer base, wrote in her decision, in response to Anhar’s petition to be released in order to give birth outside the jail: “It’s clear that being between the walls of a detention facility is not a beneficial situation for a newborn and could, manifestly, endanger the infant’s health... Under these circumstances, I thought there was reason to examine her release in a positive way and consider an alternative form of detention, which will include strict conditions that will ensure the well-being of the petitioner, her children and the general public.”
Judge Omer, who merits praise for her decision, noted that on the basis of an opinion rendered by the district psychiatrist, the mental health experts who examined her did not get the impression that Anhar was in a psychotic state. However, the judge noted: “The [experts’] opinion indicates that according to the petitioner’s description, regarding the incident that is the subject of the indictment, her actions did not stem from racist or nationalist motives, but from her wish to die, because she could no longer bear the [constant] feeling of depression.”
As we wrote here two weeks ago, when her mental condition started to become unstable, early in her second pregnancy, Anhar’s family took her to two Palestinian psychiatrists; they diagnosed her as suffering from bipolar personality disorder and from depression.
The signs of the depression that apparently comes and goes were not apparent this week, only Anhar’s exhaustion from her incarceration and from the birth, although her legs shifted nervously throughout our conversation. Ala is being looked after by the women in his parents’ extended families, who are still emotional over Anhar’s surprising release. During our visit, the baby was brought into the room in a carrier, a very small infant just a few days old, his eyes closed, after spending most of his time in the womb of a mother in prison, but being born into a relative sort of freedom.
Thaar al-Haj’a, Anhar’s husband, doesn’t leave her side; occasionally the couple exchange glances and smiles. At 6 P.M. on that Thursday, a week before the scheduled birth, Anhar heard via Palestinian television in her cell that the Israeli authorities had decided to release her. At about 9 P.M., prison guards arrived to give her the news. They gave her 10 minutes to pack and get organized, and to part from her fellow inmates and from the place where she had spent the past few months.
“I just didn’t believe they were letting me out,” she told us this week. “It was a feeling that’s hard to describe in words.”
Anhar, not handcuffed this time, was taken in a prison van to the Salem checkpoint near Jenin, where she was astonished to see dozens of well-wishers waiting for her on the other side of the checkpoint – including her family, of course. The photos and video clips taken as she stepped out of the van are very moving.
After being examined in the Jenin hospital, Anhar went to her mother’s home in Nima, as stipulated by the terms of her release: She was released on bail of 40,000 shekels (about $12,000); she must be under the supervision of two family members; and she has to check in once a week at the police station in the Israeli settlement of Modi’in Ilit. This week she was concerned about which side of the checkpoint the police station is on.
The prison authorities treated her like any other inmate, she explains, adding that the food she received wasn’t appropriate for a pregnant woman and that she had a hard time sleeping in the narrow bed as her pregnancy advanced. A doctor examined her weekly, and every month she was taken to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa for checkups. The trips, during which she was handcuffed despite her advanced stage of pregnancy, wore her out. There were four women in her cell, and the plan was to move her to a cell with just one woman after the birth. She explained that she was in the same prison as Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian parliament, at the harrowing moment when Jarrar was informed that her daughter, Suha, had died of cardiac arrest – Israel refused to release the grieving mother to attend the funeral.
“Think how hard it is to lose a daughter on the outside, and you will begin to understand how terrible life is in prison,” Anhar said. “All the inmates tried to support her and show solidarity.” (Jarrar is due to be released at the end of this month.)
Anhar had been very much afraid to deliver by herself in an Israeli hospital, as a prisoner. “How would I get to the hospital?” she asked this week. “With hands and feet bound? Without my mother or father – without my husband? Without anyone from my family? And how would Ala grow up in those harsh conditions? How would I take care of him?”
Anhar’s story began last March 8, International Women’s Day, when she was in her fourth month of pregnancy. She left the house at 9 A.M., leaving her 2-year-old daughter Julia alone, and walked in the direction of Jabal al-Risan, a hill on which her husband’s family owns land that has been taken over by settlers who established the illegal outpost of Sde Ephraim there. One settler, Eitan Ze’ev, who killed a 34-year-old Palestinian from a nearby village in February, is now on trial for shooting and wounding another Palestinian.
Anhar’s indictment states that she entered the outpost, which is referred to there as a “yishuv” – the word for “community” – by going under the perimeter fence, and proceeded toward a house with the intention of entering.
“The accused [Anhar] took advantage of an opportunity, when L.Z. [a settler] was on the phone with her husband in order to summon him, and entered the house. There she went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife with a blade 10 centimeters [3.9 inches] long and brandished it. All this time L.Z.’s daughters, aged 1 and 8, were in the house and then fled to the porch. The accused advanced toward L.Z. holding the knife, and L.Z. managed to get to the porch. The accused pushed the porch door open while brandishing the knife. Only after L.Z.’s husband arrived, cocked his pistol and ordered the defendant in Arabic to let go of the knife, did she drop it.” Anhar was charged with attempted assault.
This week Anhar told us that she has no recollection of that day’s events. She only remembers being surrounded by settlers who attacked her, before taking her to Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, to have her wounds treated.
According to her family, on the day after previous incidents – such as when Anhar set fire to a curtain in her house, threatened to jump off the roof or attacked her family – she also didn’t remember a thing about them. She told us she was probably in the grip of some sort of a seizure when she went to the outpost. What did she want to do there? “I was not conscious.”
Anhar’s trial will resume on October 12 in a session that will deal with logistical details, where she does not have to be present. For the following hearing, on November 22, she will have to be in the courtroom. Clearly she is afraid to go back to jail and hopes that her lawyer’s promise that she will not have to return will be realized.
“Everything that happened in the past few days was so that Ala will not be in prison,” she said, clearly anxious for us to leave. “I just hope they don’t send me back.”