Twighlight zone / Riding roughshod

The Kedumim settlement has virtually imprisoned its neighbors in the village of Kadum by building iron gates along the main road.

Gideon Levy

Haaretz

Adar2 3, 5765

An imprisoned village. Kadum. With 4,000 residents and no way out. A rocky, four-kilometer-long path is the only escape route. When it rains, the route is impassable. And when there's no rain, it makes for a very difficult and bumpy ride. Even on a clear day, only vehicles that sit high on the road can negotiate it.

Women in labor, the sick and the injured must make their way by ambulance over this long and rough road, via the olive groves, solely because Kedumim Mayor Daniella Weiss' armed security officers won't let them use the direct route. This disgrace is visible from every home in Kedumim. In the past three years, three ill Palestinians have died on the way. In recent weeks, an ill newborn, a child with a head injury, another child who just had surgery on his leg, and an old man who had a stroke (and subsequently died) were all delayed here. Such is the state of neighborly relations in the northern West Bank, even at a time of hudna (truce). A0nd they don't call this terror.

The "highway" to Kadum: You park your private vehicle in Haja and board a Palestinian transit taxi that lurches its way to the village. There is no other way in or out. There are almost no cars to be seen in the village. They're basically useless here. This is one of the most beautiful villages in the northern West Bank, with many old stone houses, and it has also been very quiet here during the second intifada. A white flag was waved here, too, above this prison - the prison of Kadum.

Council head As'ad Shatiwi explains that the two main problems of Kadum are expropriation of land and the endless siege there. The village had 21,000 dunams (5,250 acres) of fields and olive groves; one-third of this was expropriated for the sake of the neighbors living in the nearby settlement of Kedumim, which is continually expanding, skipping from hilltop to hilltop and strangling Kadum. Meanwhile, the villagers also cannot get near about another 2,000 dunams (500 acres) of their property, for fear of the settlers, and another 4,500 dunams (1,125 acres) are expected to be taken for the sake of the separation fence. More than half of the village's land is essentially no longer the village's land.

During the olive harvest, they couldn't get to some of their olive groves because of harassment from the neighbors. The villagers counted 3,500 trees in these groves that were not harvested or whose olives was stolen by the settlers. The Israel Defense Forces allowed them too little time in which they could go out to their fields. Sometimes, they snuck in for another hour or two, until armed settlers appeared and chased them away. Shatiwi's counterpart on the other side of the gate, Daniella Weiss, recently screamed at and chased away a group of IDF soldiers and officers, who were planning to hold a seminar in Kedumim.

The only asphalt road leaving the village passes right by the edge of Kedumim, near its outermost ring of houses, but does not enter the settlement. The settlers installed two iron gates on the road and thus blocked it. Armed settlers are stationed next to these barriers. For three years now, the settlers here have kept the gates closed to the Palestinians, with a few exceptions.

With no other choice, the villagers began using the rutted farming road that leads to their fields, which was originally meant for tractors and donkeys. Now this dirt road is the main route. About two weeks ago, a man named Gilad from the Civil Administration came, riding in a Jeep, and pronounced this road up to par and sufficient for the residents' well-being. Gilad also suggested that they take any complaints they might have to court. Shatiwi says Gilad's Jeep also got stuck on the road and had to be helped along.

There are 180 students in the village who attend classes in Nablus and Qalqilyah. Another 150 villagers work in Nablus. To get there, they have to take this rough, unpaved road that is twice as long as the regular one. And the fee for the ride has just gone up from NIS 5 to NIS 20. When the road through the fields was all muddy and the potholes filled with water, they stayed home.

But the real problem is when people get sick. The council head says that three residents have died in the past few years because of the time it took to get to the hospital. What do you do with a boy who gets seriously injured, with an elderly man who has a stroke in the middle of the night or with a woman who has gone into labor?

