Tag Archives: Kafr Qaddum

Why Amnesty International is right: Both the village of Kafr Qaddum and Murad Shtewi must be freed

The village of Kafr Qaddum in the West Bank was the scene of some of the worst violence I saw during my half year working as a human rights monitor there.

The village holds weekly demonstrations to demand that their main road be reopened. It was closed by the Israeli military authorities in 2002 to prevent Palestinians from travelling on roads designated for use only by Israeli settlers and adds on nearly 20km to their travel to the main town.

These demonstrations are violent affairs. This is my account of a ‘not so peaceful protest’ which includes footage of a Palestinian being mulled by an Israeli military dog (see below) as well as multiple protesters being shot directly by heavy metal tear gas canisters. This is my account is of a 17 year old boy who was relearning to talk after being shot in the head by a tear gas canister.

As I said – the demonstrations are violent affairs littered with human rights abuses. It is not surprising then that on a number of occasions the Israeli military tried to stop human rights monitors and members of the press from entering the village. On one occasion before a particularly brutal response to the protest I had to travel through the olive groves to avoid the Israeli military checkpoint to gain access to the village.

In midst of this madness trying to marshal events was the figure Murad Shtewi. Murad is (was) a leading activist in the weekly demonstrations held in his village. I met him on a number of occasions normally over strong Arabic coffee and cigarettes to discuss what had occurred in his village during the previous week. Invariably the conversation focused on army raids and arbitrary arrests (painfully common events across the West Bank) but this was juxtaposed to Murad’s middle-eastern understanding of lavish hospitality and his talk of non-violence resistance.

I liked Murad for having optimism in the face of such continued violence (violence that Murad experienced first hand, in the video of the dog attack you can see Murad being pepper sprayed in the face for trying to intervene in the dog attack on his nephew).

Despite witnessing so much violence Murad was also committed to non-violence. This commitment to non-violence is one of the key criteria for Amnesty International who now consider Murad a ‘prisoner of conscience’ after his arrest at around 3am on 29th April of this year (arrests in the middle of the night are common place in the West Bank – even when detaining minors).

Murad is charged with organizing a demonstration without a permit, causing a public disturbance, and throwing rocks during a demonstration. Amnesty International has responded to these charges saying:

“In Amnesty International’s assessment, the charges of rock-throwing and of causing a public disturbance are unfounded. Murad Shtewi has been persecuted for expressing his non-violent opinions and for his role in the peaceful protests in Kufr Qadum against Israel’s illegal settlements. His arrest and detention are a measure to punish him and stop him and other village activists from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.”

As such Amnesty International is calling for Murad Shtewi to be released immediately and unconditionally, as ‘he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression’.

This is a call that I am happy to publicly back. On every occasion that I went to Kafr Qaddum I never once saw Murad throw a stone. On a number of occasions I did see him telling others not to throw stones. I also talked to him at length about the importance of non-violent resistance.

This is also the third time Murad has been arrested (each time released without charge) in the last few years, the first was after the dog attack on his nephew.

Simply put, I can’t see how this latest arrest of Murad has any purpose other than to try and deter him from organizing legitimate protests against the Israeli policy of segregation in the West Bank.

It is in light of all this that I ask you to take a few seconds to send this sample letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that significantly not only calls for Murad’s release but also to:

‘take effective measures to prevent the use of unnecessary and excessive force by Israeli forces against peaceful demonstrators’

Please help me help Murad by taking this small action.

For more information:

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When Will the Israeli Army Stop Using Tear-Gas as a Weapon?

This article was first published 13th January 2013 in the International Business Times

Palestinian in protest at Israel's security wall on the West BankThe sun shone through the vines and caught on the face of Abu Walid. He moved closer to his 17-year-old son Waseam, who in turn stared into the near distance. The courtyard where we were sitting was suffused with the smell of sweet tea.  An awkward silence filled the seconds as my question hung in the air.  

