How will children grow up when violence is an ever-present reality?

An EA reflects on the affect on children from the non-violent protest of Kafr Qaddum, which frequently becomes violent – the Israeli army shoots tear gas and sound bombs at the protestors; protestors throw stones and burn tires.

by Julia, Tulkarm team

Tear gas surrounds the houses of Kafr Qaddum as the Israeli army often shoots towards the houses. Photo EAPPI/M. Soderstrom.

Tear gas surrounds the houses of Kafr Qaddum as the Israeli army often shoots towards the houses. Photo EAPPI/M. Soderstrom.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine affects Palestinian society on many levels. In the village of Kafr Qaddum, it is impossible not to be involved in some way. The village is known for hosting Palestine’s largest weekly demonstration and the whole village seems to be involved in the protest, in one way or another.

Why do the people of Kafr Qaddum demonstrate?

To understand why the demonstration takes place one has to know what lies in the surrounding area. Kafr Qaddum is located 15 km from the city of Nablus, where many of the inhabitants from the village work or study. Walking distance from the village lies the Israeli settlement Kedumin. On the webpage of Kedumin, one can read that the settlement hosts a high school specialized in boys with ADHD problems, a music academy and several women’s clubs. The settlement is expanding and currently there are 700 housing units under construction.

Kedumin’s homepage, however, does not mention that the Israeli military has blocked the road between Kafr Qaddum and Nablus in order to protect the settlers.  The roadblock forces Kafr Qaddum residents to take a detour and drive an additional 15 km in order to get to Nablus. Moreover, it does not mention that the settlement, through its mere existence, violates international humanitarian law, as the settlement is built on occupied Palestinian territory.

The role of children

The Israeli military is waiting as the residents of Kafr Qaddum approach the road block non-violently. Photo EAPPI/I. Lindwall.

The Israeli military is waiting as the residents of Kafr Qaddum approach the road block non-violently. Photo EAPPI/I. Lindwall.

The Kafr Qaddum demonstration takes place every Friday, after prayers. According to its organizer, Murad, it aims to lift the road block to Nablus and prevent the settlement from expanding. The demonstration strives to be nonviolent. “That’s why we let our children participate,” states Murad. Despite this, the demonstration tends to become very violent – tear gas and sound bombs are shot at the protestors, stones are thrown by the protesters, tires are burnt, and people are arrested.

“Last Friday was like a war,” says Buker, one of the sons in the family whose house is the closest to the settlement. He tells us that the feathers of the family’s geese have turned black because of the smoke resulting from the protests every Friday.  Sometimes his family is too afraid to stay in the house when the demonstration is about to take place. They fear not only the tear gas, but that their house will be occupied by the Israeli army (which has happened on several occasions in the past). I asked Murad if the purpose of the demonstration can get lost amidst the tear gas. He answers that this is not the case: “The whole village is proud of our resistance”.

“I wasn’t afraid when the Israeli army detained me”

On Friday, 16 November 2013, four boys aged 8-10 years-old were playing outside one of the houses closest to the settlement. It was around 9.30 am, three hours before the demonstration would start. Different people have different versions about what happened that day, but it seems clear that the children were detained and handcuffed for one hour by the Israeli military and asked whether they would be participating in the demonstration.  During this detention, a neighbour heard the children cry and tried unsuccessfully to convince the soldiers to release the children. The neighbour then called the Palestinian authorities, and after negotiations with Israeli authorities the children were released.

The demonstration that followed was very violent, even by Kafr Qaddum standards. About 14 people were injured and arrested.The Mayor of Kafr Qaddum stated that hundreds of tear gas canisters were found on the ground after everything ended. Several people from the village speculated that the demonstration was unusually violent since it coincided with Palestine’s national day.

In June 2013, the Israeli army shot a tear gas canistar into a Palestinian house in Kafr Qaddum with 6 children. Photo EAPPI/B. Myszkowski.

In June 2013, the Israeli army shot a tear gas canistar into a Palestinian house in Kafr Qaddum with 6 children. Photo EAPPI/B. Myszkowski.

A few days after the demonstration took place I had the chance to speak with one of the boys that was detained. Hussam, 8 years-old, said that he wasn’t afraid during the detention. He did not have any problems sleeping afterwards, so why would he be afraid? Yes, he and his friends discussed the detention in school but none of the boys admitted that they were scared. He then showed the bruises on his arm that he claimed was a result of one of the soldiers grabbing him. When I asked how it felt to talk about what happened, he replied, “I am proud”. As a response to this, one of the men in the room gave him a manly pat on the back and laughed. I felt that I had to look away, close my eyes and take a deep breath to try and have a neutral reaction.

Resistance, but a what cost?

I reflect on the negative aspects this culture of masculinity fostered by the occupation, where violence is constantly present. I think about how this eight year old boy is being introduced into a romance of violence that he may be too young to fully understand. How Hussam, despite his young age, is now ‘one of the guys’ and what he has been through might be the first of many detentions and violations of human rights that he will experience. I think about the attention this boy received as a consequence of being detained, attention received even from people like myself. This may have been the first time he has spoken to a foreigner. Probably is.

I also consider the alternatives that the people of Kafr Qaddum have. They want to express their discontent; they want to prevent further expansion of the settlement, they want to change their situation. As the settlements are already considered legal by the occupying power, the legal system seems to offer little help. Every Friday the people of Kafr Qaddum show their resistance. But at what cost? Alternatively, what is the price of refraining from demonstrating? If you live in Kafr Qaddum you cannot choose to ignore the politics surrounding you. Most Palestinians do not have that luxury: they are drenched in the politics of the occupation.

