West Bank village defiant despite Israeli crackdown

Qatabiya faced lockdown and sanctions after three of its youth shot dead a policewomen and were killed by police.

A demonstrator throws a Molotov cocktail towards Israeli security forces during clashes in the Palestinian town of Qabatiya, near Jenin in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on February 5, 2016. Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP
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QABATIYA // Israel imposed a four-day lockdown and economic sanctions on the West Bank village of Qabatiya after three of its sons killed a policewoman in Jerusalem.

Residents of the hilltop village of 25,000 pledged to keep up their long history of struggle against foreign occupiers.

“Here we have resisted every occupation,” mayor Mahmoud Kamel said, citing centuries of Ottoman imperial rule, followed by nearly 30 years of British control and Israel’s capture of the territory from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.

He spoke during condolence visits by Palestinian officials to the families of nine villagers killed since October during a wave of attacks on Israelis.

Among the latest to die were three young men from some of Qabatiya’s largest families.

They were killed by police in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on February 3 after the shooting death of 19-year policewoman Hadar Cohen and the stabbing and wounding another female officer outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate.

Among the dead Palestinian attackers was Ahmed Zakarneh, also 19.

To his tearful big sister Nisrine he had “a beloved [girlfriend], a job and a family he adored, and he left them to defend the Palestinian cause”.

In the family home, his mother, surrounded by her 10 surviving children and asking to be identified as “the mother of the martyr”, spoke of his “dignity”.

Hours after the Jerusalem attack, Israeli soldiers blockaded Qabatiya as part of a security sweep in the area.

The next day, they went to survey the family home in preparation for demolishing it in reprisal.

During the four-day closure of the village, troops arrested 10 relatives and acquaintances of the three attackers, but villagers said they were undaunted.

“Our homes are no more precious than our children,” Zakarneh’s mother said. “The more they destroy, the more we shall rebuild.”

In the streets of Qabatiya posters praising the attack in which Zakarneh died have joined others, some now faded, of past “martyrs” going back to the first intifada, or uprising, which broke out in 1987.

“All the neighbours and all the villagers are in solidarity with us,” his mother said.

Several of the attacks carried out by the young men of Qabatiya have taken place at the nearest point of contact with Israeli troops, the Jalameh checkpoint between the northern West Bank and Israel.

That is where Mohammed Nazzal, 37, crossed into Israel every morning to work, holding an Israeli entry permit.

Since the Damascus Gate attack, he and other villagers have been cut off from their livelihoods.

“We arrived at the checkpoint and the soldiers turned back those who had an address in Qabatiya on their papers,” he said.

Now stuck at home, he does not know when he will be able to provide for his seven dependants again.

“Nobody told us if this was temporary or whether our permits are cancelled altogether,” he said.

The chamber of commerce in Jenin, the nearest large town, said the sanction affects at least 300 businessmen and traders, 200 farmers and 500 other workers.

“Out of the blue the income I provided my family has vanished,” said Nazzal, who earned a better wage in Israel than he could get locally, where most jobs are in agriculture or quarrying.

Since the current round of bloodshed erupted, 167 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. Most were carrying out attacks but others died during clashes and demonstrations.

The violence has claimed the lives of 26 Israelis, as well as an American, a Sudanese and an Eritrean.

Young Palestinians said they were disillusioned by political parties and used attacks and protests to express their anger and frustration at the occupation and what goes with it: widespread checkpoints, Jewish settlements that ate away their land and continual settler harassment.

Seeking to stem the violence, Israeli politicians and military authorities were divided between those who demand harsher sanctions and those who advocated raising the number of work permits and encouraging trade links to fuel Palestinian economic development.

Further restrictions on freedom of movement will not ease tensions, Palestinians said.

During Ramadan last summer, Zakarneh’s mother said she and her son had wanted to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s most revered sites, but he was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint on the way to the city.

“I passed through but he was turned back,” she said.

Eight months later, Zakarneh and his two friends slipped into Jerusalem and killed an Israeli policewoman the same age as himself.

* Agence France-Presse