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A Striking Difference Between Palestinian and Israeli Protests

Gideon Levy
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Israeli soldiers take a kid into custody in Kafr Qaddum (L) and police arresting former head of Shin Bet Carmi Gilon in Jerusalem (R).
Israeli soldiers take a kid into custody in Kafr Qaddum (L) and police arresting former head of Shin Bet Carmi Gilon in Jerusalem (R).Credit: Nedal Eshtayah / Anadolu Agency ; Emil Salman
Gideon Levy

People are demonstrating against injustice and for justice both in the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum and outside the prime minister’s residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. In both places, the protesters are imbued with a sense of mission.

It’s more pleasant on Balfour, more dangerous in Qaddum. There’s more sacrifice in Qaddum, more art on Balfour. Balfour gets exhaustive media coverage; Qaddum is completely excluded from the Israeli media.

In Qaddum, the protesters are fighting for freedom; on Balfour, there’s a feeling of freedom. On Balfour, the demonstrators are citizens; in Qaddum, they’re subjects with no rights. On Balfour, the most privileged are demonstrating; in Qaddum, the most oppressed are.

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank and Trump's mideast initiative ,in the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, June 6, 2020.
A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, June 6, 2020.Credit: Majdi Mohammed,AP
A member of Israeli forces fires a weapon towards Palestinians during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Kafr Qaddum, July 3, 2020.
A member of Israeli forces fires a weapon towards Palestinians during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Kafr Qaddum, July 3, 2020. Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

But both are subject to the same government. Both are legitimate protests, and the government that’s trying to suppress them isn’t a democracy, but a tyranny.

There’s no symmetry between Qaddum and Balfour except in their shared legitimacy. Balfour isn’t interested in Qaddum, and Qaddum isn’t interested in Balfour.

On Balfour, they’re fighting against the prime minister; in Qaddum, they’re fighting against the regime. The Balfour protests are legitimate in the eyes of most Israelis; those in Qaddum aren’t. Balfour is close to our hearts; Qaddum lies behind mountains of darkness, denial and repression. On Balfour, people are “demonstrating”; in Qaddum, they’re “disturbing the peace,” or maybe they’re even “terrorists.”

Balfour is politics, Qaddum is terror. The people who throw stones and burn tires to protest the army and the settlements have no legitimacy to be there. On Balfour, police using their fists and detentions lasting for hours are considered severe, unacceptable violence; in Qaddum, the authorities are permitted every abuse.

They shoot demonstrators with live bullets and sponge-tipped steel bullets, throw tear gas canisters in frightening quantities, hurl stun grenades and shoot protesters in the head, including children. Twice in the last two months I’ve visited children who became vegetables in Qaddum after soldiers shot them in the head from far away, for no reason.

On Wednesday, Hagar Shezaf and Yaniv Kubovich had a mind-boggling report in Haaretz revealing that Israeli soldiers have also begun planting bombs in Qaddum. You have to understand that these bombs were meant to be used against demonstrators. The Nahal Brigade’s reconnaissance unit has suddenly become a terrorist organization by any measure, and its soldiers have become terrorists who plant bombs meant to blow up innocent civilians.

This doesn’t interest the protesters on Balfour; they’re busy with their own issues. But the Balfour protesters ought to be interested in Qaddum, because the police violence on Balfour was born amid the olive groves of Qaddum. First they took Qaddum; next they’ll take Balfour.

An anti-Netanyahu surrounded by Border Police forces in Jerusalem, August 23, 2020.
An anti-Netanyahu surrounded by Border Police forces in Jerusalem, August 23, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

The fact that most Israelis see the violence against the Qaddum protesters as legitimate, having been convinced that the soldiers shooting in Qaddum are protecting them, is what legitimizes the milder violence used against the Balfour protesters, even though the latter hasn’t yet gained complete legitimacy.

So this must be said clearly: Anyone who wasn’t interested in Qaddum and bought the propaganda offered by the army and the military reporters who do its bidding, is now getting brass knuckles in uniform at Balfour. And if the protests on Balfour persist, their suppression will become more violent, like in Qaddum.

There ought to be solidarity between the Balfour and Qaddum demonstrators, but there isn’t. The Balfour protesters are Zionist and proud of it; the Qaddum protesters are anti-Zionist and can’t be otherwise. The key is to understand the connection between these two foci of protest and the necessity of acknowledging the legitimacy of both.

Qaddum has been suffocating for 17 years, ever since Israel blocked the main road connecting it to Nablus, the district capital, to expand the settlement of Kedumim. The road to Nablus has been made 14 kilometers longer so that Daniella Weiss and her friends can recklessly build more and more homes. If protests against that aren’t legitimate, no protest in the world is.

But Israel doesn’t recognize this. Most Israelis think Qaddum has no right to protest at all.

At Balfour, people demonstrate against a prime minister charged with crimes. At Qaddum, they demonstrate against one of the most tyrannical regimes on earth, one that commits war crimes like planting bombs and building settlements.

Murad Shatawi, head of Qaddum’s popular committee, sent me a report last Friday, just as he does every Friday: “Two people wounded by metal bullets, and I broke my leg.” If the Balfour protesters are serious, they must start getting interested in Qaddum.

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