Residents from the village of Bil’in were joined by hundreds of Palestinians from other areas, as well as Israelis and internationals on Friday the 17th of February 2017 to commemorate twelve years of the popular movement in the village.
In this time, Israeli occupation soldiers have injured and arrested scores of non-violent demonstrators, killing two Bil’in residents. In April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed after he was shot in the chest directly with a tear-gas canister. Jawaher Abu Rahmah, Bassem’s sister, died as a result of tear gas inhalation in 2010.
The apartheid wall was erected in Bil’in in 2005 to separate it from the illegal Israeli settlement Mod’in Illit. 1,300 dunums (320 acres) of land was stolen from Bil’in residents.
The village of Kufr Qaddum is home to approximately 4,000 Palestinians. It has been heavily affected by the nearby illegal settlement of Qedumim. As well as land stolen for the settlement, almost half of the village lands are located in Area C (under Israeli control) and are thus completely inaccessible to the residents of Kufr Qaddum. During the Second Intifada in 2003, the village’s main road was closed by the Israeli army and remains closed to this day. This has increased travel times substantially, making what used to be a 1.5 km journey to a local town almost 15km.
In yesterday’s weekly demonstration, we were confronted by about 6 Israeli border police (renowned for being the most aggressive) who blocked our habitual march along the road. They then fired strong tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets at us for about two hours, with another army vehicle and more soldiers arriving too.
This was the first time that I was badly affected by tear gas, and while I have had training on it and been given advice on a number of occasions about the best practice to overcome it, I completely panicked – the worst thing to do as you need to focus on your breathing. My eyes and nose were streaming, my face was stinging and I was finding it very difficult to draw a breath. I ripped off the scarf that was covering my face, the mask that was over my mouth and nose, and the sunglasses from my eyes as I was feeling suffocated. My friend passed me an alcohol wipe to put under my nose to reduce irritation. I was hiding down an alley with other demonstrators but the tear gas had been fired from both sides so there was nowhere to run to get fresh air. I was pacing around desperately. It was horrible. Luckily, the effects of tear gas usually passes after a couple of minutes and I could carry on recording and taking photos.
At one point, we were ushered into a house to take cover. When we got inside, a mother and her three children were sitting on the steps all suffering from tear gas inhalation inside their house. For residents of this village, young and old alike, tear gas is a weekly occurance and cancer rates there are abnormally high.