3 July 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank
The popular committee, or local council, of Kufr Qaddoum requested the attendance of ISM volunteers at their first demonstration in the village after more than six years of protracted legal arguments before the notoriously one-sided Israeli High Court. The attempts to gain justice through legal recourse were motivated by a unilateral Israeli decision in 2003 to block the main arterial road linking Kufr Qaddoum with Nablus.
A number of ISM representatives had visited the village in the days running up to the planned protest, to discuss with the popular committee the specific problems they were having with the Israeli occupying forces and the possible ways in which the ISM could be of use.
Abdul Ra’ouf Hamsa, a representative of the local council, and his assistant, Saqer Obwed, had explained to the ISM forward party that the main problem confronting the village was the loss of this key road – which up until 2003 had been the principle means of access to Kufr Qaddoum from Nablus – a journey of only 15 minutes now closer to forty.
The road was initially obstructed (without explanation) by members of a local illegal Israeli settlement at Qadumim, but responsibility for the occupation of the road quickly became a matter requiring the repressive potential of the Israeli armed forces, together with the notoriously brutal border police force.
For the past eight years the villagers have been utilizing other routes to travel to and from Nablus. As a result, their expenses have increased markedly and their lives have become significantly more difficult. As is usually in the case of incidents of this kind, it is the most vulnerable who suffer first and most. The cost of transportation has increased for students studying daily in Nablus, and the chances of serious injury or death have also increased with a long and circumspect route to Nablus hospital. Two Palestinians have died in recent years after failing to reach the hospital in time.
Hamsa explained to the prelimanary ISM delegation that they used to organize demonstrations against the blockade of the road more than six years previously, but were forced to stop when they decided to take the issue to the Israeli High Court.
Just 8 months ago after awaiting the court decision for many years, the popular committee of Kufr Qaddoum received a rare ruling in their favor , allowing them legal access to this vital stretch of road. Despite the court’s decision in their favor, the court simultaneously ruled that the villagers could not use the road until 2012 after claims of the road not being “suitable” or “safe” were made by the Israeli’s.
Thus the establishment of a weekly non-violent demonstration was agreed upon and international observers and participants from the ISM were requested. With Israel demonstrating a complete lack of will in granting the villagers their rights, it was decided by the popular committee that peaceful demonstrations were the only viable option left to them.
A series of cars and pickup trucks worked in tandem to help transport international peace activists past the Israeli checkpoint denying entry to the village. The villagers and international activists gathered in the village and began their march down the road towards Nablus and the awaiting Israeli border police and military forces.
Upon arriving at the Israeli checkpoint, and after initial attempts to negotiate access to the road, peaceful demonstrators were confronted by shield-wielding border police used to confront and repress the front row of the crowd, now halted by Israeli occupying forces. After the arrival of the border police, the peaceful demonstration was swiftly dispersed with stun grenades and tear gas.
Large swathes of the surrounding land belonging to the villagers was soon engulfed in flames as the callous use of flash-bangs ignited the grass and trees, dry in the summer time. A number of Palestinians veinly attempted to put out the spreading fires with branchs and their feet. To no effect. A number of bee hives owned by the villagers were destroyed whilst most were rescued by the frantic attempts of local people.
A number of Palestinians were transported away by ambulance after suffering the effects of tear gas inhalation, including a number of elderly men and young boys. After half an hour or so of further negotiation from the village elders, both Israeli occupying forces and the Palestinian demonstrators withdrew back down the road in opposite directions.
Kufr Qaddoum is located to the north of Nablus, with a population of approx 3,500 inhabitants. More than half of the village’s land – about 11,800 dunams (one dunam equals 1000sq meters) – is situated in area C; which means that the Palestinians must be given permission to work there from the Israeli District Coordinating Office. The villagers from Kafr Qaddum have often complained about harassment and violence from the nearby illegal settlement of Qadumim, built in 1976.