Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Elderly Palestinian killed on New Year’s Day

Juicebox Gallery

By Mike J.C. - January 09, 2014
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Kafr Qaddoum] [popular struggle] [Settlement Expansion]

Photography by Gabriel R.


On New Year’s Day, Said Jasir Nasar Ali, an icon of the village of Kafr Qaddum, suffocated when Israeli forces tear-gassed his home during a demonstration inside the Palestinian village. He was pronounced dead in a Nablus hospital later in the day, becoming the first fatality of the village’s two-and-a-half year popular struggle and the first Palestinian martyr of the year.

The Palestine Monitor was greeted warmly at the solemn occasion of Said's memorial on 4 January. Per custom, the bereaved men of the family lined a long row of chairs in a local community hall, rising to greet and shake hands with visitors as they arrived to pay their respects. Over refreshments, we were permitted to take pictures and conduct interviews, speaking extensively with two of Said’s sons, Yasser and Nasser, along with Murad Shtaiwi, spokesman for the village’s popular resistance committee. We were also taken to the nearby family home, where the gassing occurred. 

According to numerous witnesses, thick clouds of teargas deluged the family home around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The canister landed just outside the house, and dense clouds of noxious fumes drifted heavily in through nearby open windows, including into Said’s bedroom, where the old man was found moments later, struggling to breathe and turning blue. 

Said was soon unconscious, and his sons called a doctor to the scene. The doctor, Mohammad al-Ott, applied first aid but warned that the symptoms were grave. An ambulance took Said to a Nablus hospital where the patient was treated with oxygen in the emergency room. His condition deteriorated, and at about 8 o’clock in the evening, he was transferred to an intensive care unit. After hours of struggle, Said’s heart stopped working, and he was pronounced dead at 11:10 PM. 

Although Said was 88 years old, he was in good health and often busy on foot around the village.

He was a man who tried to make all the things in Kafr Qaddum very good and beautiful,” his son, Yasser, 40, reflects. “Any opportunities and occasions, any celebrations, he would share these occasions. He was a real man, with all the meanings of the words.” 

With posters of the deceased watching over his shoulder, the son continues, “All the people in the village loved this man, and we are very sorry to lose such a life.” 

According to Murad, Said was a pillar of the community: “If you ask this question to anyone in the village, he will answer you the same […] Everyone in Kafr Qaddum can give you this picture about the man.”

Said Jasit's portrait on the martyr posters.

The popular struggle in Kafr Qaddum

Since July 2011, the hillside village, home to more than 4,000 people, has held regular political demonstrations against the loss of their land to a neighboring Israeli settlement and the military’s closure of the main road that historically connects the village to the major Palestinian commercial center, Nablus. 

Kafr Qaddum is one of dozens of rural Palestinian communities waging an unarmed popular struggle against the Western-backed Israeli occupation. Like many others, the weekly Friday demonstrations are often covered by the press and attended by up to a dozen or more Israeli and international supporters, and army dispersal methods and incursions into the village spark violent clashes with youth hurling stones and setting up defensive roadblocks. 

Kafr Qaddum, which frequently holds multiple demonstrations a week, also has a reputation for meeting particularly fierce and intrusive repression. According to locals, the Israeli military comes into the village almost every day and night, making frequent arrests and firing barrages of teargas, sound bombs, and rubber-coated bullets that cause extensive injuries and property damage.

Among the most serious injuries suffered since the demonstrations began, Wesam Walid Burhum lost his speech and suffered three skull fractures when he was struck with a teargas canister on 27 April 2012.

Yasser describes how his own six-year old son was shot in the knee with a teargas canister during a peaceful march. “What is the fault of my son?” he asks. “No one is safe in the village.”

“Let me say,” Murad adds. “The chickens are not safe. The donkeys are not safe, the goats are not safe, because we had more than 2,000 chickens die because of the tear gas attacks,” among other livestock losses.

Kafr Qaddum’s troubles are intimately tied to the neighboring Israeli settlement of Qedumim, which begins scarcely 500 meters from the edge of the village. Qedumim has expanded onto Palestinian land through processes described as “theft,” even by Israeli authorities

“If we want to talk about the general situation for Kafr Qaddum, 'Kafr Qaddum’ means 'ancient village,’” Murad explains. “Qedumim settlement was established in 1978. Kafr Qaddum is 4,000 years old. It’s very important to focus on this issue […] because the Israeli occupation tries to steal the history of the village.”

