Umar Snobar is brought into the room so he can be shown off, held in the arms of his Aunt Iman, his father’s sister. Umar is wrapped in a light blue wool blanket. His little head turns from side to side, his face is sallow, his hands are miniatures.
He’s 2 weeks old. A tense silence falls in the room at the sight of the newborn. Only his grandmother breaks into quiet sobs, “Haram [“pity” in Arabic] on the baby,” she whispers through her tears. The other family members stop themselves from responding like her.
But no one in the room is left indifferent at the sight of the infant. No one can remain indifferent, not choke up, when there’s a 2-week-old orphan.
This baby was born into orphanhood. Two days after his birth, an Israeli soldier shot and killed his father, who was unarmed and was nowhere near the soldier, during a demonstration next to his village. Tareq Snobar lived only 27 years and was a father for just 48 hours. He saw his firstborn son at his birth but never got to bring him home, as he had planned to do on the day of his death.
The village of Yatma is east of Tapuah Junction in the center of the West Bank. We were there last November with Abdulkarim Sadi, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem who accompanied us again this time. Back then we were looking into the circumstances of the death of 17-year-old Amer Snobar, a relative of Tareq who according to witnesses was beaten to death by Israeli troops. This week, waiting in the living room of Tareq Snobar’s home in Yatma were his immediate family, all very subdued, though the father, 64-year-old Umar, who for most of his life worked in construction in Israel, gave us a smile. Tareq’s mother, Hanna, 54, a dialysis patient, was enveloped by her mourning, mute in black. His brother, Mohammed, 28, and his sister, Iman, 33, were there, too, along with Hamada Snobar, 31, who was with his cousin Tareq when a soldier kneeled, aimed his rifle and from long range fired one deadly round, apparently with the intent to kill. The soldier certainly didn’t know that Tareq had just become a father for the first time and was thrilled to be on his way to the Anglican Hospital in Nablus to bring his son home. The baby’s mother, Rand Naanish, 22, from Nablus, was closeted in her room.
It was Friday, May 14, what became a black Friday in the West Bank, though no one in Israel is aware of it. On that day Israeli soldiers killed no fewer than 12 Palestinians in the West Bank, the most on a single day since 2002, under cover of the war raging in the Gaza Strip. Tareq Snobar was one of them. Two years ago, he and his brother Mohammed opened a restaurant in Yatma after previously owning a restaurant in Hawara, north of their village. Tareq spent four years in an Israeli prison after being arrested at age 17 for throwing stones and taking part in disturbances. He was released in 2015 and two years ago married Ranad; the couple lived in the family home in Yatma.
On May 14, Tareq returned home from the restaurant at around 2 P.M. It was a holiday, Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan fasting, and Tareq wanted very much to bring his wife and son home and present Umar to the family and their neighbors. His plan was to go that afternoon to the hospital where his son was born two days earlier; no one imagined that a few hours later he himself would lay dying in another Nablus hospital. At the entrance to the village a demonstration was underway of people from Yatma and nearby to protest the war and killing in Gaza, and the establishment of the “unauthorized” settler outpost of Eviatar on land belonging to Yatma and two other villages, Qabalan and Beita.
In the past few weeks, about 20 structures have been put up, supposedly in secret, at Eviatar, to the east of the village. The outpost was established about a month ago in the olive groves of Jebel Sabih, in response to a stabbing attack at Tapuah Junction, and the veteran settler activist Daniella Weiss, eyes glistening, declared its creation on television. This week we saw the new outpost, which lies along the road that descends to the Jordan Valley. A huge bulldozer of the Israel Defense Forces was in the center of the unauthorized outpost, with a group of settlers gathered around it.
When Tareq learned that the road from the village was blocked, he drove toward the demonstration; with him were Hamada and a few friends. Children and teenagers threw stones at the soldiers, who fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-tipped metal bullets at the demonstrators – a familiar Friday ritual in the West Bank. According to Hamada, the soldiers and the demonstrators were about a hundred meters apart, and the stones didn’t hit anyone. Hamada says Tareq was frustrated at not being able to drive to Nablus and may even have been furious, but adds that the two of them didn’t take part in the stone-throwing and simply watched from afar. Then they went home for lunch and afterward drove back to the demonstration. Tareq’s father begged him not to go, but Tareq was adamant.
At 4 P.M. the soldiers stepped up the frequency of the gunfire, maybe to end the demonstration; then they switched to live fire. Hamada says another unit of soldiers or special-ops police arrived in a white van and took position. The demonstration didn’t abate. At that point, only two people had been wounded, by rubber-tipped bullets.
At 7:40 P.M., Tareq and Hamada were still standing there, still unable to leave the village. Suddenly Hamada spotted a soldier kneeling down and aiming his rifle at them. The soldier was about a hundred meters away, Hamada says. “He’s aiming at us!” he shouted to Tareq, but too late. One lethal bullet slammed into Tareq’s left hip.
Back in the living room, Tareq’s mother starts crying again, softly, as Hamada continues recounting the events.
At the demonstration, Tareq fell against the door of the last house in the village, where they were standing. Hamada quickly moved him to a safer spot, behind the house, as the soldiers kept shooting at them. A Red Crescent ambulance tried to approach to evacuate Tareq, but soldiers prevented it from entering the village. A private car rushed the unconscious Tareq to the clinic in nearby Qabalan, but he had lost a great deal of blood. The bullet had struck his liver, lungs and a kidney.
The Hawara checkpoint at the entrance to Nablus was also shut that day, with gates of steel, and it took the ambulance driver about an hour to find a roundabout way to enter the city. According to Hamada, the ambulance broke through a checkpoint at Awarta, south of Nablus. Along the way settlers threw stones at them, according to Hamada, who was in the vehicle.
The oxygen in the ambulance was also running out, he adds. In the meantime, Tareq’s father had gone to the clinic in Qabalan, only to learn that his son was no longer there. He too couldn’t get to Nablus. Iman, who lives in Nablus, hurried to Rafidia Hospital in the city, where her dying brother was taken. At least two other seriously wounded Palestinians arrived in Rafidia, where they later died.
Tareq was operated on three times – one of the operations lasted several hours – in an attempt to stop the internal bleeding, but a new source of bleeding was discovered each time. The bullet had wreaked havoc. According to his sister, he received dozens of units of blood during the night and the next day. The bullet remained lodged next to his spinal cord, and the doctors were loath to risk removing it.
At 2 A.M. Sunday the doctors told the family there was nothing more they could do; all that remained was for them to pray. Tareq Snobar was pronounced dead at 1 P.M. that day.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued the following response to a Haaretz query about the shooting of Snobar and the blocking of the ambulance: “In the wake of the event, a Military Police investigation was launched, at the conclusion of which the findings will be conveyed to the office of the military advocate general.”
Did they consider changing baby Umar’s name to Tareq, after his father? Or adding his father’s name? No. Tareq was insistent that his son be named Umar, after his own father. He wanted to be Abu Umar, just like his grandfather, who had 10 children. “Tareq loved life more than any of us,” his sister Iman says, and sinks back into her grief.