By EA Lisa
Among many Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank, some towns become bywords for resistance. This is often due to residents maintaining weekly demonstrations over many years, despite attempts by the Israeli military to suppress them. We visited a town that has been protesting the closure of its main road for 15 years. Although the blocking of the road, which is near an Israeli settlement, has been declared illegal, an Israeli court also stated that the road was too dangerous for travel, so the military keeps it closed.
EAs in the town. Photo: EAPPI/EA Lisa
This recently expanded settlement is illegal under international humanitarian law, which prohibits states from moving their own population into territory that is under military occupation. Settlement residents now freely use this road, while Palestinians cannot. Locals explained to EAs how this has left the community without direct access to its land, and has lengthened journeys to places of employment, education and medical care.
Local people in the town. Photo: EAPPI/EA Lisa
The town has a population of around 4,000 people. It lacks commercial or social infrastructure but has a strong sense of community and purpose. Imad, a local resident, told us that the weekly demonstrations take place following Friday prayers. Residents march from the mosque to the blocked road at the far end of the town. While the demonstration began as a protest against the closure of the town’s road, it has now come to symbolize the community’s nonviolent resistance to the entire occupation.
The blocked road. Photo: EAPPI/EA Federico
Imad says that, because of the ongoing demonstrations, the whole town is being collectively punished by the Israeli military. Widescale night-time arrests, including those of minors, are a regular occurrence. So are the substantial fines imposed alongside prison terms for alleged offences such as stone throwing. 170 men from the town have been imprisoned since the demonstrations began; collective fines of around ₪250, 000 have been imposed upon them. Many houses, including his Imad’s own, have boarded-up windows. During previous protests, military forces sprayed skunk water into homes, breaking windows in the process. The Israeli government claims that skunk water is used to quell demonstrations, and that it reduces casualties. But Imad claims that homes are deliberately targeted: “It took days to clean my house”, he says. “Everything was ruined.”
Beyond the blocked road. Photo: EAPPI/EA Federico
The collective punishment of a whole community for the actions of some individuals is prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The convention states that “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.” The Israeli human rights organization B’tselem says “The problem is the way skunk is used. Very often it is a form of collective punishment for a whole area.”
EAs have witnessed around 200 residents, including local youths and children, walk the small distance from the mosque to the blocked road. From a distance, we watched as heavily armed soldiers, spread out across the hills above the town, fired tear gas canisters, rubber-coated bullets and sound bombs towards the demonstrators. Local youths responded with stones and slingshots. These scenes have come to typify the weekly demonstrations, but Imad says the violence is worsening: “Yesterday, people are scared … from the start [the soldiers] used live bullets”. While live gunfire has been used in previous demonstrations – when many people were injured, including Imad’s 11-year-old son – this is the first time soldiers have begun their shooting with live ammunition.
Mural on the wall blocking the road. Photo: EAPPI/EA Lisa
When asked why the residents continue with their weekly demonstration, despite the risk to their lives, and the lives of their children, Imad explains that the demonstration is a symbol of the town’s unity. It expresses a refusal to accept the illegal Israeli occupation of the land. “This is my country – my father’s country and his father’s. I want to live here, I want to die here. I want to be buried here”. To Imad the road closure is one of the many ways the Israeli authorities force the residents to leave. The weekly protest is their way of demonstrating that they are going nowhere.
Find out more about the use of live fire by the Israeli military by reading this Haaretz article