Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Friday in Qaryut: Tear gas and Roadblocks

Palestinian protestors flee tear gas in Qaryut

On the morning after the historic vote at the United Nations that upgraded the recognition of Palestine to ‘non-member observer state’ our team visited the village of Qaryut, just South of Yanoun, to observe a nonviolent demonstration of around 300 people against the blocking of a key local access road which sits between the Israel settlements of Eli and Shiloh, which are considered illegal under international law. The atmosphere was jovial, with men, women and children marching together downhill from the village centre, with a smattering of internationals amongst the crowd.  

If we had forgotten in the excitement of the results from the UN that this is a country under occupation, we were reminded in short order when Israeli soldiers fired sound bombs, tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets into the crowd.  Smoke and shouting swiftly filled the air, with people running back up the hill, and several falling to the floor, overwhelmed by the acrid gas or struck by bullets.Local sources report that over 50 protesters were injured, with at least 2 hospitalized. One man was struck directly in the face by a tear gas canister and a number of Palestinians experienced breathing difficulties as a result of gas inhalation.

An injured protestor being loaded into an ambulance by Palestinian Red Crescent volunteers

The road in question, which connects to Highway 60, provides access to the city of Ramallah and thus opportunities for work, trade and study (at Al Quds University). An estimated 300 people per day use the route when it is open. According to community representatives they took direct action to reopen the road repeatedly over the past 20 years with the Army rebuilding the block from rubble and earth on over 100 occasions.

In June the Israeli army finally relented and agreed to clear the road for good. However, after just four months, Israeli settlers blocked the road themselves. This demonstration was the first since this happened. Local youth worker Bashar Al Qaryuti says that the response was more immediately violent than previously

They didn’t confront us so directly like this before...It is worse now

EA Heli Pekkonen looks on as Bashar Al Qaryuti (right) speaks with locals 

With the land immediately to either side of the roadblocked area, like over 70% of Qaryut land, also now deemed off limits to villagers for security reasons, locals feel under increasing threat.  In addition to the 2 major settlements there are an additional 5 outposts and Bashar feels that the effort to make the road inaccessible is part of a bigger plan to seize the territory it crosses.

they are trying to connect all the settlements up.”

Bashar and others from Qaryut are linking with activists from neighbouring villages as Shabbab Hilltop Youth against Settlements, in order to coordinate their efforts to resist the impacts of the settlements on their communities.  Following deliberation within the group and with other local parties, a decision will be taken as to whether to reinstate the regular protest, despite the threat of more violence from the Israeli Defence Force in response. Away from the media spotlight this is the reality of occupation and resistance in the occupied Palestinian territories. Road by road, hill by hill, communities struggle to win the small victories, to regain control over their own land.

All photographs Derek Oakley/EAPPI

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