Harsh Reality of Israeli Occupation Persists in Spite of Kerry's Efforts

Weekly protests in West Bank villages against the Israeli occupation continue, with little hope that Kerry’s initiative will bring positive results.

al-monitor US Secretary of State John Kerry waits to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, June 28, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin.
Linah Alsaafin

Linah Alsaafin

@LinahAlsaafin

Topics covered

west bank

Jun 28, 2013

As US Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the West Bank this week for his fifth visit in three months, the reality for Palestinians has not improved under the direct rule of the Israeli occupation, nor has the Israeli government shown much interest in the two-state solution.

On the contrary, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon stated on June 6 in an interview with the Times of Israel that “there’s no majority for a two-state solution” within the Israeli cabinet. At the same time, Israel plans on expanding and building more Jewish-only settlement units — illegal under international law — while its occupation forces continue to violently subdue West Bank village protests.

Kerry is tasked with restarting the peace process between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, a term that has become a smokescreen of endless rounds of fruitless negotiations while occupation policies continue without hindrance.

The West Bank village of Kufr Qaddoum, with a population of 4,400, exemplifies the status quo by its weekly Friday protests against confiscation of their land by the settlement of Qedumim. Since its establishment in 1978, the settlement has expropriated 7,000 dunums out of the village’s total land area of 25,000 dunums. The villagers need special coordination permits issued by the Israeli military to access a further 11,000 dunums of their land for farming.

The protests began in July 2011, after a collective decision was made by the villagers to reopen the road that connects to the closest city, Nablus, a mere 10 minutes away. However, during the second intifada in 2003, the Israeli army closed the road for “security purposes,” which essentially meant that settlers in Qedumim could exclusively use the road without encountering Palestinians. As a result, the road closure has forced villagers to use a longer, winding road that adds 45 minutes to their journey. Between the years 2004 and 2006, three villagers died after not making it to the hospital because they were denied access to the main road and were forced to go on the long detour.

A number of cases of violence suffered by the Kufr Qaddoum protesters at the hands of the Israeli army stand out starkly. Just a week ago, on Friday, June 21, a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier hit 25-year-old Mahmoud Shteiwi in his hand and severed his finger, with three other protesters shot in the back, chest and stomach. During the same protest, a Palestine TV reporter and cameraman were beaten, arrested and had their equipment thrown in trash cans by the Israeli army. So far, 140 men have been arrested, with the average attendance at the demonstrations numbering 500.

At a protest in March 2012, an Israeli police dog attacked a protester, biting his arm for more than 10 minutes while Israeli soldiers looked on. Several Palestinians tried to help the man but got pepper sprayed directly in the face. After the dog finally let go, Ahmad Shteiwi was arrested, along with his uncle who tried to help him, and spent nine months in jail.

But the most serious attack occurred a month after the dog-bite episode when an Israeli soldier fired a tear-gas canister directly at Waseem Qaddoumi’s head from a distance of 20 meters. Waseem suffered three fractures in his skull and lost his ability to speak for two months.

“I was standing with my son away from the protesters’ march, and was asking him whether he had studied before coming to the protest,” said Anas, Waseem’s father. “As he turned his head to answer me, the tear-gas canister hit his head. He pirouetted once before falling on the ground, bleeding heavily.”

Anas, who owns a used car-parts shop, said that if Waseem hadn’t turned his head, the canister would have hit him in the face. Protesters from other West Bank villages have been killed in this way, such as Mustafa Tamimi in Nabi Saleh and Bassem Abu Rahmeh from Bilin, respectively shot in the face and chest from short distances.

Waseem spent two weeks in Rafidiyeh Hospital in Nablus and suffered internal bleeding after the first operation. He was then taken to a hospital in Jordan for treatment, and in addition to his speech problem, ended up with partial paralysis in his left hand and drooping of his left eye and corner of his mouth. He missed the senior exams at his high school, where he was a top student.

“When Waseem was taken to Rafidiyeh Hospital, the coordinator from the Israeli military base of Bet Il called up the director of the hospital and told him that Israel was willing to treat Waseem if we declared that he was injured by Palestinian stone throwers,” Anas said.

A year later, Waseem is now 19 and in the middle of taking his exams. Speaking to Al-Monitor with slow and slurred speech, he explained that he is prone to losing concentration when it comes to his studies.

“I lose focus when I read, and have to read a paragraph more than once,” he said, even as he gives a shy smile and reassures that his exams have been going well so far. “I can’t go out under the direct sun, and whenever I move fast or run, my head starts throbbing really hard. Sometimes I forget parts of conversations I have with my friends.”

The skull is missing in the left side of Waseem’s head, and he plans to go to Jordan after his exams in order to have platinum plates inserted. Anas said that Palestinian and Israeli rights organizations like Al Haq and Yesh Din were following up on the case to bring accountability to the soldier involved, but as Yesh Din revealed this year, 94% of cases filed against Israeli soldiers are closed without any indictments. The fact that video footage does not exist also doesn’t help, despite the presence of dozens of eyewitnesses from the village.

Murad Shteiwi, the coordinator of the Kufr Qaddoum protests, said that Israel is unstoppable in its ongoing impunity.

“Israel is a country that simply can’t be brought to justice by other countries and governments’ complicity,” he said. “John Kerry won’t change anything, and the Palestinian Authority has lost touch with the people. We have a strong popular base growing from our village, but officially, we suffer from a severe lack of support.”

While Kufr Qaddoum, Shteiwi continued, will persist in its protests because it operates from a framework outside of the interests of the US-Israel-PA triangle, there is little hope that any decision will bring them justice.

Linah Alsaafin is a writer and editor based in the West Bank. On Twitter: @LinahAlsaafin

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