Friday, October 2 2009 Barrier Removal Near village of Qaryut

The residents of Qaryut, a village of some 2,500 tucked in a hilly region between the settlements of Shiloh and Eli midway between Nablus and Ramallah, have destroyed the dirt mound blocking their access to the main road 104 times. Today they did so for the 105th time, with the assistance of 10 Israeli and 10 international activists. A mere two kilometers west of their village, along a dirt road, is an entrance to the central highway, Route 60, the residents’ connection to markets, shops and schools in Ramallah and Nablus. But in recent years, they have been forced to take the back route from their village to Route 60, adding 20-25 kilometers to the trip. It has become routine for the villagers; the army blocks their access road 100 meters from the main road, piling dirt and massive boulders several meters high, and they come and with hands and shovels remove it.

This morning, two cars of Ta’ayush activists from Jerusalem joined a car-load from Tel Aviv and a group of international activists at the site of the roadblock. Within minutes over 150 Palestinians from Qaryut arrived, and the work began. We hadn’t been working for more than a quarter of an hour when an army jeep spotted us from Route 60 and pulled over, evidently waiting for reinforcements. These arrived within ten minutes, and the soldiers, with the local commander shouting orders, immediately took firing positions. While most of the villagers and activists continued working, some advanced several meters along the dirt path towards the position of the soldiers, peacefully holding their line 80 meters away and not threatening the soldiers in any way. At least thirty were schoolchildren holding beautiful calligraphy signs of Suras from the Qur’an. To our shock, the soldiers began firing tear gas canisters, calculating the wind effect so that the smoke would waft in the direction of those standing on the path. Two Ta’ayush activists bravely walked across the no-man’s land to confront the soldiers, demanding to know why their first reaction upon arrival was to fire tear gas and shock grenades at children, some as young as five, and old men. Their response was that we were illegally clearing a road. No explanation was provided as to the purpose of the blockage. Meanwhile, still non-violently, a large group of villagers crossed the adjacent empty field and blocked the road. The soldiers soon stopped firing, hurrying to the road and attempting to clear it of protesters. The villagers did nothing to harm the cars, which after several minutes were allowed to pass with soldiers escorting them through the crowd. The feeling was one of exasperation: we won’t let you close our road countless times and stand by doing nothing. We’ll block your road! Having made their statement, the villagers and activists decided to move back towards the dirt mound and finish their work.

But meanwhile, one of the tear gas canisters had set fire to the arid brush next to the road. Palestinian firefighters were called, but the villagers seemed rather unworried. Soon the fire was approaching our cars parked next to the (now mostly destroyed) dirt mound. A few more minutes of work and the road was passable. Wild cheering accompanied first 4×4, and then a small sedan passing through the flattened dirt mound towards the village.