End of the road

Majd Shatiwi is the village's ambulance driver. He remembers all the bad cases. Late in the night of January 14, the children of Mahmoud Da'as, 72, discovered that their father had lost consciousness. They quickly summoned the village doctor, who told them their father had had a stroke and must be rushed to the hospital. Every minute was critical. The family members called Majd to come with his ambulance, which does not have any resuscitation equipment on board. The patient's condition was rapidly worsening. His pulse was irregular. Shatiwi sped down the asphalt road, but when he reached one of the iron gates, the guard there wouldn't let him pass. Shatiwi tried to explain that he had a patient who could die in the ambulance, but the guard explained to him that this was a military road and Palestinians were not allowed on it. The driver's pleas were to no avail, so he had to go back and try the dirt road, on which his ambulance could barely get anywhere, between one rut and another. By the time they finally reached the end of the road, the doctor pronounced the patient dead.

The face of Mohammed, the man's son, is nearly expressionless as he describes the events of that night.

Rawda Abdel Rahman, 60, was more fortunate. About two weeks ago, she, too, suffered a stroke, but it happened after heavy rain had made the road through the fields absolutely impassable, and the compassionate settlers gave the Palestinians access to the main road for a few days. Within 16 minutes, Majd Shatiwi's ambulance arrived at the state hospital in Nablus and the patient's life was saved. But the gate was closed again a few days later.

Rajd Usama was just two weeks old when her parents saw that she was turning blue, vomiting and suffering from diarrhea. Panicked, they called Shatiwi, who was in Nablus with another patient at the time. This was about three weeks ago. He rushed back to the village, and on the way, called the Palestinian Coordination and Liaison Office to ask it to intervene and speak with the IDF Coordination and Liaison Office to coordinate his ambulance's passage with the settlers. But when the ambulance reached the iron gate, it was forced to wait almost 15 minutes - even though the driver explained to the guard that it was an emergency - until an IDF patrol arrived and gave the okay to let him through. By the time the baby arrived at the hospital in Nablus, she was nearly brain dead. She is still in the pediatric intensive care unit there. Shatiwi credits his resourcefulness in calling the Palestinian liaison office with having saved precious time.

The next day, the driver was called upon to transport seven-and-a-half year-old Nihad Hamzi back home from the hospital in Nablus. Hamzi was born with one leg 10 centimeters shorter than the other and he had surgery in Nablus. It was around nine in the evening. Shatiwi wanted to spare the boy the rough ride over the makeshift road. He tried to coordinate the trip as he'd done the day before, but the Israeli side did not approve it. He even offered to bring the child to the coordination and liaison office, so they could see that the youngster had just had surgery on his leg, but nothing helped. "Not even a bird will pass here at nine in the evening," Shatiwi was told. So he drove the little boy back over the bumpy road.

Now Nihad lies in his parents' bed in the family's old stone house and smiles his wonderful smile. His leg is still completely bandaged and he is not allowed out of bed.

Shatiwi always takes the women in labor over the rocky road, in order not to lose time. In Kadum, there are about 80 births a year. The trip that should take about 15 minutes by the regular road takes about 45 minutes on the rutted one. On the way to Nablus there is always at least one checkpoint, at Beit Iba or Hawara, and two or three more might have sprung up that day, too. Entry to Nablus on foot is currently permitted only to residents over the age of 25. Before Abu Mazen was elected, entry to Nablus was only permitted to people age 35 and up.

We ride in the ambulance toward the first iron gate. It is painted white and manually operated. An armed settler stands there impassively and doesn't ask anything. The gate stays closed. Afterward, we ride in the ambulance over the dirt road, being constantly jostled from side to side. There are sections where the vehicle has to come nearly to a stop to cross a stream or an especially deep hole. When we reach the second gate, on the other side of Kedumim, our Palestinian escorts hurries away. The guard named Danny, whom the villagers particularly fear, is standing there.

A not-so-young settler with a rifle and an American accent emerges from the guard post and soon begins to throw things out of our vehicle violently. Danny immediately summons the settlement's security brigade - a collection of tough guys armed head to toe with pistols and rifles, who appear almost instantly, driving brand-new Japanese pickup trucks.

"This isn't your home here," the thugs bark at us, threatening to call the police to deal with the invaders from Tel Aviv.