Palestinians continue to protest against the Israeli occupation's land theft in Kafr Qaddum

4 min read
19 June, 2024

As dawn breaks, the twinkling lights of Palestinian villages on the nearby hills can be seen from the picturesque village of Kafr Qaddum in the northern Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank.

The village sits high up, offering a panoramic view of twisting roads winding around olive trees, agricultural fields, and stone houses, creating a bucolic idyll.

However, behind this pastoral scene lies a story of land expropriation, brutality, a crippled economy, and violence — including deaths, injuries, and hundreds of arrests — due to Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank.

"Three days a year is not enough time to pick all the olives, let alone take care of the land, including pruning trees, watering, weeding, and ploughing"

It’s Friday, and tensions are mounting as the village prepares for the weekly protest against the Israeli occupation and the theft of their land, uncertain of who might be killed, injured, or arrested this week.

Kafr Qaddum is home to approximately 4,000 Palestinians, with seventy percent relying on their olive trees and other crops for their livelihoods.

The village has lost well over 11,000 dunams (nearly 3,000 acres) of its land to the illegal Israeli settlement of Kedumim.

Villagers are forbidden from accessing the surrounding land apart from three days a year during the olive harvest season.

Nearly half of the village’s land falls under Area C of the West Bank.

The West Bank is divided into Areas A, B, and C: Area A under nominal Palestinian control, Area B under Palestinian administrative and Israeli security control, and Area C under full Israeli control.

"Three days a year is not enough time to pick all the olives, let alone take care of the land, including pruning trees, watering, weeding, and ploughing," said Saqer Obeed, an activist from the village, speaking to The New Arab.

"Even during those three days, sometimes the soldiers wouldn’t show up on time or at all," he added.

Saqer explained that the village had lost millions of dollars over the years due to the inability to harvest olives and other crops.

"Seventy percent of the villagers depend on the olive harvest for economic survival, while thirty percent have other forms of employment. This has led to high levels of poverty in the village, with many residents relying on family and friends to survive," he explained.

Residents of the village began protesting land theft in 2011 after a road to the nearest city of Nablus was closed by Israelis for "security reasons."

Activist Murad Shteiwi adds, "Instead of a direct 13-15 kilometre journey to Nablus, we are now forced to take a circuitous route around Kedumim, adding another 10 kilometres and turning a 15-minute journey into 40 minutes."

The weekly protests have resulted in numerous injuries and arrests. Murad's youngest son, Mo’amen, 14, suffered a skull fracture from a rubber-coated metal bullet to the head.

"My oldest son, Khalid, 18, has been arrested multiple times and shot on different occasions, including once in the leg with an exploding bullet and once with a rubber bullet," Murad tells The New Arab. 

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Saqer informed The New Arab that over 160 villagers had been arrested during years of protests.

"Several dozen people have been injured, including approximately 12 who sustained serious injuries such as loss of eyesight and an elderly man who died from suffocation due to tear gas," he says. 

“The situation has deteriorated further since October 7. Previously, villagers could access their lands for three days a year during the olive harvest, but now they are completely forbidden from doing so.

“Israeli and foreign volunteers who previously assisted with harvesting are now barred from entering the area; they are warned it's a closed military zone and face arrest if they attempt to help," Saqer tells The New Arab. 

Murad continues, “Villagers also endure lengthy waits at military checkpoints on the circuitous route, as soldiers and settlers have escalated shootings and killings of Palestinians in the West Bank following the Gaza conflict. The soldiers are now actively seeking to kill and they do not care." 

"Gunshots echoed across the village as young men scrambled for cover, then re-emerged, continuing the cat-and-mouse game with Israeli soldiers"

Against this violent backdrop, Friday's protest took place defiantly.

After prayers ended, Palestinian protesters — some hooded and others carrying tyres and stones — began a march toward their inaccessible land and the blocked road passing Kedumim.

Huge clouds of black smoke from burning tyres engulfed the area as intense heat bore down on protesters and Israeli soldiers hiding among hill boulders overlooking Kafr Qaddum.

Israeli soldiers' gunshots echoed across the village as the young Palestinian men scrambled for cover, then re-emerged, continuing the cat-and-mouse game with the soldiers.

No arrests or injuries were reported.

Despite the economic hardships and the high toll on villagers defending their land economically, physically, and emotionally, they remain defiant, Saqer emphasises. 

"We are unarmed, armed only with stones, but we are determined not to let this situation pass without fighting for our rights. Israelis know we lack weapons, and our protests are non-lethal," he concluded. 

Mel Frykberg is an international journalist and correspondent who has worked for and reported for various international media outlets. She has reported from Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa