Qaddum – Update

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Ruth Bar Zohar, Naomi Bentsur (reporting), Translator: Charles K.

10:00  An odor of smoke intensifies the closer we come to the village of Qaddum.

What brought us here now in particular?

As many of us know, every Friday for the past three years a demonstration has been held in the village against the closing of the road the villagers used to access their lands and to reach Nablus, the main town of the district.  The villagers participating in the demonstrations are joined by many supporters from Israel and abroad.

Last month the area commander told the villagers that he’d deal with them harshly unless they stopped the demonstrations.

He warned them, and he followed through:  The army’s actions against the residents have escalated since his announcement.  Last month alone the army conducted more than twenty night raids on village homes.  About 50 soldiers participate in each raid.  They surround buildings, send tear gas into them and shoot into the air to frighten people.  Recently the army has begun using a device that releases 12 tear gas projectiles simultaneously.  Yes, “the Jewish brain is very creative”…

Murad Ashtawwi is the head of Qaddum’s Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.  As the leader of the demonstrations, he’s a red flag to the security forces.  Last Friday, a few hours before the demonstration was to begin, he was ambushed by soldiers and treated very aggressively.

But, if the military commanders thought that the demonstration would falter without its leader, they were wrong.  The demonstration was held, with the usual number of participants.

And what happened to Murad?  Since there was no proof of his guilt he was not interrogated and was released the next day.  The attempt to stop the demonstration by arresting him failed.  Then, a week later, they revenged the failure.  On Saturday, at 03:00, soldiers raided Murad’s home, located in the center of the village, with stun grenades.  Did that stop Saturday afternoon’s demonstration?  Of course not.

We sit and talk with S., who’s an impressive person.  A few years ago he was the head of the Qaddum municipality.  He speaks fluent Hebrew (as well as English and German).  His attractive two-year-old grandson sat on his knee.  Since the road was closed the residents must use an alternate route, winding and uncomfortable to drive.  It takes much longer to reach Nablus and other destinations, and costs more.  Given these problems, which aren’t existential in nature, the question arises:  Are the villagers paying too heavy a price for the demonstrations?  Might it be better if they accommodated themselves to the situation, and gave up?

S. emphasizes that the residents of Qaddum pay a much higher price for not being able to use the road.  It has always been our agricultural life-line that brought us to our lands.  The occupation arbitrarily severed the connection between a person and their land:  while the village’s houses are in Area B, under Palestinian control, the lands are defined as Area C, under Israeli control.  As a result – most of the land has been expropriated to establish the settlement of Kedumim and its satellites, and Har Hemed.  In order to reach and cultivate the little remaining land, residents need permits from the army.  They’re granted only two days a year to take care of their olive trees, their principal crop, and 7-9 days for the harvest, when 45 days are needed.  As a result of their inability to cultivate the trees properly, and the insufficient time allowed to pick the olives carefully, the trees suffer.  A tree that once bore 4000 kg. of olives in a bountiful year now gives less than 200 kg.

How is that related to closing the road?

The road allowed access to the plots with vehicles and with tractors so we could work more quickly.  Without the road, farmers must travel on foot or by donkey on winding trails, unable to carry the appropriate tools, and aren’t able to do the work.  That’s another reason for the trees’ low yields. 

What’s Qaddum’s current situation?

A village that once had 12,000  has only 4,000 today.  Most of the land belonging to the villagers who left has been expropriated, but their families are holding on to their “ma’aliyya” – the proof of ownership from Turkish times.

Employment: Qaddum is poor.  15% of those employed work for the Palestinian Authority.  Others raise sheep and chickens.  A few have small vegetable gardens.  Olives have always been the principal mainstay of the villager.  Since the occupation and its decrees, income from olives has been greatly reduced.  None of the villagers work in Israel.  The Shabak forbids it.

Education:  There are three elementary schools and one high school whose pupils sit for the matriculation exams.  Increasing numbers of high school graduates (including girls!) continue to higher education.  Most attend Al Najah University in Nablus.  “Education is the Palestinians’ weapon,” says S.

Medical services:  There is, fortunately, a physician in Qaddum; each week some 20-25 demonstrators need medical attention.  Some are sent on to hospital.

Water:  Is supplied by Mekorot from a well in Beit Iba.  Water for the Kedumim settlement arrives in an 18 inch pipe.  What’s the diameter of the pipe to Qaddum?  Only half an inch…

Electricity:  Electricity was supplied by generators until 2009.  In that year, after one and one half million shekels were raised with the help of the Palestinian Authority, the village was connected to the Israel Electric Company’s grid.

Construction:  Since the village is located in Area B, construction permits are issued by the Palestinian Authority.  Villagers are not allowed to build on Qaddum’s land reserves in area C.

S. takes us to the outskirts of the village where demonstrations are held every Friday.  The odor of smoke intensifies as we approach.  The ground has been blackened by burning tires.  Three guys accompanying us point out many red “buttons” scattered along the road.  They’re valves, proof the army uses tear gas and skunk-liquid grenades against the demonstrators.

We want to continue along the path but S. and the other guys stop us:  Cameras have been installed along the route of Kedumim’s buildings.  As soon as a person passes a certain point an army jeep appears and they might be arrested.  That’s the job the soldiers stationed here are carrying out for the settlers.

The question that must be asked these days is whether the political negotiations are likely to lead to a peace agreement.  S. states emphatically:  “There will be peace only if Israel evacuates all the settlements.”  Increasing numbers of Palestinians we’ve spoken with recently on the West Bank are saying the same thing.

How long will the demonstrations by Qaddum residents continue?  “All the villagers, whatever their age, are determined to continue the demonstrations until they succeed.”