I had asked Abu Walid to describe the moments after a metal tear-gas canister had struck his son on the head. He paused as the memories collected. Finally, he looked up from his tea and said:

“At first I didn’t think it was serious, just some blood on his head…The man who works with the ambulance told me we had to go straight through the checkpoint…The soldiers also knew it was serious because when we come they open the checkpoint for us. They telephoned ahead to the hospital because they knew every minute counted.”

His son Waseam now sits beside him after returning from Jordan where he had an emergency life saving operation. By all accounts he is lucky to be alive.

Boys from the village differ on what they say happened on the day Waseam was shot.  The one aspect everyone agrees on was that the tear-gas canister was fired directly at the crowd by an Israeli soldier. When fired directly at a crowd, as opposed to being fired at an angle into the sky, tear-gas ceases to be a crowd dispersal technique and becomes a weapon. This violates the Israeli military’s own regulations on the use of tear-gas.  

Sadly, Waseam is not the only person to be struck by a canister either in his West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, or across the occupied Palestinian territories. Every week that I monitored the demonstration in his village, I witnessed the Israeli military violate their own standards by firing tear-gas canisters directly at the crowds. On a number of occasions people were taken to hospital after being struck by these metal canisters.

The use of tear-gas in this way can have deadly consequences.

A year ago, Mustafa Tamimi died after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired only a few metres from him. At the time, Tamimi’s death was met with international outrage.

The Israeli military described his death as an “exceptional incident”. My experiences as a human rights monitor at weekly demonstrations across the West Bank indicate that this is not the case.

Indeed, the British Member of Parliament for Bath Don Foster supported this view, saying, “It would appear that the military regularly violates its own regulations [regarding the use of tear-gas] at Palestinian demonstrations.”

Equally, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has been “warning officials that security forces [have been firing] …tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations” for “several years”.

Two days after Tamimi’s death, the Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) opened an investigation into his death. A year later, there has been no public comment as to why the investigation has not come to any conclusion.

Noa Tal, of B’Tselem noted that “an inquiry lasting a period of nearly one year cannot be considered reasonable”.

While B’Tselem rightly highlights the legal repercussions of this drawn out process and the de facto impunity that results from it, the family and friends of Mustafa Tamimi have not received the closure that they need to be able to move on knowing justice has been served.

Indeed, these problems mean that Palestinians like Waseam and thousands of others are still putting their lives on the line every time they take to the streets.


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Another Friday, another protest in Kafr Qaddum

This is a guest article by my friend and colleague David Heap who is currently based in Tulkarm. It was originally published on the EAPPI website.

For the Abu Ihab family, Friday wasn’t too bad. Admittedly there were Israeli soldiers on their roof firing tear gas, they couldn’t leave the house, the sons had been chased down the stairs by armed soldiers and the stink of tear gas and burning car tyres drifted through the room. But Isra’a, the youngest daughter, said they weren’t really afraid today.

Kafr Qaddum is a pleasant Palestinian hillside village of some four thousand people. It has a mayor, a mosque, an elementary school. It had a road joining it to the next village one and a half kilometres away – but not anymore.

Between the two villages are two Israeli settlements, legal under Israeli law, but illegal according to UN Resolutions, which expressly forbid the civilian settlement of lands occupied as a result of conflict. The road was closed for security reasons by the Israeli authorities in 2003. The only security problems the townspeople were aware of were some damage to their crops and olive trees in the early days of the settlement, but all had been peaceful for a good while. Israeli authorities had reportedly promised to re-open the road at the same time as the main road beyond it to Nablus re-opened. This happened two years ago, but their road remained closed.

