Imagine if Henderson Highway were blocked to EK residents, and anyone with an address between Talbot and Bonner were no longer allowed to cross into downtown via Disraeli, Redwood Bridge, Chief Peguis Trail, nor any street going East toward Transcona. Imagine that you were issued a special license plate that meant the only roads you could go on took you north to Lockport, then west to Main Street, then down Main back into Winnipeg.
This is akin to what the Palestinian residents of Kafr Qaddum in the West Bank have been living with every day for the past seven years.
In 2004, when the Israeli settlement of Qadumim began to expand, the Israeli settlers were concerned about Palestinians being able to drive past this area on their way to the next Palestinian village of Jit, or to the large urban centres of Nablus or Ramallah. The Israeli Army, in response to the pressures of the settlers, put up a road block that barricaded the villagers of Kafr Qaddum from using this road.
The Palestinians lived with this inconvenience for seven years, tolerating a nearly 2 hour detour . The cost in time and petrol of this closure has been huge for the community, so in July 2011 village leaders said, “enough is enough”. They decided to protest this action by the Israeli Army, and demand that the road be re-opened.
Every Friday, after midday prayers at the Mosque, men and boys gather at the intersection near a small grocery store and walk to the road block, carrying flags and chanting. For the past three Fridays, the Israeli Army has responded with forceful deterrence, shooting large quantities of tear gas into the small demonstration, sometimes without warning.
I attended the demonstration on Friday, August 5th, along with two other Ecumenical Accompaniers, Ida (Sweden) and Lucy (Brazil). We stood at some distance on a rooftop, with our video and stillshot cameras. We could see on the hillside, among the olive trees, about 10 Israeli soldiers equipped with riot gear and tear gas. We had a good vantage to see the nearly 200 Palestinians on the road. About eight minutes after the chanting began, we saw the men and boys came running down the road. Less than 30 seconds later, the first canister of tear gas came spiraling in the air. Shockingly, four canisters landed within 15 meters of our position, as we stood in full view more than 100 meters from the nearest protester! Either the soldiers have very poor aim, or they were given orders to target the international observers to prevent us from documenting this aggressive action.
I can tell you, tear gas hurts! It is not a gentle way of dispersing a crowd. The gas chokes the throat, stings the eyes and burns on the skin. We were grateful for the onions we had earlier stashed in our pockets, to make our eyes water enough to flush the gas residue.
As you EK residents wait in line this summer and into 2012 for the Disraeli Bridge work to be completed, think about your fortunate freedom of movement! This is a right that is not granted to the Palestinian residents of Kafr Qaddum, although this is their own land. They are under occupation by Israel and their cars licenses and Palestinian IDs mark them as subject to special controls. If peace is to come in this land between Israelis and Palestinians, equality must be developed first. There should be no more detours on the road to justice.
Dianne Baker is a Winnipeg resident living in The West Bank for three month with The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel. The aims of the program are to work with Israeli and Palestinian groups using non-violent means to establish a just peace and to end the Occupation through application of International Law, International Humanitarian Law, UN resolutions and respect for Human rights. EAPPI is a program of The World Council of Churches.