Palestinian village pledges to struggle ‘until land is returned’

The village of Kufr Qaddoum near Nablus is paying a high price for its weekly protests against the theft of its land.

A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag during a protest against illegal settlements in Kafr Qaddoum in the Israeli-occupied West Bank [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

Kufr Qaddoum, Occupied West Bank – This village in the northern occupied West Bank has held protests every weekend for the past 10 years against the expropriation of nearly 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of land for an illegal Israeli settlement.

During last Friday’s protest, four Palestinians were wounded by rubber-coated metal bullets, and dozens of others were treated for tear gas inhalation.

Village spokesman Murad Shteiwi told Al Jazeera that Israeli soldiers invaded homes and snipers shot at demonstrators from the rooftops of some houses.

The protest started with a peaceful march towards the settlement but ended in violent confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth who hurled stones.

“They took our land away, including olive orchards and a road that bypasses the settlement and on which we used to travel to Nablus, the nearest commercial centre,” said Shteiwi, one of the organisers of the Friday-Saturday protests.

“This has forced all the villagers to travel a much longer and circuitous route to reach Nablus, which takes more time and fuel,” Shteiwi added.

Village spokesman Murad Shteiwi at the weekly Kufr Qaddoum protests [Al Jazeera]

While the protests take place twice a week, Shteiwi said other demonstrations break out regularly when Israeli soldiers raid the village and invade homes during the night.

“We first started holding protests every Friday but after Israel carried out a policy of collective punishment, targeting homes and all the villagers – including women, children and the elderly – we decided to send a message to the Israeli authorities that their strategy wouldn’t work and that nothing would stop us,” he added.

Paying a high price

Palestinian residents of Kufr Qaddoum have paid a high price for their resistance to the Israeli occupation.

At least 170 people have been arrested and several hundred people shot with live ammunition and rubber-coated steel rounds, according to locals.

“Three of the serious cases involving rubber bullets included one person who lost their eye, his uncle shot in the head, and a 15-year-old child shot by an Israeli sniper with the rubber bullet causing his skull to fracture and subsequent brain damage,” said Shteiwi.

“He is now unable to walk or speak or to move the right side of his body.”

Of the hundreds wounded, more than 100 were shot with live ammunition.

One nine-year-old child was shot in the head with an “explosive” bullet; he is now paralysed and is only able to move his eyes.

As an organiser of the protests, Shteiwi himself has been shot several times, and was arrested and detained briefly on five occasions.

His son, Khalid, 15, was arrested two years ago and was also shot twice on two different occasions, once with an exploding bullet in his leg when he was 11 and once with a rubber bullet.

Shteiwi was shocked when they arrested Khalid who was then 13.

“When the Israeli soldiers surrounded my house, I expected them to arrest me but never dreamt they would arrest my young son. My wife fainted during his arrest,” he said.

Israeli forces accused Khalid of taking part in some of the demonstrations, which Shteiwi said was common among many of the village children. He said the protests turn into confrontations because of the use of force by the Israelis.

“We do everything to protect the children and remove them when things turn nasty. The children are trying to send out a message to the world that while children elsewhere can live a peaceful and normal life, here they can’t,” Shteiwi said.

“My younger son Moa’men, 11, was also shot in the head with a rubber bullet several years ago, which caused several fractures in his skull.”

Moa’men was also ambushed by Israeli special forces several years ago as they laid in wait in a ditch near a village road on which the protesters march.

An Israeli soldier points his weapon towards Palestinian demonstrators in Kafr Qaddum [File: Raneen Sawafta/Reuters]

The Shteiwi home has also been targeted over the years with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, which broke a number of windows. On some occasions, there were no protests taking place in the village.

Across the years, five journalists covering the demonstrations have been shot with both rubber-coated rounds and live ammunition.

The Israeli army has said the village organises “violent riots” that involve rock-throwing and rolling burning tyres towards them.

‘They will be forced to return the land’ 

Akef Qaddoumi, 59, is one of the main protest organisers and a member of the village council. He regularly takes part in the demonstrations.

At every rally, Qaddoumi can be seen at the front of the group of young men, unarmed and waving a Palestinian flag.

He has been shot on numerous occasions, including in protests in other villages in the area against the Israeli theft of land.

“My skull was fractured when I was shot in the head with a rubber bullet in one of the protests in the village of Beit Dajan against the settlements,” Qaddoumi told Al Jazeera.

Akef Qaddoumi, 59, is one of the main protest organisers and a member of the village council [Al Jazeera]

Qaddoumi’s family has protested the occupation across three generations.

“I have five children who have been involved in resistance activities and my young grandson, Wattan, four, now also takes part in the protests,” said Qaddoumi.

One of his sons held his wedding ceremony in the middle of one demonstration while mounted on a horse.

“While we haven’t achieved our goal of getting our land returned, our village is united in resisting the occupation,” said Qaddoumi. “We set an example for other villages in the area in our determination to resist the occupation, relatively peacefully.”

Shteiwi said the protests will not stop “until we achieve our rights, our land is returned, and we are able to travel on our road”.

“Eventually, the Israelis will be forced to return the land,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera