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'Facts on the ground' loom over Bil'in as protests enter ninth year

I went to the weekly demo against the Wall in the Palestinian village Bil’in yesterday, after several months that I haven’t visited the West Bank at all (I try not to travel beyond the Green Line when it’s not for work). A colleague visiting from the U.S. joined me, and we arrived at the village shortly after noon.

Some internationals and a few Israelis gathered in the streets, and when the prayer ended we started walking towards the wall, a march which has become much longer since the army moved the route of the barrier closer to the ultra-Orthodox settlement Modi’in Ilit – the largest city in the West Bank – and returned the village some of its land. Beyond the wall lies “Green Park,” one of the two eastern neighbourhoods of Modi’in Ilit, also on farm land that belonged to Bil’in before it was confiscated by Israel in order to solve the housing crisis for the ultra-Orthodox population of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Even if Israel were to agree to leave the West Bank, Green Park would not be evacuated. Even Palestinian negotiators agreed to have it annexed to Israel in exchange for equal territory elsewhere. Thus, the Palestinian people might one day be compensated for the land that was taken from Bil’in, but the people of the village – its owners – will not. This fact also highlights the paradox of the settlements: on one hand, Israel claims that settlements do not affect the final status agreement and can be evacuated at any time – a notion recently backed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to give up the demand for a settlement freeze – yet in every round of negotiations, the Israeli government presents new facts on the ground as fait accompli, and demands that the proposed solution be adjusted to accommodate them.

Palestinian protesters and IDF soldiers at the beginning of the weekly protest near Bil’in. The apartment buildings of Modi’in Ilit can be seen in the distance. March 29, 2013 (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

Nothings seems further away from the diplomatic game than a walk through the hills surrounding Bil’in under a surprisingly bright sun. It wasn’t the State Department or the European Union that rescued some of the village’s land, only the struggle of the local farmers, which entered its ninth year this month. Two of the village’s residents – a brother and sister – have been killed, hundreds wounded, arrested and imprisoned. But the people of Bil’in did what almost nobody else could – they stopped the growth of a settlement and pushed the wall closer to the Green Line.

On Fridays, there is an almost tangible awareness of village’s history in the air, whether it’s the number of international activists and visitors – at least two dozen this week — or the shop selling Palestinian flags and scarves in the center of the village. Right next to the wall, almost a mile from the edge of the village, there is a playground for kids, new and brightly collored, undoubtedly a “fact on the ground,” that is meant to demonstrate the village’s connection to those hills. I also noticed new terraces and plantations, while the root of the old barrier, which once separated Bil’in from its land, is gradually fading, now no more than a dirt road.

The protest itself is like most I’ve seen – a peaceful march to the wall, some singing and waving of flags, and a few dozen meters away, some shabab (youths) throwing stones at soldiers on the other side of the road. The army sprays the infamous putrid ‘skunk’ liquid across the wall in the general direction of the protesters. Further east, on a tiny ramp beyond the wall, a group of ultra-Orthodox teenagers gather to watch the action. This has also become a kind of ritual.

After several stones get closer to the soldiers, the army starts shooting tear gas at the protesters, which spread across the field. Later, a convoy of several army vehicle pass through a gate in the wall, and some soldiers start chasing the shabab. More tear gas is shot, and a grenade lands right next to where I’m standing with my friend. The gas is unpleasant.

I am told that the army hasn’t crossed to the other side of the wall in a long time. The shabab are blocking the road with stones as army jeeps pass by the playground – now engulfed in tear gas – and drive over the newly-formed plantations, as if to insult the locals’ efforts to reclaim their land. We recover from the effect of the gas and head back towards the village.

The drive back to Tel Aviv takes 20 minutes. Entering the city with its Friday morning crowd packing into cafes and promenades used to be the most shaking part of the trip to the protests, but this effect is fading too.

Ultra-Orthodox teens (in the distance) from Modi’in Ilit watch over the weekly protest in Bil’in, March 29, 2013 (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

Stories by +972 writers on Bil’in
A promise: My first time in Bil’in will not be my last
Among tear gas and injuries, Bil’in celebrates victory
Standing where Bil’in fence stood, change begins to sink in
Testimony: Soldier fired directly at Bil’in demonstrator killed in 2009
IDF on Bil’in: spins, half-truths and lies

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  • COMMENTS

    1. directrob

      “also on farm land that BELONGED to Bil’in before it was confiscated by Israel”

      Incorrect, at the moment, it still belongs to Bil’in. Israel has no right to take it so Israel should return it and compensate the owner for its use. Even if the land becomes part of Israel the Bil’in owner still owns it.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        By what law does that land belongs to village?

        p.s. Israel – as any other state – has a perfect right to confiscate any lands it needs.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          I’m sure trespasser would be happy to have the bulldozers come raze his house to build ugly apartments for haredim.

