24th May 2013 | International Solidarity Movement, Nablus Team | Kafr Qaddum, Occupied Palestine
Tear-gas showered down on villagers in Kafr Qaddum yesterday, nearly blinding one media worker in a direct hit and nearly suffocating a child as villagers protested the roadblock that has hindered their lives for a full decade. The villager’s own stone barricades, meant to slow Israeli vehicle access during demonstrations, were bulldozed and jeeps entered the village shooting tear-gas indiscriminately. At least 5 dunams of land was also set fire to by tear-gas, some intentionally shot in such a way as to cause fire by the searing hot canisters.
The villagers marching towards the Israeli roadblock did not even get to the edge of the residential area as usual before a jeep, specially equipped to fire multiple rounds of tear-gas simultaneously, sent villagers back in order to breathe. With the gas barely cleared, villagers regained momentum and continued. Awaiting them was a bulldozer, a familiar sight in Kafr Qaddum, which ploughed through the numerous stone barricades that stall incursions by jeeps. The bulldozer, specially designed to withstand physical damage, was escorted on foot by the Magav (so-called ‘border’ police), who fired additional tear-gas at those symbolically throwing stones at the bulldozer as it dismantled the scant protection they have against Israeli jeeps rapidly storming into their village. The rocks gone, two jeeps pursued the protesters further into the village with the Magav firing tear-gas at them to aid in their advance.
Gathering themselves together again, the demonstrators moved towards a point in the village to which the Magav had then pulled back. New road barricades were placed and a brief stand-off ensued. Then officers on foot fired tear-gas from their rifles; one directly-aimed canister hit Ayman Nazzal, from a television news crew there, right in the face. Fortunately, his gas mask absorbed most of the impact but he sustained an injury just above his right eye, which would have been critical had it been a finger-width lower. Immediately following this volley of gas by the Magav, the bulldozer went in for a second time, trailed by the jeeps and then the officers who had stood alongside the bulldozer, who intermittently shot tear-gas in whatever direction they saw villagers that had not been chased by the pair of jeeps.
Additional border police, on top of the adjacent mountainside overlooking the whole scene, had meanwhile shot tear-gas down at those gathered on the slope below them; the tear-gas canisters caused several large fires amongst the dry bushes and several olive trees, the villagers’ livelihoods. The fire service was called in and, after the protest had finished, they remained along with a few villagers to calm the flames.
By the close of the demonstration, Yazan Brham, only 10 years-old, had to receive medical treatment after inhaling the toxic gas shot. He and Ayman are in a stable condition, with Ayman having had an overnight stay in Rafidia Hospital in west Nablus, the city to which the roadblock impedes direct access from Kafr Qaddum.
“There are two things that are most important to us: organization and character,” said Murad Shtiawi, a local participant. Recent weeks have displayed the kind of organization Murad noted as the village demonstrators have faced bulldozers, a skunk truck, foot soldiers in the village and raining tear-gas propelled from army jeeps; all countered with careful response by the demonstrators as they communicate throughout the protest and constantly employ media to document their resistance. At the protest a fortnight ago, soldiers waited on the top of the adjacent mountainside, hid amongst roadside olive tree groves and inside army trucks, attempting to surround the protesters from three sides. As villagers saw the trap coming, they stayed back in stalemate until a bulldozer arrived to remove barricades the residents had built to slow potential invasion of the village by Israeli forces. In front of the bulldozer walked the Magav, firing tear-gas canisters and clearing the way in front of the bulldozer.
Kafr Qaddum is a 3,000 year-old agricultural village that sits on 24,000 dunams of land. The village was occupied by the Israeli army in 1967 and 1978 saw the establishment of the illegal settler-colony of Qedumim. The settlement, built on the remains of a former Jordanian army camp, occupies 4,000 dunams of land stolen from Kafr Qaddum. The villagers are currently unable to access an additional 11,000 dunams of land due to the closure of the village’s main and only road leading to Nablus by the Israeli army in 2003.
The road was closed in three stages, ultimately restricting access for farmers to the 11,000 dunams of land that lie along either side to one or two times a year. Since the road closure, the people of Kafr Qaddum have been forced to rely on an old goat path to access this area; the road is therefore small and narrow, suitable, as the locals describe, only for animals. In 2004 and 2006, three villagers died when they were unable to reach the hospital in time. The ambulances carrying them were prohibited from using the main road and were forced to take a 13km detour. These deaths provoked even greater resentment in Kafr Qaddum and, on 1st July 2011, the villagers decided to unite in protest in order to re-open the road and protect the land in danger of settlement expansion along it.
Kafr Qaddum is home to only 4,000 people, yet almost 500 residents come to the weekly demonstrations held after Friday prayers. The villagers’ resilience, determination and organisation has been met with extreme repression. More than 120 village residents have been arrested. Most of them spend between three to eight months in prison and together they have paid over 100,000 Shekels to the Israeli courts. Two thousand residents have suffocated from tear-gas inhalation, some in their own homes and 100 residents have been shot directly with tear-gas canisters. On 27th April 2012, one man was shot in the head by a tear-gas canister, fracturing his skull in three places and costing his ability to speak. An Israeli soldier released his dog into the crowded demonstration on 16th March 2012, where it attacked a young man for nearly 15 minutes whilst the army watched. When other residents tried to assist him, they were pushed away and some were pepper-sprayed directly in the face.