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A Decade On, A Boy, A Ball And A West Bank Wall

Oct 13, 2013
Originally published on October 20, 2013 8:29 am

A little more than a decade ago, in an effort to improve security, Israel began building a physical barrier in and around the West Bank.

The Amer family is among the Palestinians whose lives were disrupted. The concrete wall and fence cut them off from their village. Their son was separated from his soccer buddies, the most important thing in the world to him at the time.

A young American who recently saw a film about the family asked me to find out what happened to the Palestinian boy in the years since the barrier was built.

Simon Hatcher saw the 15-minute documentary about the Amer family last year, in his sixth-grade class in Oregon. It stuck in his mind.

"I watched it in class and I thought, wow, there's really this kid that can't leave his house because there are walls on both sides of it, which must be so hard for him," Simon said. "I was just like — I was really sad."

The movie, Offside, shows Ishaq Amer, who was then 13, kicking a soccer ball around by himself and waiting a lot — mostly for Israeli soldiers. At first the family could leave or come home only if soldiers unlocked a gate. Seeing the film almost a decade after it was shot, Simon wanted the rest of the story.

"I'd like to know if his situation has gotten any better and I'd like to know if he is able to play soccer with his friends, and I'd like to know how his life is able to go on with a wall built on all sides of his house," he told me.

We found Ishaq, who is now 19 and recently became a dad. He lives in the village and works in construction.

"I grew up, got married, I come and go," he says.

He visits his mother, father and younger brother regularly. They still live in the house on the Israeli side of the barrier. But now the family has a key to the gate.

A road from the village dead ends at the yellow metal gate. On the left, concrete barriers rise more than 20 feet toward the sky. On the right is a mesh fence with electronic sensors. Barbed wire is strung above.

Just inside, there is a paved road for Israeli military use only. Across that road is Ishaq's family home. Behind the house, a double fence separates this Palestinian family from an Israeli settlement. Ishaq says he's only partly glad he doesn't live here anymore.

"It's true that where I'm living now, I'm freer. There's no wall and no settlement," he says. "But I'm separated from my family and I don't like that. My feelings toward the wall are the same. It must go."

The Amer family lost their nursery business when the barrier went up, but they have planted some fruit trees and flowers around the house.

They raise a few sheep and other animals on their quarter acre, too.

Ishaq's mother, Munira, waters petunias as she talks about the first years of the wall. She says even after the family got the key, their movement was restricted and Ishaq was frequently not able to cross the barrier to play soccer with his friends.

"I remember very well when Ishaq had to play here on his own. I felt really bad for Ishaq, but what could I do?" Munira says.

An Israeli court finding in the case notes that the military offered to provide a home or land closer to the village. But Ishaq's father, Hani, is proud the family is still in their home.

"What is similar from those days is that our house is still walled in. What's different is that we have the key," he says. "We fought for this, and this is freedom compared to before. This makes me optimistic for the future."

Ishaq's younger brother, Shaddad, barely remembers life before the wall. He is 13 now, the same age Ishaq was when the film was made.

"This wall is a prison," he says. "I don't know if it will ever go."

Unlike his older brother, Shaddad likes farming and writing more than soccer. Even now, Ishaq still finds some time to kick a ball around with friends.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Just over 10 years ago, in an effort to improve its security, Israel began to build a physical barrier in and around the West Bank. The concrete wall and fence cut off the Palestinian Amer family from their village. Their son was separated from his soccer friends, and a game that was the most important thing in the world to him at the time.

The young American recently saw a film about that family. And he asked NPR's Emily Harris to find out what happened to the Palestinian boy in the years since the barrier was built. Here's what she found out.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Last year, in his sixth grade class in Oregon, Simon Hatcher saw a short documentary about the Amer family. It stuck in his mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON HATCHER: I watched it in class and I thought, wow. There's really this kid that can't leave his house because there are walls on both sides of it, which must be so hard for him. And I was just, like - I was really sad.

(SOUNDBITE OF A BALL)

HARRIS: The movie, "Offside," shows then 13-year-old Ishaq Amer, kicking a soccer ball around by himself and waiting a lot - mostly for Israeli soldiers. At first, the family could only leave or come home if soldiers unlocked a gate. Seeing the film almost a decade after it was shot, Simon wanted the rest of the story.

HATCHER: I'd like to know if his situation has gotten any better. And I'd like to know if he's able to play soccer with his friends. And I'd like to know how his life is able to go on with a wall built on all sides of his house.

HARRIS: We found Ishaq, who is now 19 and recently became a dad. He lives in the village and works in construction.

ISHAQ AMER: (Through Translator) I grew up, got married. I come and go.

HARRIS: He visits his mother, father and younger brother regularly. They still live in the house on the Israeli side of the barrier. But now, the family has a gate key.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL GATE)

HARRIS: A road from the village dead ends at the yellow metal gate. On the left, concrete barriers rise more than 20 feet toward the sky. On the right is a mesh fence with electronic sensors. Barbed wire is strung above.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL GATE)

HARRIS: Just inside, there is a paved road for Israeli military use only. Across that road is Ishaq's family home. Behind the house, a double fence separates this Palestinian family from an Israeli settlement. Ishaq says he's only partly glad he doesn't live here anymore.

AMER: (Through Translator) It's true that where I'm living now, I'm freer. There's no wall and no settlement. But I'm separated from my family and I don't like that. My feelings toward the wall are the same. It must go.

HARRIS: The Amer family lost their nursery business when the barrier went up. But they have planted some fruit trees and flowers around the house.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMALS)

HARRIS: They keep a few animals on their quarter acre, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING WATER)

HARRIS: Ishaq's mother, Munira, waters petunias as she talks about the first years of the wall. She says even after they got the key, their movement was restricted and Ishaq was frequently not able to cross the barrier to play soccer with his friends.

MUNIRA AMER: (Through Translator) I remember very well when Ishaq had to play here on his own. I felt really bad for Ishaq. But what could I do?

HARRIS: An Israeli court finding in the case notes that the military offered to provide a home or land closer to the village. But Ishaq's father, Hani, is proud the family is still in their home.

HANI AMER: (Through Translator) What is similar from those days is that our house is still walled in. What's different is that we have the key. We fought for this and this is freedom compared to before. This makes me optimistic for the future.

HARRIS: Ishaq's younger brother, Shaddad, barely remembers the past, life before the wall. He's 13 now, the same age Ishaq was when the film was made.

SHADDAD AMER: (Through Translator) This wall is a prison. I don't know if it will ever go.

HARRIS: Unlike his older brother, Shaddad likes farming and writing more than soccer. Ishaq, even now, still finds some time to kick a ball around with friends.

Emily Harris, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.