Qabatiya, occupied West Bank – After Israeli forces lifted their siege of Qabatiya earlier this month, the West Bank town came back to life.
Families roamed the streets on their way to dinner at relatives’ homes, while men lounged around in large groups at open-air cafes, smoking shisha and drinking spiced Arabic coffee. The streets bustled with laughing children and shouting fruit-sellers.
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Residents say that Qabatiya, which is home to about 25,000 people, is usually a quiet, simple place to live. Today, the only signs of this month’s blockade are the large patches of dark earth smeared across the roads leading into Qabatiya, left over from the dirt mounds used by Israeli forces to block the entrances.
During the blockade, which lasted for three days, Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition at protesters, who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails.
The unrest began on February 3, when three young men from Qabatiya sneaked into Israel and shot dead a 19-year-old border police officer in occupied East Jerusalem. Another Israeli officer was seriously injured during the attack, and all three Palestinians – Ahmad Zakarna, 19, Muhammad Kamil, 19, and Najeh Abu al-Roub, 22 – were shot dead by Israeli forces.
The incident was part of a broader upheaval that broke out last October, in which more than 170 Palestinians were shot dead and at least 27 Israelis killed. After the incident, Qabatiya was completely locked down, and no one was permitted to enter or leave. Israeli forces closed all seven roads leading into the town.
Residents told Al Jazeera that during the blockade, violent clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces continued day and night for three days, until the roads were opened and Israeli forces evacuated the area.
Abudullah Nasaar, a 24-year-old strawberry seller who works in Qabatiya, said he was unable to work during the blockade. “I was happy to hear that the blockade lasted for only three days, instead of the month we were first told,” Nasaar said.
We stick together... and if they destroy our home, my community will continue to support us.
“I passed the village once during the closure. As we drove by, we could see black plumes of smoke rising at different points all around the village. It was weird: Qabatiya is such a busy, wonderful, bright place, but during the closure all my friends here said no one was on the streets but boys clashing with the Israelis.”
After the blockade was lifted, Israeli authorities revoked Qabatiya residents’ permission to work in Israel.
Muhannad Zakarna, 42 – who is not related to Ahmed Zakarna, one of the attackers – said he had not been allowed to enter Israel to go to his construction job since the deadly attack.
“By the time they opened the entrances and it was possible to go to work, people started saying we wouldn’t be allowed through the checkpoint, but I was not sure if it was true at first,” he told Al Jazeera. “So I went to the checkpoint anyway to try to go to work, and they weren’t even waiting for us to get to the front. The Israelis said on a loudspeaker that anyone from Qabatiya needed to leave.”
Zakarna said that he had not contacted his boss, because after a week of missed work he was certain he had no chance of keeping his job. “I don’t think the Israelis care: We are completely expendable. Only a small percentage of Palestinians are allowed work permits, but there are thousands of people standing behind each guy who does have one waiting to replace him.”
A spokesperson for Israel’s Civil Administration confirmed that Qabatiya residents were currently barred from working in Israel, without providing details as to how long the measure would continue.
“It’s a bad decision on Israel’s part,” Zakarna said. “If people don’t have work, then the unrest is only going to strengthen and things will get worse for them. But us, we can handle it – this is life under occupation.”
Fayida Zakarna, the mother of one of the young men who committed the February 3 attack, said her son was not political. He took part in clashes, like most teenagers in the occupied West Bank, but was not affiliated with a political party, and was mostly interested in saving money to build a home so he could prepare for marriage, his mother said.
She said she had no idea that her son was planning anything. Nevertheless, Israeli forces have taken measurements and photos of her home, informing residents that the family homes of all three attackers will be demolished.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem considers such punitive demolitions a clear form of collective punishment, and has referred to the practice as “organised barbarity”.
Israel carried out punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes from 1967 until 2005, when the practice was discontinued because of its perceived ineffectiveness as a deterrent. According to B’Tselem, Israel’s defence minister at the time discontinued the practice on the recommendation of a military commission that found no proof it was effective. Instead, the commission concluded that such demolitions could actually encourage more attacks.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently reinstated the policy of punitive demolitions after an increase in Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Since October, B’Tselem has documented more than two dozen punitive home demolitions, which have left dozens of people homeless.
Although her home may be destroyed, Fayida Zakarna said Palestinians were never homeless because they can lean on one another.
“My family and the other families are being held responsible for something we had no control over, but if they destroy our house God will look after us, so we are not worried about a demolition,” she said.
“We stick together. Even through all this, my community supports us – and if they destroy our home, my community will continue to support us.”
Additional reporting by Abel al-Qaisi