          He can go live in the drainage ditch.

          Reply to Comment
        • Jan

          I am hoping and praying for the day when the state wants Trespasser’s home and he is thrown out in the street. He will have no basis on which to complain.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            You see, unlike Palestinian Arabs who think that land belongs to them simply because they are living there for a while, I have to pay hundreds of thousands of US dollars to the state to have a home.

            Reply to Comment
          • Zephon

            That means absolutely nothing if the government decided to seize your property and you know it. You don’t own it the state does and if they decided to take it – they’ll do it. Money won’t help if there is an agenda you are just as much under the mercy as Palestinians are.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Not quite.

            If I lease a plot of land for 49 or 99 years, I can be removed but compensation will be made.

            If the land is in my private property – i.e. listed in Tabu – situation is the same.

            p.s. citizens of all states are at the mercy of their states.

            Reply to Comment
          • Astridax

            So if the Canadian government decide to invade the US and take over several states, (imagine you are in one of them) and declare them as Canadian territory, does that delegitimise your claim to the land?

            I mean you payed thousands of dollars for it right? So surely you still own the land, irrespective of whether a foreign nation just invaded and confiscated it away from you!

            Reply to Comment
        • BigT

          You are only partially correct. The occupying power may only seize land in the case of military necessity. Seizing land to build a squatters camp for Israeli civilians cannot possibly meet that criterion.

          Hague Regulation Article 23, provides in part that:
          It is especially forbidden…to destroy or seize the enemy’s property unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.

          Similarly, Article 53 of the Geneva Civilians Convention requires that:
          Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      The people of Bilin filed a case with the Israeli Supreme Court. That was the extent of their effective protest. The Israeli Supreme Court forced the IDF to change the route of the fence. The violent protests (stone-throwing is violence) for the past 9 years have been a means of making money from foreign and Israeli protest tourists.

      Also, building a children’s playground right next to an area of confrontation between the IDF and stone-throwing youths seems highly irresponsible on the part of the residents of Bilin especially since it is built more than a mile outside the village. What kind of statement does that send? We are interested in seeing our kids get hurt as long as it gets attention?

      Reply to Comment
      • Regarding your first point, I noticed a funny thing: In the places where there was protest against the wall, Supreme court forced changes. In the places where they wasn’t the route was approved. If I hadn’t known better I would have said that decision are political, and have to do with events on the ground.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          The protests at Bilin are still the exception rather than the rule. At the same time the Supreme Court rerouted massive parts of the security fence so I don’t think your causation argument makes sense.

          Reply to Comment
      • “The violent protests (stone-throwing is violence) for the past 9 years have been a means of making money from foreign and Israeli protest tourists.” : That’s right. Progressives need to get their membership card stamped with “skunked” and “teared.”

        “building a children’s playground right next to an area of confrontation between the IDF and stone-throwing youths seems highly irresponsible on the part of the residents of Bilin especially since it is built more than a mile outside the village. What kind of statement does that send? We are interested in seeing our kids get hurt as long as it gets attention?” : It is possible the locals have developed the concept of “picnic.” The statement sent is “we live here, we will grow here, we will not hide away from your sight; you will SEE us.”

        Reply to Comment
    3. Richard Witty

      Why seek to evacuate the settlements?

      Why not work that they be integrated, you know equal rights in democratic Palestine?

      Reply to Comment
      • The only case for such a demand is within a full one-state solution.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          How so? Why is there no ability for a state of Palestine in the West Bank with Jewish citizens?

          Reply to Comment
          • been there

            The ‘settlers’, tend to be the most arrogant, cruel & violent of all. Better that they go back to Israel.

            Reply to Comment
      • leen

        Well, some PA members have said in the past the settlers can stay as Palestinian citizens but the army will have to leave the West Bank.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Why? Are you kidding?

        No person in his/her sane mind would want to become a citizen of an Arab state deemed to failure.

