Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Kufr Qaddum: Protests against road closure continue despite several activists detained

June 24, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Kafr Qaddoum]

The main road between Kufr Qaddum has been closed since 2002.

“Who is this?” asked a mother to her seven-month-old daughter, showing her a photo on the mobile phone screen. The girl looked at the picture but said nothing.

“It’s papa!” the mother told her. “Look, it’s papa!”

This is the only way that the toddler has been able to see her father since the end of April. On the night of 29th, Israeli soldiers climbed on a ladder to the room of Murad Shtaiwi to arrest him. He did not even have the time to say goodbye for his four children.

Shtaiwi was not the only one detained around that time period in Kufr Qaddum, a village of around 3,500 people west of Nablus. While some of the inhabitants say twelve others were taken to prison, Shtaiwi’s wife claims more than twenty got arrested.

All the arrested were active in the weekly demonstrations to reopen the road connecting Kufr Qaddum to the city of Nablus. The road, now running through the Israeli settlement complex Kedumim, has been closed since 2002. Even in emergency cases, Palestinians are not allowed to use the way.

“A trip to Nablus used to cost 5 NIS; now it is 13 NIS. What used to take 15 minutes takes now 30-40 minutes,” said Abed Al-Muhandis, a taxi driver from the nearby village Jayyus.

Stones against rubber bullets

Every Friday since 2011, about 400-500 villagers gather at their end of the road, chanting demands to open it. Sometimes the protests turn violent, and the villagers start throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers.

“Throwing stones is a symbol of resistance here. It’s all they’ve got,” said Martta Maria Falckelin, one of the human rights observers of the EAPPI program (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) based in Jayyus.

The Israeli forces often respond to the demonstrations with excessive force. Several used tear-gas canisters litter the road that is blackened from the numerous tires burned during protests in attempt to prevent the army from entering the village. Dogs are another way to disperse the crowd: In March 2012, Shtaiwi’s nephew broke his arm after the Israeli army allowed one of its dogs to attack him

Rubber bullets have also caused several injuries for the villagers, including children. For example, Shtaiwi’s uncle still has a red mark on his leg where the bullet once hit him.

All these clashes happen only a couple of hundred meters away from the settlements, easily visible from the place of the protests.

“Look at those kids, how they walk freely out there,” Shtaiwi’s cousin said, pointing to three settler children climbing up the hill. For security reasons, he did not want his full name to be used in the article.

Judicial procedure “nonsense”

Shtaiwi was arrested twice before but was then released without charges, according to Amnesty International. The human rights group calls his recent detention the latest phase in “a pattern of harassment” by the Israeli authorities against him and other protestors in Kufr Qaddum.

While Amnesty International describes Shtaiwi as the leading activist of the protest movement, family members emphasize the collective nature of the demonstrations.

“Everybody knows there is a protest on Friday, so there is no need for a leader,” Shtaiwi’s cousin said. “But Murad gave many interviews for the media and was active in that way.”

So far, Shtaiwi has had three court hearings. Like all Palestinian prisoners, he is judged under military law. He has been charged with organizing a demonstration without a permit and with throwing rocks. The accusations are based on confessions of two other men from Kufr Qaddum.

However, Falckelin, who was present at one of Shtaiwi’s court hearings, does not believe that he would have thrown rocks. Also Al-Muhandis, who knew Shtaiwi well, hopes that the confessed men will take back their words.

Falckelin criticized several other aspects of the court procedure, which was held in Hebrew with a translation to Arabic only available to Shtaiwi.

“According to the defense, Shtaiwi should have been freed already, but the judge – who himself is a settler – stopped the court hearing abruptly, claiming that he had to review the evidence,” Falckelin said. “It was pure nonsense.”

Protests until the opening

If convicted, Shtaiwi could face up to one year in prison in addition to paying hefty fines. The family is now considering asking whether the next court hearing, scheduled for the 6th of July, can be postponed. With the current Israeli crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank in connection to the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers almost two weeks ago, they fear that the judgment could be harsher than usual.

During the two months of his detention, family members have been able to see Shtaiwi only a few times. Sometimes they are allowed to just wave at him at the court hearings, where usually two relatives are allowed. Last time, Shtaiwi’s wife and son attended the trial.

Meanwhile, the villagers still gather for protests on a weekly basis. Shtaiwi’s cousin believes his relative will join the demonstrators again once he gets out of prison.

“We have the right for this road. It’s as if someone came to your house and said that it’s now mine,” he said, referring to the Israeli settlers and soldiers behind the closure. “We will continue protesting until road is opened.” 

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