Saturday, February 19, 2005

Palestine-Israel, Kadum, Alt. Media, "If there is violence today, it will not be started by us" report by Adam Keller Feb 19

The road to Kufr Kadum is long and complicated. We change taxis several times along the way from Tel-Aviv, and pick up international activists at a junction filled with a medley grafitti and half-torn posters (?Free Palestine? in English and Arabic, ?Down with the occupation? in Hebrew but also ?Death to Arabs and traitors? and ?It is G-d?s will: Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jewish People!? and overall, a giant poster with the smiling face of Palestinian President Abu Mazen). An army jeep passes in the opposite direction, taking no interest. Then at Hija begins the ordeal which Kadum inhabitants must endure daily: going over the bare track, up hills and down dales, with the car jumping and jouncing and shaking at every pothole and strewn rock along the way. ?At least, today the track is passable at all? says our guide. ?You should have seen this place a week ago, after the rains. There was a real lake, exactly where we pass now.?

Finally we get to the center of Kadum, at the town hall and post office which form the modest civic center of this 4200-strong community. We alight ? some twenty-five activists, mostly young anarchists with t-shirts bearing such slogans as ?The Wall must fall!? and ?Psychiatric discharge means neither shooting first nor crying afterwards?. Several Machsom Watch women from Jerusalem arrive by a different route, walking much of the way, together with the irrepressible Yafit-Jamila Bisso who came from Syria some ten years ago and whose fluent Arabic makes her a great asset in such contacts. And there is the usual leavening of international activists: Dorothee, a French activist residing in Switzerland, who had now lived long enough at Hares to call it ?my village?; Fatima, a Muslim from South Africa; two inhabitants of Stockholm who belong to different international volunteer groups and who met each other for the first time here, in the heart of the West Bank? Palestinian activists hasten to offer us cold drinks, welcome on this unnaturally warm winter day.

The vendor refuses to take payment for his falafel balls in pita bread. The mayor and his deputy are already waiting to welcome us, discuss details of the coming action and fill us in on the village situation. ?It is up to you to decide how far to go with the army and settlers. We have come to offer our solidarity? says the anarchist Yonathan, veteran of countless such actions in the past two years. ?If there is violence today, it will not be started by us? answers mayor As?ad Shtawe, a rather young man who got to his position out of being a grassroots Fatah activist. Municipal secretary Abu Arab fills in details on the current situation.

We already knew in general that the settlement of Kdumim has been created astride the only paved road connecting Kadum to the outside world, that the settler security guards deny them passage and the army fully backs the settlers. But we hear more details of what it means in daily life: ?The fare in service taxi along the paved road was six Shekels (about $1.5). Now, a taxi going along the mountain tracks where the car is frequently damaged and needs repairs is asking for 26 Shekels ($6.5). For many of us, especially the unemployed, traveling outside the village has become a luxury they can hardly afford. We have become prisoners! Since Sharm A-Sheikh, the army removed the blockage on many other villages. We are happy for them, but why are we discriminated? Just because the Kdumim settlers have a lot of pull with the Sharon government??

The town square fills up, and the procession forms. Young and old men, some in working clothes and others in neat suits. A contingent of women in the traditional muslim headscarves, and younger women with their heads bare and the brassards of the Palestiniasn Medical Relief Committees. Banners in Arabic and English are held aloft, with some Palestinian national flags. "We welcome our Israeli friends who came to share this struggle with us", came the announcement in Hebrew over the loudspeaker. Many Palestinian marchers glued the round two-flag sticker of Gush Shalom on their shirts. From an open courtyard, a matrone with a brood of children behind her were waiving cheerfully.

Soon we can see the pseudo-European red roofs of the Kdumim settlement - a bit incongruous for people who pretend to be the direct continuation of biblical ancestors. In between, some twenty soldiers block passage, strung in a ragged line across the road and into the olive groves on both sides. This is the moment of decision: going forward would likely be answered with a volley of teargas or worse. It could easily have happened, when the village youths started surging towards the soldiers, chanting "Open Our Only Road!" But mayor and councillors succeed in making them halt and sit down. With the soldiers looking on impassively, mayor Shtawe takes the microphone. "We have not come here for violence, we did come here to deliver a clear message: the closing of our road is illegal, immoral, intolerable. We start the campaign today, it will not end until the road is open."

Gamila Bisso speaks first in Arabic, but shifting suddenly to Hebrew: "Dear soldiers, and also dear settlers listening from your windows. I am speaking to you on behalf of the Israelis here in this demonstration, standing shoulder to shoulder with our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We have not come here to attack you. We do demand that you open the road; that you let pupils go to their schools and sick people to the hospital. We Israelis claim to be living in a democratic state, an enlightened state of law. Segregating roads, separate roads for Jews and for Arabs - a good road for Jews, and a very bad one for Arabs - this is not democracy. It is Apartheid."

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