        Reply to Comment
        • Leen

          Then I guess go to Israel?

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Yeah, probably…

            Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      The notion that the WB settlements would ever be evacuated is and always was a bald-faced lie.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Haven’t WB settlements already been evacuated in the past (Ganim, Kadim, Homesh, Sa-Nur)? How can it be a lie when there is precedent to suggest that it is entirely possible?

        Reply to Comment
        • ruth

          4 tiny settlements out of many hundreds. They did evacuate few dozens of families so that people like you could continue to cover up the reality. Israel is changing the status quo. To bluff is not the solution.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            4 settlements have been evacuated… in the West Bank. Does that not objectively demonstrate that settlements can be evacuated and that the government of Israel is very much capable of carrying it out? It is a pretty simple question. Answer it.

            Reply to Comment
          • BigT

            @ The Trespasser.

            You are only partially correct. The occupying power may only seize land in the case of military necessity. Seizing land to build a squatters camp for Israeli civilians cannot possibly meet that criterion.

            Hague Regulation Article 23, provides in part that:
            It is especially forbidden…to destroy or seize the enemy’s property unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.

            Similarly, Article 53 of the Geneva Civilians Convention requires that:
            Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

            Reply to Comment
          • BigT, for the corporate right nationalists everything done is done as a “necessity of war.” There is no external review at all; even the High Court has failed in this.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The occupying power may only seize land in the case of military necessity.

            Yeah. The question is who is the occupied party and whether the 4GC is applicable in the light of lack of thereof.

            >Seizing land to build a squatters camp for Israeli civilians cannot possibly meet that criterion.

            It can, as a matter of fact – settlements provide operational territory for the army.

            Reply to Comment
    5. “the Palestinian people might one day be compensated for the land that was taken from Bil’in, but the people of the village – its owners – will not.” : Nationalism under oppression provides a common cause outlet for loss; but if a material solution ever does arise, these personal injustices will emerge in internal protest and bitterness.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kolumn9

      “Progressives need to get their membership card stamped with “skunked” and “teared.””

      Exactly. That’s called ‘doing something’ in progressive parlance. Like, “Thomas, so what have you done for the ’cause’?” “Well, Skyler, two summers ago I went to Bolivia and built houses for the native peoples who were being terrorized by the mining companies. Last summer I went to Zanzibar and taught the children English. Last winter I was in Palestine facing off against the Israeli occupation and getting shot up with tear gas and skunk. Do you know what skunk smells like?…”

      The statement sent is “we live here, we will grow here, we will not hide away from your sight; you will SEE us.”

      Well, they don’t live there. They built the park a mile away from where they actually live and right next to a point of conflict. So, I suppose the message is: “here are our children. we are willing to go out of our way to deliver them to a place a mile away from the actual village. we are ok with them being hurt as long as we get some attention”

      Reply to Comment
      • No, K9, as hard as it might be to understand, Palestinians do things of their own mind. Your definition of “progressives” was seen too in apartheid South Africa.

        Those who belittle generally have no postive argument–save their distaste.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I didn’t say the Palestinians do not do things of their own mind. What I did say is that progressives are fad and symbolism chasing the high of being in the ‘struggle’ with the ‘masses’ from their cushy upper and upper middle class positions of arrogance [and ignorance]. The Palestinians are smart enough to take advantage of this.

          Those who belittle need not have a positive argument to demonstrate how ridiculous some arguments are.

          Reply to Comment
          • The core importance of the protests is among those resident. The notion that every Israeli who attends them is self indulgent is just another way of charging race treason, simply the construction of another Wall. Some Israeli Jews think that what is happening under occupation is both wrong and long term disadvantageous to Israel. They attend to see; and to use (hopefully) their rights. They take on risk and disapprobation though their acts. The world changes. Ridgid boundaries once thought natural can become destructive. Always, some live on the margins of our boundaries to test the times. They will not always be right; but nor always wrong. In the case at hand, the conservative disallows these tests as a matter of national ethic. The very attempt to test is seen as threat. Someday, you are going to need these people.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The core importance of the protests is among those resident.

            No.

            >Some Israeli Jews think that what is happening under occupation is both wrong and long term disadvantageous to Israel.

            Since these Israeli Jews are not offering any viable and realistic alternatives, their opinion on the question is of no interest whatsoever.

            >The very attempt to test is seen as threat.

