Haaretz, May 30,2003
Did Quds smile today?
By Gideon Levy
Abed al-Ahmar and Allegra Pacheco had a son a month ago. Ahmar still
hasn't seen him
If this magazine reaches the Ofer detention
facility and finds its way to administrative
prisoner Abed al-Ahmar, it will be the first time
that he gets to see any pictures of his son. Quds
was born at 3:45 P.M. on April 23 at Holy Family
Hospital in Bethlehem. He weighed 3.45 kilos. His
mother, Israeli lawyer Allegra Pacheco, felt very
lonely at his birth.
Pacheco planned to give birth
at Hadassah University
Hospital, but when her
condition made it impossible
for her to get to Jerusalem,
she gave birth close to home,
in Bethlehem. By her side was
Ya'ala, an Israeli friend;
grandparents Maryam and Khader
- Abed's parents - waited
outside along with Allegra's mother Phyllis, who
came from Jerusalem. Only Abed wasn't there. The
Ofer detention facility where he is being held
without trial was just a half-hour's drive away,
but it might as well have been on the other side
of the world. They named the baby "Quds"
(Jerusalem). They picked this unusual name when
Pacheco was in the fourth month of her pregnancy
and Ahmar was free, between one administrative
detention and another.
What does a new father who has never seen his son
think? This week, at the compound near Ramallah,
Ahmar said that whenever he sees a baby on the
prison television, he wonders if it looks like
his son. Did Quds smile today? What does he look
like? Whom does he resemble? Is he quiet?
For the past few months, Abed's bed has been a
thin wood pallet in a tent that he shares with
another 19 prisoners. He is 35 and this is the
16th time he has been put in administrative
detention. All together, he has spent a total of
eight years in prison without trial. He's the
champion of administrative detentions. Ahmar: "To
suspect someone for eight years? It doesn't make
sense. If I was really involved in something,
they could have convicted me a long time ago. In
all these years, the Shin Bet [security service]
has never gone beyond the level of suspicions in
He was tried and convicted once: At 16 and a half,
he was caught practicing throwing Molotov
cocktails. "For nine months out of my life, I was
beaten," he once said about the torture he was
subjected to during all his Shin Bet
interrogations, which had a serious impact on his
health. In June 2001, I saw him looking like he
was about to puke his guts out in the Supreme
Court, where he had filed a petition claiming
that he was not receiving medical care in prison.
Looking pale and ill, he was led out of the
building and his petition was rejected.
A year ago, after he was released for the last
time from prison, he married his lawyer, Pacheco,
who moved to Israel from the United States nine
years ago. A few months before, they had suddenly
announced their engagement at Megiddo Prison,
during a legal hearing. They shared some bourekas
with the military police to celebrate. Their
honeymoon was also very romantic: three months
under almost continuous curfew in their new home,
one floor above his parents, on the border of the
Deheisheh refugee camp. Pacheco became pregnant.
And less than six months after he was released,
Abed was arrested again. Another administrative
`Mom and Dad love Quds'
The remote control-operated mobile over the
baby's crib can play a classical melody, a
lullaby or the soothing sound of ocean waves.
"Good morning, sweetheart," Pacheco coos to her
son in English. She speaks Hebrew with her
husband and broken Arabic with her in-laws. Quds
yawns, burps and smiles at his mother. "We wanted
a name that wasn't overly political, but that was
related to Palestine," she says.
Pacheco attended childbirth classes in Jerusalem
accompanied by an Israeli girlfriend. Abed was
already in prison at that point. For the planned
birth at Hadassah, she registered as a single
mother, to avoid any troublesome questions.
A notebook smuggled out of the prison contains
drawings and stories for the newborn. "Mom and
Dad love Quds," it says. Another prisoner drew
the pictures; Ahmar wrote the words. The colors
are soft and the drawings are sweet. The last
time Pacheco saw her husband was about two weeks
before their son was born: She came to show him
her protruding stomach, from behind the Plexiglas
wall that separated them. If she weren't his
lawyer, she wouldn't have been allowed to visit
him at all. Abed tried to give the notebook to
his wife, but the guards wouldn't allow it.