Tuqu’ – a village under siege

by Alison, Bethlehem team 

An Israeli soldier cries as a Palestinian woman pleas for her olive trees not to be destroyed. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

An Israeli soldier cries as a Palestinian woman pleas for her olive trees not to be destroyed. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

It will be like killing our mothers…

A loud buzz of chainsaws greets our arrival following a call from Tuqu’ – a Palestinian village of about 12,000 people, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. We find Israeli soldiers overseeing the destruction of row after row of mature olive trees.

The Palestinian farmers remonstrate with the army. They have land ownership documents dating back generations from the Jordanian, British and Ottoman administrations, but soldiers ignore their arguments and hold them back at gunpoint. I notice a woman pleading with soldiers who order her away, but she will not let up. An Israeli Border Guard, a young woman who speaks Arabic, is called to deal with her. I watch as the young soldier stands listening and silently drops her head, turning her face to wipe away tears.

Finally, the buzzing stops, but it is a temporary reprieve. The Israelis have declared this ‘state land’ and the farmers are given four days to cut down hundreds more trees themselves, or the world’s fourth largest army will return to defend Israel from the olive trees.

‘How can we do this?’ asks one farmer ‘It will be like killing our mothers!’

Emotional harassment in Area C

About three quarters of Tuqu’s land is in Area C, under full Israeli military control, although Israel was supposed to give the Palestinian Authority full control of this area within 5 years of the Oslo Agreement. Tuqu’ has already lost hundreds of hectares to the illegal Israeli settlements of Teqoa, Noqedim and Ma’ale Amos that surround it to the north, south and east. 

Our team comes regularly to Tuqu’. It is one of four Bethlehem villages where we accompany children to school as part of a UNICEF ‘Access to Education’ programme. Every day, children of 6 to 18 must run the gauntlet of armed Israeli soldiers and we have been present when the army shot tear-gas at the schools. The soldiers obstruct the school entrances with jeeps, and patrol the footpaths with guns, forcing the children to walk across rough fields or along the busy road.

‘It is emotional harassment’ says the mayor.

Recently we met a 16 year old boy who showed us the X- ray of a bullet still lodged in his back since a recent military incursion into Tuqu’. The mayor also tells us that over 20 children have been arrested in the last three months.

Quickly a new settlement is born

The Israeli forces set up concrete blocks and new warning signs. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

The Israeli forces set up concrete blocks and new warning signs. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

Two weeks before the trees were cut down, Tuqu’s mayor called us because Israeli settlers, accompanied by soldiers, began putting up Israeli flags and tents on Tuqu’ land each afternoon. Following this we saw the army erecting a series of concrete pillars along the roadside, with two red signs warning Israelis that this was a dangerous Palestinian village. Soon after this, settlers erected a large marquee and put up provocative posters with a picture of a car being fire-bombed. The Palestinian landowner protested, but the military commander told him the settlers would have  the land for two days for a party.  There was nothing the farmer could do to stop this, but the village held a peaceful protest, whilst a large Israeli military force guarded the settlers.

The people of Tuqu’ know that this is how it starts; a few tents, some flags, then some caravans – an illegal settlement outpost is born. With Israeli state protection and financial inducements it will soon grow to thousands of settlers. More land theft, house demolitions, movement restrictions and violence against local Palestinians will follow.

Two days after the party, the settlers are back. They include a vigilante group called Women in Green* led by a Belgian-born woman called Nadia Matar. We ask what she thinks about the 16 year old Tuqu’ boy who was shot it the back whilst going to visit his grandfather.

‘ He was probably throwing stones.’ She replies ‘Kids who throw stones should be shot in the head. ’

Children at non-violent protest in Tuqu'. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

Children at non-violent protest in Tuqu’. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

During a visit to Tuqu’ a week after the tree cutting, we see scores of settlers coming towards the village, many bringing young children. A large number of Israeli soldiers position themselves across the road and fields, aiming their rifles and teargas cannons at Palestinian children coming out with their parents for another peaceful protest. The settlers hold a ceremony and light candles. It is Hanukkah, and they tell us they are giving this area a new Hebrew name.

International Law and Israeli settlements

Under international law it is illegal for Israel, as an occupying force, to transfer its own population into the occupied Palestinian territories. Despite this, Israel’s massive settlement programme has continued unabated for decades, with thousands more homes being planned during the current Peace talks. With many settlements to the east of Bethlehem and other Palestinian centres, the Israeli strategy seems clear: to expand the eastern settlements westward to join up with Jerusalem, bisecting the West Bank and corralling the Palestinian population into a series of isolated areas.

EAPPI is keeping international agencies informed about these developments in Tuqu’ and a legal challenge is underway, supported by UNOCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Watch video documentation of Tuqu’:

Tuqu’ Village Olive Trees Cut Down & Women in Green settler action

Israeli Settlers and Israeil army harass Tuqu’ Village in the West Bank

*Women in Green (WiG) is a right wing group that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports Israeli settlement of the West Bank, which it proposes Israel should annex. WiG also opposed Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.  Nadia Matar, the Belgian-born leader of WiG claims that the ‘Arabs’ in the ‘Holy Land’ are descended from relatively recent immigrants, and should be ‘transferred’ to neighbouring Arab countries.