Today in Kufr Qaddoum, our peaceful protest was quickly assaulted by the Israeli military in a way unprecedented in my past month attending protests here. Perhaps because it was the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death, the soldiers were double their normal number, and were positioned on the hills above ahead of the protest. They planned the assault of the village that was to come.
Children led the procession holding posters of Arafat’s face and happily marching down the village’s main road.
The kids will be shooed back to their homes in a few minutes as we near the soldiers, so they take advantage of the time they have as part of the demonstration.
We continued down the street to reach the barbed wire that closes off their road. This is the cause of the demonstration. Israel closed their main road because it passes by an illegal colonial settlement. Now instead of a quick drive down to the city, Nablus, they must take a roundabout route of 45 minutes. When we stop in front of the barbed wire, a man talking into a speaker begins to remember Yasser Arafat.
The soldiers tried to shout orders at the procession through a loud speaker, but the Palestinian man continued his speech un-phased by the interruptions. As he finished his speech, tension grew, some people knowingly began to move back in anticipation for the usual bombardment. Before anyone could get out of the way, tens of high-velocity tear gas canisters were fired at a time, from close-range. If hit in the head, these are lethal. They’ve also been known to cause paralysis and kill children.
Article 14 of the UN Basic Principles:
“In the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary.”
Israel is denying Palestinians the Human Right of peaceful assembly and association (UDHR Art. 20-1) by reacting to peaceful forms of protest with violence.
After the first assault of tear gas, a group of soldiers began to make their way into the village. The soldiers arrested a Palestinian man, 30 year old Hazzem Barham, who was lying down suffering from the tear gas and being attended by a Red Crescent volunteer. They denied him medical attention.
While documenting the arrest of Barham, soldiers then targeted a US activist and arrested him.
Barham and the US activist were taken to the illegal settlement of Ari’el where they are being charged with throwing stones – a charge completely discredited by the video footage taken during the demonstration. The US activist later tells us that within the police station, Barham has been subjected to gross humiliation by both soldiers and settlers inside Ari’el – including being spat on, taken photos of and made to crouch down with his head between his legs.
A video of the two arrests taken by a colleague:
They fired several rounds of tear gas, including several about 200 metres away from the protesters, right in between civilian homes. A few minutes later a young boy emerged vomiting, and in a second was picked up by men, passed to a Red Crescent worker, and brought to the ambulance where he was treated with an oxygen mask. He appeared to lose consciousness when lying in the ambulance.
Soldiers began to chase the procession deeper into the town. They fired several tear gas canisters, and we began to run.
But as people ran, countless more began to be fired, following the protesters as they ran. They continued to shoot tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at a crowd that was running away. We were choking and running as fast as we could for a single breath of air.
Many of the protesters ran to the mosque nearby, the place injured protesters are always taken for treatment because it is the safe-haven during the protester. Six were treated with tear gas inhalation, and three were hit with tear gas canisters. Tear gas began to be fired in rounds from an adjacent mountain, and even hit the mosque.
It was two hours of this before the soldiers withdrew, followed by a crowd of villagers to ensure that they left.
At the end of this assault, much worse than I’ve seen in my time visiting Kufr Qaddoum, it seemed that everyone at the protest went to the city council centre and was fed a traditional Palesitnian meal, msakhan, served by the tons! Out of context this is a sad day. We lost two protesters, many were injured, the town is littered with tear gas canisters, sound bombs, and rubber-coated bullets. Kids ran to me and showed me live ammo bullets they had found afterwards. But in reality, the procession left smiling and ready for the next moment because after years of having their road closed, they are finally fighting for their rights. I know that Palestine is strong because her people do not consume themselves in self-pity, but in courage, passion, and an unwavering joy for life.