The soldiers arrived at their home at 3 A.M. last
November 22. Pacheco was in her fourth month.
This was the eighth Israel Defense Forces
incursion into Bethlehem, and it came on the
heels of another murderous terror attack in
Israel. The perpetrator had set out from
Bethlehem. Pacheco says they never imagined that
the soldiers would come specifically for them.
Until two in the morning, they sat on their
balcony where they had a view of the main road
into Deheisheh, silently observing the army's
arrival. Not long after they went to sleep, they
awoke to the sound of shouting and gunfire.
All of the building's tenants were taken outside
and Pacheco saw the soldiers order her husband to
strip and remain standing in his underwear. They
asked him about his younger brother Bilal, who
wasn't home. Pacheco says she heard them say: "We
don't have the package, but we have his brother."
The soldiers didn't know that she was Israeli.
She showed them her UN employee card - Pacheco
works in the organization's legal department in
Jerusalem - and told them that she was pregnant
and that Abed was her husband, all to no avail.
When the soldiers checked and found that Bilal
also wasn't at the home of a third brother, they
decided to place Abed under arrest.
The next day, a reporter asked the IDF Spokesman
about the arrest of someone who has been declared
a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty
International. The IDF Spokesman replied that
Ahmar was not suspected of terrorist activity:
"Sometimes we hold someone who is not himself a
suspect because he can assist with an
Abed was held for 12 days at the Etzion detention
facility, during which time he was hardly
questioned at all. Then the all-too-familiar
order was issued: six months of administrative
detention. Colonel Rami Tzur, a military
commander for the Judea and Samaria region,
signed the order, which states that Ahmar
"endangers the security of the area." The order
was subsequently approved after a process of
"judicial review." Ahmar appealed through
attorney Leah Tzemel. Lieutenant Colonel Yoram
Haniel, of the military court of appeals, wrote
the following astonishing words: "I have become
convinced that as with every administrative
detention, the defense attorney filing the appeal
is groping in the dark here, too. They do not
know what is ascribed to them and so they fumble
about with these arguments in order to try to
persuade the judge to release the appellant."
His conclusion? "I am convinced that the appellant
is indeed involved in serious activity against
the security of the region, which led the
military commander to take this extraordinary
measure against him."
Extraordinary? There are 1,000 prisoners being
held in administrative detention. And what's
extraordinary about it when this is the 16th time
that this has happened to the same person?
Ahmar failed to persuade Judge Haniel because "in
his file, I found a lot of material that attests
to the appellant's movements, actions and current
ties that justify the measure taken by the
military commander ... I am also convinced that
the length of the administrative detention is
proportionate to the danger posed by the
appellant ... There was no flaw in the military
commander's decision, or in that of the judge.
The petition is denied."
If they have so much "material about his
movements," why don't they put this perennial
administrative detainee on trial and deal once
and for all with the great danger that he poses
to the area's security?
Quds falls asleep on his mother's shoulder. "They
wouldn't let Abed start to build his life,"
Pacheco says. "That's what he asked for during
his previous imprisonment. He wanted to be
released so he could start a family. Why won't
they give him time to build his life?" she smiles
She can no longer represent him: She says she is
too emotionally involved to be able to stand
before the military judge and argue for the
release of her husband and the father of her
baby. According to the religious laws, Quds is a
Jewish-Muslim child. If his mother could have it
her way, he would grow up to live in a secular
democratic state. Meanwhile, he has a little rash
on his face.
His father says: "Even if I manage to keep him out
of the cycle of this conflict, one day I will
have to tell him where I was when he was born.
And what will I tell him? That when he was born,
I was in jail, without a trial."
Abed should be released this coming Monday, when
his 16th administrative detention is supposed to
end. Maybe. They never tell them, until the very
last moment, if they're going to be released or
if their detention is going to be extended for
another six months. So on Sunday night, Abed
Ahmar will learn if he will soon get to see his
son for the first time.
Allegra Pacheco with her son Quds at home. "We wanted a name that was
related to Palestine."
(Miki Kratsman )
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