Since the first of July 2011 the people of Kafr Qaddum have held a demonstration every Friday against the closure, which means a 20 kilometre detour to get to families and friends and a six-fold increase in bus fares for students. It can get very angry, as it had on the 15th of June this year, because the Israeli army had raided the village in the middle of the night before and detained 20 young men. They can be held in administrative detention inside Israel, many kilometres away from their families for hours, days, weeks, months or years, often without trial. If they admit to the claims against them (often stone-throwing) they can be released upon payment of a fine that is around 10,000 shekels (€2000.) A Palestinian going to work in Israel as a labourer or farmhand earns 120-180 shekels per day.

That Friday, it was a game of kids advancing and throwing stones, soldiers dashing forward threateningly with the guns, kids running back, soldiers withdrawing, kids advancing again went on till the main adult procession came up the hill. Tyres had been set alight and were now billowing smoke. The same pattern of ebb and flow was repeated, only now tear gas was being lobbed regularly. Mostly into a field to the side of the demo, but some skittering along the road into the crowd. Men were regularly brought back choking and temporarily blinded and a Red Crescent ambulance zoomed up and down giving aid to the worst affected. One man was hurt more seriously as it seemed his shirt had caught fire and he was burned.

Things quietened down after an hour or so and the procession came back chanting slogans. A quiet enough day we were told. Unlike the previous week there had been no chemically-created “Skunk” water shot from water cannons and no sound bombs, which disorientate and nauseate as well as deafen.

Back in the Abu Ihab house, which is at the outer limit of the village and always caught up in the midst of things, things were now quite calm. The soldiers had left the roof and for once had not cut the television cable. The mother was preparing a huge and delicious meal of chicken, rice, vegetables, pickles, pitta bread, tea and coffee.

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Protest at Kafr Qaddum 11.05.12

The organiser of the weekly protest at Kafr Qaddum took a few seconds to explain to me his version of events from today’s protest.

These are some images I took from today’s protest:

Two boys using slingshots to throw stones at the soldiers.

The Israeli Army entering the village.

A member of the press (who made it past the flying checkpoints put down by the Israeli Army to stop press entering the village) is carried out of the protest by a first aider.

A small boy collects the empty tear gas canisters

If you would like to read what the protest at Kafr Qaddum is like – click here

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Another crackdown on the protest in Kafr Qaddum

My head started swimming and I couldn’t open my eyes. I could feel broken stones crunch beneath my feet and I knew I was moving away from the protest. For a terrifying 30 seconds I lost track of what was happening. An autopilot sense of self preservation kicked in that my conscious self had little control over. Just as my senses started to return I felt a colleagues hand rest on my lower back and lead me to the side of the street. Here I crouched in the small amount of shade offered by the shop-front from the midday sun. My stomach had tied itself into a knot and my head felt like it had split in two. Only then did I realise that I must have walked away from my colleague who was now stood in front of me with her camera in hand. I glanced up an offered what I hoped was a reassuring smile.

A few minutes earlier I had been stood at the back of a demonstration in Kafr Qaddum, a small village in the West Bank. I was there to monitor the proceedings and reporting on any human rights violations I witnessed. In the minuets preceding I had filmed a number of ‘warning shots’ being fired over the crowd and whiffed the faintest smell of tear gas. I believed I was far enough back though to avoid the worse of what was to inevitably come. I was stood on the side of the street next to a large wall that could also offer me protection, should it have been needed, from any direct fire. My colleague was nearby and I felt in control of situation.

Seconds later the Israeli army fired a volley of tear gas canisters (some directly into the crowd) that filled the streets with a penetrating thick gas. At first I stayed in position as it appeared the soldiers were aiming just for the front of the protest. As the crowd turned to run however, the tear gas landed closer and closer to me. At this point one canister landed a few yards away and filled my lungs with the gas. What happened next is a blur. I remember a man kicking the canister away down the hill but little else.

On the approach to the village earlier that day there were some clear signs that the protest was not going to pass peacefully. The Israeli Army had set up a series of checkpoints cutting off the only main entrance to village. I approached as part of a mini convoy of human rights monitors. I was travelling with others from EAPPI and the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem. As we approached the checkpoint it became abundantly clear that international human rights monitors were not being allowed into the village. Later I would find out that the same restrictions were being applied to media outlets.