Israeli settlements commonly take on the name of a Palestinian village, usually with a slight modification, while simultaneously attempting to isolate the original community and pressuring its indigenous occupants to vacate the land. This is done through the imposition of harsh daily living conditions, such as uprooting olive trees, physical assaults, and poisoning animals and water wells. The Israeli military often facilitates these attacks by protecting the settler communities and rarely prosecuting the offenders. For a severe case, see a recent report by Amira Hass, although the practice is systematic and increasingly common across the West Bank.

All Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal under international law. While the settlers enjoy full legal and civil rights as Israeli citizens, the Palestinian communities in their midst are subject to military rule, permitted neither Israeli citizenship nor political independence.

Murad Shtaiwi, spokesman for the popular resistance committee of Kafr Quddum (right), with Said Jasir's son, Yasser.

According to Murad, Kafr Qaddum traditionally held 24,000 dunums of agricultural and pastoral land, of which 4,000 dunums were lost to the establishment of Qedumim (the neighboring Israeli settlement). A further 11,000 dunums were subsequently cut off by military closures, and the landowners are now required to obtain individual and highly restrictive permits to access their fields, including four thousand dunums that line the now-closed road to Nablus. (For Kafr Qaddum land statistics, see also this ARIJ report.)

Re-opening the ancient road remains the central demand of the village’s popular resistance. The road dates back to the Ottoman Empire and connects the village to Nablus in a direct route of 13 km. Since it’s closure in 2003, the villagers have been forced to travel a network of back roads, doubling the total distance to 26 km, more than tripling the travel time, and dramatically increasing public and private transportation costs.

“The road which you came from—it’s not our road,” Murad wants to make sure we understand. Indeed, our Nablus taxi driver had to ask for directions nearly a dozen times on our way to Kafr Quddum. And Murad says the current route was scarcely drivable before repairs and upgrades. Still, it remains circuitous, winding often through narrow alleyways of adjoining villages. “And so, it’s a lot of cars, and it’s very narrow, and we have a lot of accidents.” 

The closure of the main road has also been linked to deaths in medical emergencies. Heavy restrictions on permitting ambulance access, and delays in obtaining proper Israeli permission, were factors in the deaths of three villagers in 2004, according to Murad. 

Occupation forces blocked Palestinian access to the road as part of a series of closures across the Nablus governorate during the Second Intifada, citing “security reasons.” The villagers were told that the road would reopen along with Nablus, but since the latter was opened in 2009, the road has remained closed. 

As the road leaves the village, it runs along the length of the settlement and is used by the settlers. The villagers believe that the road remains closed to them because the settlers are intent on keeping it for their exclusive use, along with the 4,000 dunums of land that come with it. 

Still, the people of Kafr Quddum have hope that they can succeed in re-opening the road and regaining their restricted lands, following the “popular struggle” model set by other resistance villages, such as Bil’in and Budrus, both of which have achieved comparable goals in recent years. 

While the family mourning their New Year’s Day loss suspects that Said’s suffocation would have proven fatal either way, based on the severity of the symptoms, they are left to speculate about the time that could have been saved had the road been accessible. “Maybe if the ambulance came earlier,” Yasser wonders, “Maybe, the doctors could have done something for him.”

Murad, who has been arrested twice, including last month on charges of encouraging “illegal” political demonstrations in his village—and released several days later on 7,000 shekels bail—makes a plea for international solidarity.

“I have an important message, not for the governments, or states, exactly. My message is for the people, for the civilian people,” he says, expecting change to begin with the grassroots rather than the politicians. “We need someone in the world to oblige Israel to respect agreements which are calling for Palestinian rights.”

“We are born under occupation, and grew up under occupation, and maybe we’ll die under occupation, but our children, what’s their fault?” he asks. “We are human beings. We have children. We have wives. We have a future, and we want our future to be safe and free.” 

The sons of the late Said Jasir at the memorial ceremony.

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