Kufr Qaddum

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Popular Palestinian Protest

By David Kattenburg

Kufr Qaddum is a village of 5000, halfway between the northern West Bank cities of Nablus and Qalqilya. Its agricultural lands encompass about 19,000 dunams (acres), 11,000 of which fall within Oslo ‘Area C’ and are therefore under complete Israeli military control.

Kufr Qaddum is flanked to the east by several neighborhoods of the settlement Kedumim (population 4500). West Bank settlements violate Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibiting the transfer of an occupying power’s citizens into occupied territory. They constitute a “grave breach” of the convention, and are therefore a “war crime” under the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Although acknowledgement of the illegality of settlements is virtually unanimous, the US, Canada and European Community steadfastly refuse to hold Israel accountable. They extend diplomatic protection to the settlements at the UN, welcome settlement products on their store shelves, and allow Israel to label these products as products of Israel, thereby effectively endorsing Israel’s de facto annexation.

Kufr Qaddum

In 2003, the Israeli military permanently blocked the road leading directly from Kufr Quaddum to Highway 55, and from there to Highway 60 and Nablus, thus lengthening trips to the major West Bank commercial centre from about fifteen minutes to forty-five. Kufr Qaddum’s economy has suffered as a result.

The blocked road is also flanked by a large portion of Kufr Qaddum’s agricultural land. Olive producers are now limited to a day or two to harvest their olives, leaving many trees unpicked.

Popular protest in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh

Since July 2011, Kufr Qaddum has staged weekly protests to have the road re-opened. As with other popular protests throughout occupied Palestine — in towns like Nabi Saleh, Bi’lin and Ni’lin — residents are routinely suppressed by Israeli soldiers and border police, who fire high-velocity tear gas rounds, rubber bullets and live rounds at rock-throwing youth. Rocks are of no significant threat to soldiers and police.

Israeli forces have also sprayed the putrid fluid ‘skunk’ over village houses, but this activity has been curtailed, I was told, following complaints about the drifting stink from nearby settlement communities.

Three villagers were killed in protests shortly after the road closure was instituted. A court challenge against the road closure was heard by the Israeli High Court in 2003. It has , the legal status of the road remains unchanged, stressed Addameer.

Charged under Israeli military “Order 101, protest coordinator Murad Shtaiwi was jailed for over a year and fined US$ 2500. Listen to Murad explain the protests. Click on the play button below.

Murad Shtaiwi, Coordinator of Kufr Qaddum protests

On Friday, June 14, I grabbed a service taxi from Ramallah to Nablus. There, I hopped on another ‘service’ to Qalqilya, which dropped me off in the village of Al-Funduq, at the base of rural route 5506. From there, it was a six-kilometer walk to Kufr Qaddum. A 16-year-old named Haroun, from the village of Haje, kept me company for a while. Haroun’s English was far better than my non-existent Arabic. Haroun wants to be a vet. He didn’t want me to take his photograph.

The road to Kufr Qaddum

Parting company with young Haroun, I continued on my way to Kufr Qaddum. Up a steep hill on the edge of town, I encountered a group of road workers who’d halted their morning labour for smokes and coffee. They offered me a cup of strong Palestinian java in a small paper cup.

Further up the hill, I encountered another group of men and youth in front of a building where pizzas were being baked in a firy oven. They insisted I sit down, and a slice of pizza was soon offered up.

Kufr Qaddum resident bakes pizza.

Conversation turned to politics. They all supported Fatah, and were fond of Saddam Hussein. With a hand gesture to my throat, I reminded them that Saddam was dead.

Soon, a van pulled up with a couple of men inside, one with a kuffiyeh around his neck and a rolled up Palestinian flag on his lap. They offered me a ride to the center of town, where I stepped into a very tidy and well-stocked variety store. The owner, a 40-year-old named Ziad, offered me a bottle of cold water and another coffee, and settled in to smoking shisha from a large hooka.

As noon prayers came and went, a crowd gathered in front. I met a young Israeli named Amnon, who has been attending Kufr Qaddum protests for years. Click on the play button in the picture below.

Israeli activist Amnon Lotan

Before too long, the protest began. Children gathered in front, solemnly holding up rudely captioned pictures of American bankruptcy lawyer and Ambassador to Israel, David Melech Friedman.

With the summoning call of a megaphone, villagers and a handful of internationals trudged up Kufr Qaddum’s old road, stopping just before the top of the hill leading to Israel’s permanent roadblock. Many in the crowd held back. Soldiers are known to fire rubber bullets and live rounds from hidden positions, from the tops of houses or the adjoining hill, I was told.

Listen to Amnon dispense words of caution:

 

A huge tire fire was soon ignited, sending huge clouds of stinking black smoke billowing up to block advancing soldiers, and eventually blow towards Kedumim settlement.

Tire fire sends smoke towards Kedumim settlement, in the distance.

To the excitement and pleasure of more militant members of the crowd — and a fair degree of panic among others — a handful of soldiers soon appeared down the road, and along the hill above town.

Masked shebab hurled stones with long slingshots.

The Israelis cautiously advanced, hid in doorways and then withdrew, eliciting shouts and jeers from the crowd, a flurry of flag-waving and a shower of rocks. Sound bombs popped and banged.

Freedom fighter ballet

Listen to Sakhr Obeid, the former mayor of Kufr Qaddum,  explain what their protests are all about. Click on the play button below:

Former mayor of Kufr Qaddum, Sakhr Obeid, waves flag.

All images by David Kattenburg.

 

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