            Zionists/Jews/Israelis are testing since 1919. Result is the same without a change. It’s like trying to disprove the theory of gravity by throwing cannon balls from a high tower.

            >Someday, you are going to need these people.

            G-d forbid.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Like any ‘non-violent’ or ‘violence-lite’ protests the purpose of the protests at Bilin is to get attention for a cause. The core importance of a protest is in how much attention it gets regardless of how many or few people are present.

            Israelis that go to Bilin, including the author of the article, generally know their presence will achieve no objective result. The reason for their attendance is to pay homage to the Palestinians and to feel a part of the ‘struggle’. I have nowhere charged them with treason. In fact, worse, I have charged them with bourgeois naivete. If they jump the fence, as people like Noa are close to doing, and actually engage in hostile acts against the state of Israel then that is treason by any definition.

            Reply to Comment
    7. tod

      A settler-mind will remain an enigma until the rest of my life.
      The indigenous population is not entitled to build an alleged park a mile away from where they actually live while the settlers are entitled to steal all the land and the natural resources that they want for their big settlements without any problem. lol.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        They can build the playground wherever they want, but building a park in the most dangerous and inconvenient place is a terribly cynical way of using the welfare of their children for purely political purposes.

        Reply to Comment
        • ruth

          “Does that not objectively demonstrate that settlements can be evacuated and that the government of Israel is very much capable of carrying it out?”
          No, it simply demonstrate the will to keep building hundreds of new settlements and outposts so that in future negotiations Israel can evacuate other 3 or 4 small settlements and keep the huge majority of the new status quo that has been created. To evacuate 50 families (moving them in the next settlement) out of hundred of thousands of other settlers is a joke. Again, Israel is clearly changing the status quo

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            You didn’t answer the question. Does the withdrawal of 4 settlements from the West Bank (that TOOK PLACE) objectively demonstrate the capacity and ability on the part of the State of Israel to evacuate settlements from the West Bank? Notice that this isn’t a hypothetical question and the premise of the question already gives the answer away. If you were intellectually honest you would answer ‘Yes, but…’ rather than ‘No, blah blah blah’.

            The reason why you have a hard time answering honestly is because it would undermine the fragile narrative you have built in your head about the irreversible nature of the settlement movement, one which facts and history (withdrawal of settlers from Sinai, withdrawal of settlers from Gaza, withdrawal of settlers from the four West Bank settlements) should have banished from your brain. This is like the amusing argument that I still sometimes see which suggests that once those greedy Zionists get control of a territory they never let go so peace efforts are futile. This argument is made despite the withdrawals from the Sinai, land in dispute with Jordan, South Lebanon, Gaza and parts of the West Bank. It is like people are stuck in a time warp back in 1977.

            Reply to Comment
    8. ruth

      History proves that you are wrong. If Israel did not spend billions of dollars(shekels to push hundred of thousand of settlers to the West Bank, they would not control today 40% of the occupied territories (with bypass roads&co) and so they would not ask to “accomodate” the result of any round negotiations to the present reality and to the “natural growth. Your argument is based on nothing: 4 tiny settlements in comparison to hundred of thousand of settlers. Either you are blind or you are a settler. No other options.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Billions. Right. No. Trillions. No. Quadrillions.

        A question (two questions rather) – how much Israel did invested in Gush Katif settlements, and why I can’t visit these settlements now?

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The question was very simple. Is Israel capable of withdrawing a settlement from the West Bank? Israel withdrew four of them so the answer to this question is yes. Is Israel capable of withdrawing settlements? Israel withdrew four of them so the answer to this question too is yes.

        Is Israel capable of systematically withdrawing settlements and settlers from a large area? Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza and the Sinai so the answer to this question is yes.

        Which part of this logic is difficult for you to grasp when asked the simple question of whether Israel has proven that it is capable of withdrawing settlements?

        Israel spent lots and lots of money in both Gaza and the Sinai, so the argument about investment leading to the inability to withdraw is fundamentally empty due to precedent proving it so. As for control of territory.. How much of Gaza and the Sinai did Israel control? Again, your argument here is just empty of any logic.

        None of these questions are rocket science. They are based on simple logic. Answering questions based on logic is not something that one needs to be blind or a settler to do. If anything if I was a settler I would be arguing that it is impossible to withdraw the settlements so even there your logical reasoning is terribly spotty.

        Reply to Comment
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