I already had reasonable suspicion to believe that this week’s protest at Kafr Qaddum was going to witness an escalation of violence on previous weeks. The day before the village had seen 19 of its residents arrested in an IDF raid. “It was a clear illustration of strength aimed to intimidate us and to stop us making protest” one villager suggested. There were reports that a large amounts jewellery had also been stolen during the raid. This combined with the checkpoints only heightened our unease about the protest.

After meeting a series of other journalists, news agencies and human rights monitors who had also been turned away we decided to collectively head across the fields and enter the village “through the back door”. As the representative from B’Tselem put it, “if we do not reach the village today I am sure some very bad things will happen and they will go unreported”.

Sadly, his prediction of violence proved to be true. Both the Israeli Army and boys and young men from the village once again illustrated their willingness to take part in acts of violence against one another. Before being ‘tear gassed’ myself I saw stones the size of my fist being flung through sling shots at the soldiers who then responded with the brutality that I am coming all to use to seeing.

It is important, however distressing these scenes of violence are, that the world hears about them. Today I saw a large number of boys throwing stones before the Israeli Army fired tear gas directly at the crowd as a whole.  The obvious difference in these actions is that one was undertaken by a professional army and the other by young boys in an occupied village.


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A not so peaceful protest

This article was posted on the Liberal Conspiracy blog.

I was stood in the middle of an escalating protest against the Israeli occupation in the village of Kafr Qaddum. The air was thick with tear gas, panic was spreading as people were running in all directions to escape. In this commotion another round of tear gas was fired directly at the crowd. I saw someone meters from me collapse. A man caught him as he was falling and lifted him onto his shoulders. As he tried to escape other men came to help carry him. After a few meters they laid him down on the ground and it became clear he had been shot in the neck by a tear gas canister. This was the second person of the day to suffer this fate.

The former legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, Col. Sharon Afek of the Israeli Defence Force stated in April 2009 that, “direct firing [of tear-gas canisters] at persons is prohibited” and that, “very soon, an explicit and broad directive will be issued that will prohibit the firing of a tear-gas canister directly at a person.” When in July 2011 the Israeli human rights group B’tselem enquired to why they were still recording multiple incidents of tear gas canister being directly at crowds, Major Uri Sagi, of the office of the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria within the IDF stated that, “we have again clarified to the forces…the rules relating to firing of tear-gas canisters at persons, including the prohibition on directly firing a tear-gas canister at a person.”

In December 2011 the death of Mustafa Tamimi was caught on camera. He was killed by a tear gas canister fired by an IDF soldier from the back of a jeep just a few meters away. This incident caused international outcry. It was raised by Don Foster MP in a letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and gained wide spread media coverage.

Despite this extensive history I today witnessed another two Palestinian men being hit by IDF fired gas canisters. Despite IDF regulations stating that tear gas must be fired at a 60 degree angle I witnessed them repeatedly firing directly at the crowd. Not only does this violate the IDFs own regulations regarding the use of tear gas, it also violates International Humanitarian Law by failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant.

This however was only one part of the story of what happened at the protest at Kafr Qaddum today. The IDF tactics varied between spraying chemically produced water with a awful smell (aka ‘skunk water’, firing tear gas (at the crowd) and even using dogs to capture protestors towards the front. I was told that this boy had his arm broken by the dog before being arrested. This was the first time I had seen dogs being used at protests – a potentially worrying development.

The protest is organised under the principle of non-violence. Regularly however stones are thrown at the IDF by boys from the village despite men trying to stop them. It was reported that last week that a soldier was hit in the face by one of these stones. This reality that the IDF faces however provides no justification for their continued breach of both IHL and their own regulations. We are collecting too many examples now of the IDF misusing tear gas. It is time for the IDF to start enforcing its own standards and to live up to its obligations under International Humanitarian Law


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