The Palestinian village of Kafr Qaddum is located 13 kilometres west of Nablus and has a population of roughly 4300 citizens. Eleven thousand dunams of the village’s land (roughly 52% of the total area) are part of area C, under full control of the Israeli Occupation Forces. Saqerobeed, the former mayor of the village told ISM that, for the residents of Kafr Qaddum, this means being banned from accessing the land where their olive trees are planted. Olives are the main source of employment for the locals.
Saqerobeed, who served as the mayor of the city for six years, told us:
The army gives us permission to reach this land only twice a year; one week during olive harvest season and two other days during the year to take care of the land, which is not enough”. He also explained how settlers often go to these Palestinian lands and destroy the olive trees or impede the harvesting of these.
Other than being denied access to their land, Palestinians in Kafr Qaddum have been banned from using the main road of the village since 2003, one which easily connects it to Nablus. This is because of the presence of a settlement, which was built by the extreme right-wing Zionist group Gush Emunim in 1975 and has been enlarging ever since.
Reaching Nablus used to take only 15 minutes by car, but the trip now takes at least 40 minutes due to this permanent roadblock.
After bringing this issue to an Israeli court multiple times throughout the years with no result, the citizens of Kafr Qaddum began organising weekly demonstrations in 2011, taking place every Friday.
For the past 12 years, the Israeli Occupation Forces have violently repressed these protests by shooting tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition. On the 12th of August, a 15-year-old boy lost an eye after being shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet. A week after, seven more Palestinians were hit with the same ammunition, one of which led to hospitalisation. The number of people suffering from suffocation due to tear gas reaches the dozens every week, and this includes many children.
During the demonstration of the 1st of September, for instance, the IOF arrived to shoot tear gas canisters outside of a shop where people were sitting while drinking coffee, forcing them to run away immediately. Moreover, 175 people have been arrested for attending these demonstrations, leading the villagers to pay more than half a million shekels of bail-out money over the years. It is also routine for the IOF to place one or two snipers in an abandoned building adjacent to the site of the demonstration.
Four attempts at negotiations with the IOF have taken place, the last one in 2014. The community offered to halt the weekly demonstrations if the road was re-opened. During his time as mayor, Saqerobeed participated in these and recounted how, during the last negotiations, they had come close to reaching the goal of re-opening the street. Even though an agreement had been made and the demonstrations were due to be halted, the IOF still refused to open the road.
When asked about the steadfastness with which the villagers attend this demonstration, the ex-mayor said:
We believe in this form of protesting because there is no one helping us from outside. If we ask for help to NGOs and human rights organisations, or other countries, no one will do anything so we do it alone. We will continue even if we lose people to jail, we all pay the price of this, because the alternative is to accept the way things are right now, which is impossible for us.
Photos by Diana Khwaelid