Israeli soldiers have injured five Palestinian villagers after firing tear gas at the group protesting against a settlement road project threatening their land. Palestinians from the village of Kfar Harrs, along with foreign and Israeli activists, were marching towards a roadblock that cuts off traffic to the entrance of their village, when they were approached by Israeli forces on Monday.
Soldiers then fired tear gas canisters directly at the crowd, according to Nasfat Khofash, coordinator of the Palestinian Committee Against the Wall in the Salfit area. Four adults and one child were injured, said Khofash. An Austrian peace activist was also arrested and detained in the nearby settlement.
Beyond the roadblock that hinders traffic into the village, there are plans to construct a road that will lead to the nearby settlement of Ariel, and that will be accessible only to Jewish settlers. The protesters were stopped before they could reach the road project.
A 27-year-old Palestinian man, Ahmed dar Salih, was struck directly in the mouth by a tear gas canister fired by soldiers as he stood inside the village with demonstrators, said Khofash. The canister ricocheted off of the man’s face and struck his 7-year-old nephew in the head. Another tear gas canister fired into the crowd struck 35-year old Imad Hammad in the chest, breaking his rib bones.
Medical officials at the Rafidia hospital in Nablus confirmed the injuries, saying both dar Salih and Hammad were hospitalised. Salih sustained injuries to the jaw, lip, and mouth, including several broken teeth, said medics.
The Israeli army said the tear gas canisters were fired to “disperse” the protest, not to harm the people involved, and cast doubt on the credibility of the witnesses. “I know these witnesses. These are the same ones who say that in Jenin, 500 innocent Palestinians were killed in an Israeli incursion two years ago,” said Eitan Arusy, spokesperson for the Israeli army. Arusy also said the demonstration was violent and illegal.
“We only use tear gas in illegal or in violent protests - and we certainly don’t shoot them directly at someone. Even if we did, it’s not personal. There are no orders to fire on them,” he said. But Khofash said the protest was completely peaceful.
“There was absolutely no stone-throwing, and we remained peaceful as the army continued to target us with no justification. The military stopped us en route to the road block. “Then, even though we explained, through loudspeakers, that it was a non-violent protest, they fired teargas canisters at us. They began to fire directly at people’s backs and faces, injuring five Palestinians directly,” Khofash told Aljazeera.net.
“The march was to protest the construction of a settler-only road by our village, the encroachment of the wall on our land, and to protest against Sharon’s last visit to Ariel in which he vowed to strengthen and expand the settlement and include it forever as part of Israel,” he added.
On 21 July Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for expanding the illegal West Bank settlement of Ariel and its vicinity, declaring it would “forever be a part of the state of Israel”. He made the statement hours before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel.
Khofash said part of the village land is being threatened with annexation to make way for the continued construction of Israel’s separation wall. An Israeli military order has also been issued to create a military zone and watchtower near the roadblock, where the separation wall will be constructed.
Protests to continue
Khofash said the incident has not deterred them from continuing to protest peacefully against the wall. They plan another non-violent demonstration against the separation wall on Tuesday as part of a week-long series of protests throughout the West Bank.
In a press release they issued on the incident, the Palestinian led International Solidarity Movement, whose members participated in the protest, accused the Israeli army of fostering a culture of impunity by ignoring serious violations within their ranks. “Firing tear gas canisters directly at individuals or a crowd is forbidden under Israeli law. Despite this, Israeli soldiers regularly aim and shoot the canisters directly at non-violent demonstrators causing serious injuries.
“These incidents are seldom investigated by the military, fostering an atmosphere where soldiers feel free to use allegedly non-lethal weapons in more dangerous and potentially deadly ways.”
Laila M. El-Haddad is a journalist based in the Gaza Strip. This article was originally published by aljazeera.net and reprinted on EI permission.