West Bank: Freed political prisoner welcomed home

I am working with the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) based in the village of Deir Istiya in the Salfit area in central West Bank.

A lot of this area has been taken over by the Israeli settler colony of Ariel. IWPS work in solidarity with the local people and has received a number of plaques in appreciation of their work over many years.

We were privileged to be invited to the celebration party for the homecoming of 21 year-old Ahmed Shtawi after seven-and-a-half months imprisonment. He was arrested on March 16 after a vicious attack by an army dog.

IWPS women were invited by one of the leaders of the popular resistance in the village of Kufr Qaddoum, Murad Shtawi. Ahmed is his nephew. We went with all the men of the family to greet Ahmed as he entered the village.

The joy and excitement was unbounded. Young boys were hanging out of car windows, waving banners, as the cavalcade followed Ahmed triumphantly through the village. This is very much a Fatah stronghold and Fatah flags were everywhere, but [popular resistance leader] Marwan Barghouti, still in an Israeli jail, was the featured leader on the banners.

The face of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas was nowhere to be seen. The women of the village gathered at places near Marad’s home and cheered as we approached. I can never get used to the extreme sexual segregation here.

We were invited to the meal. There were other internationals there from the Ecumenical Accompaniers and other groups. Marad, a cluey political operator, clearly wanted the internationals there to get the word out.

In 2003, the Israelis closed the main road in Kufr Qaddoum leading to the northern city of Nablus. The road is now only for the Jewish settlers. This entails travelling 15 kilometres on a circuitous route to Nablus, normally a 1.5 km distance. This increases the time from 15 minutes to 40 minutes, a great economic burden to conducting business.

In July last year, when all legal avenues had proven fruitless, the village decided to resist and now every Friday they hold demonstrations. They are part of the growing network of villages non-violently resisting the ongoing Israeli theft of their lands.

Their demonstrations are regularly attacked by the Israeli soldiers, with teargas, so-called skunk bombs, pepper spray and on some occasions, as with Ahmed, vicious attack dogs.

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