It was a Thursday – the eve of the 15th of Av. In ancient times, according to the Talmud, young girls would dance on this day in the vineyards to attract suitors. In Geulat Tsion, an outpost near Shilo, a group of girls joined for a campout that was set to last through Shabbos.
Among those celebrating with the girls was Orian Ben-Uliel, who had been married for a year and a half. Her husband, Amiram, was studying that day in the nearby outpost of Achiya. Late in the evening they returned home – a fitted-out truck parked on the edge of still another Samarian outpost, Adei Ad.
The Ben-Uliels had come to Adei Ad six months earlier from Geulat Tsion, where they had settled after their marriage in 2014. Their plywood house had been destroyed several times by the police; the last time was when their daughter Malkhut was a month and a half old. At that point they had no more money to rebuild, so a friend lent them the truck.
On that night, the 15th of Av – July 30-31, 2015 – Amiram and Orian went to bed at 1:00. She woke up at 5:00 to drive the campers to a spring in Eli, another settlement in the area. Before leaving, she woke Amiram and reminded him to look after Malkhut in her absence.
As she was driving to Eli, Orian’s phone rang. It was her mother, warning her that something had happened in Duma and Arabs were heading toward the Jewish settlements. Orian called Amiram to warn him.
A Duma house had been firebombed and three people died in the conflagration. Hebrew graffiti was found at the scene of the crime.
The army prevented the Arabs from reaching the Jewish settlements.
The Ben-Uliels didn’t want to continue raising their daughter in a truck on the edge of a settlement. Orian found the situation scary, and Amiram wanted to study at Rabbi Shalom Arush’s yeshiva in Jerusalem. At the end of August, the Ben-Uliels moved to a rented apartment in Jerusalem.
On the morning of the 19th of Kislev – December 1 – Orian drove Amiram to the yeshiva. When he got out of the car, Orian saw two men in civilian clothes moving toward him. “I was sure it was a terror attack,” she recalls. Then a swarm of policemen appeared, and she realized it was an arrest. The police dragged Amiram into a police vehicle and drove off.
Sobbing, Orian called Honenu, a legal aid organization, which assigned Amiram an attorney who learned that a preliminary hearing would be held the next day in Petach Tikva. Orian and the attorney went to the hearing but were not allowed to see Amiram nor were they told what he was charged with. She was sure it was a mistake, and he would be released.
A few days later, though, the attorney learned the arrest was about the arson in Duma.
Because of the Hebrew graffiti at the crime scene, Israel was under international pressure to convict a Jew of the crime even though arson had been a feature of clan warfare in Duma. Amiram was one of a number of young men who were picked up and interrogated. He had no previous criminal record.
“My husband is innocent! He was with me that whole night!” Orian would say repeatedly. No one was listening.
Orian remembers the hearing at which she was finally allowed to see Amiram, three weeks after the arrest. “He looked like a living dead man,” she said. The Shin Bet had obtained permission to carry out an “emergency interrogation” using “special methods.” Under torture, Amiram “confessed” to the arson and, under the supervision of his interrogators, “reenacted” it.
Apart from his confession, which contradicted eyewitness accounts, nothing tied Amiram to the arson. Nevertheless, after four years in prison, he was convicted and sentenced to three life terms.
He is currently being held in solitary confinement at the Eshel prison near Beer Sheva. Orian and Malkhut are allowed to visit him once a week, with glass between them. He is allowed to hold his daughter once a year. (Other prisoners in his wing enjoy this kind of privilege once every two weeks.) Sometimes at night Malkhut wakes up and cries, “What happened to Daddy? I want my Daddy!”
Amiram strengthens himself by reading Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s writings, practicing hitbodedut, and thanking Hashem even if things seem bad. “But it’s hard for him,” says Orian. “He’s locked up in the cell all day, and at night he has nightmares because of the torture.”
“Someone must have maligned [him], because without having done anything bad, he was arrested one morning.” Thus begins Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial.
With the help of Honenu, the Ben-Uliels are appealing to Israel’s Supreme Court.
Honenu (www.honenu.org) is arranging a Zoom meeting with Orian on Thursday, July 16, 2:00 p.m. (New York time). If you wish to submit questions and/or receive a link to the meeting, e-mail email@example.com.