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Qaryut - قريوت : قريوت والاستيطان-written By Phil Leech

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Posted by طالب موسى on November 8, 2009
Qareoot (or Qaryut, or Karyut) has about 2,500 inhabitants and is surrounded by three Israeli settlements, two of them pretty big ones. Its just less than 20 miles from Nablus (where I'm based now) and about 15 mins from Ramallah on 'Route 60' (the main road for both Palestinians and settlers that runs north-south through the West Bank). A big problem recently has been that the settlements surround the village have grown very large, very fast taking up a lot of Palestinian land... they also employ a private security firm that operates with virtual impunity. Last year one of the settlements built a 'settler only road', upon which it is a crime for Palestinians to drive or walk connecting it to 'Route 60'. As a 'security measure' they decide to block the dirt road that is used by villagers to gain access to 'Route 60'. You can see how and where things are on the map on this link:
The immediate consequence of this was an increase in journey-time for Palestinians of about an extra hour from Ramallah and about 30 mins more from Nablus as Services (7 seater Taxis that operate as public transport) would have to negotiate a long detour all round the north of the collection of villages and settlements. It also meant that transport was less often available and also more expensive when it was. Further, added to the compound effect on village's economy - already suffering because of the 'exclusion zones' around the settlements that mean farming land can't be used nor can olives be harvested - it was simply harder to get products to market in the bigger cities... more money on fuel etc. more time, lower profits and of course new competition from Israeli goods which are channeled in without taxes. Finally the factor of sheer humiliation and rejection felt by many villages who didn't see why they should be banned from using their own road, on their own land, in their own country.

In April when I was here, the roadblock was still in place and was apparently providing little improvement in the 'security' of the settlers at all. If driving down a road where there has never been a record of any 'terrorist activity' can be classified as a threat (and its hard to see what else a roadblock could be designed to prevent) then people continued to use the road and the 'threat' remained just as real. Villagers simply ran taxi services up to the mound, crossed it by feet, then get in another car waiting to take them into the village. (Indeed in April I had watched as elderly couple struggled over it with their bags of shopping from a taxi on one side to the car of a relative on the other... it was a pretty depressing sight).

However, during the summer the villagers decided to clear the road... Taleb was good enough to send me a video clip of this while I was studying in California. Of course, the road was blocked again, and cleared again, and blocked again... In fact, I'm told that they have cleared it 3 times just since the beginning of last month. Anyway - the idea of demolishing a roadblock by hand sounds impressive, and I was pretty impressed, but I didn't really understand what this actually meant until I saw it for my own eyes today.
The Israelis had rebuilt it again yesterday after having left it open for about 2 weeks and so at 10 am this morning I walked the 2 miles or so down to the roadblock from the village with about 200-300 of the village's men (unfortunately not a single woman from the village was there). The army were, of course, waiting for us when we arrived and being the lily-livered-yellow-bellied-peacenik that I am, I approached slowly, and the back of the crowd waiting for the anticipated hail of tear gas. But, we didn't get what we were expecting the soldiers talked with some of the press and villagers and instead of fighting or really resisting in any way at all they moved back to about 200 metres away with the settlement's security by the side of 'Route 60' (I couldn't fathom why they had done this but one theory is that it was to try and avoid the trouble of dealing with villagers blocking 'Route 60' as they have done in the past, but this time it would have been in front of a of Reuters camera crew).

At then it was on! The task of demolish this roadblock made up of a mound of earth about 4 feet deep and on top of it were some really huge boulders. It took about 2 hours to shift the rocks and clear enough earth away but after a break for prayer and a lot of digging, smashing and grunting the road was clear enough to drive one of the journalists' 4x4 over it... with what seemed to be every single child from the village hanging off the back cheering!
I don't want to overdo the romanticism of the moment, after all no matter which what you look at it, it was essentially a bunch of sweaty blokes congregated together to pull big bits of rock out of the ground. Moreover, in the greater context of the occupation, this will have changed next to nothing at all... it will take someone in a JCB about 2 minuites to undo all that work, and if they want to, the army could place a couple of the really huge 2 meter square concrete blocks which are dotted around elsewhere in the West Bank, then that would be game, set and match to them. But it was still a great day, there was a fantastic spirit among all the villagers and lots of laughing and joking while taking it in turns to smash the rocks with the lone sledgehammer. Not a single shot was fired, nor a single stone throw by anyone, even the kids... but best of all was the moment when two settlers appeared over the brow of the hill and seemingly in unison the whole crowd of villagers looked up, waved and cheered like they would if they were at a football match and someone from the opposition tripped over the ball.

Although there was a general sense that it won't be very long before the roadblock is replaced, I certainly didn't get the feeling that this was a futile act. It's a huge cliché to say this but the combined act of struggling against this absurd roadblock had a powerful effect on lightening the spirit of everyone involved... and of course to put it into the context of the Palestinian struggle against occupation I guess if you are still fighting it means you haven't lost (no matter how utterly hopeless the political reality would seem to be at the moment).

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