Perhaps finally learning the value of nonviolence from the villagers, the Israeli army did not disperse the weekly protest on Friday. Youth manage to pry open gate in the wall.
Some 300 people — Palestinians, Israelis and internationals — took part in a protest march Friday from the West Bank village of Bil’in to Israel’s separation barrier, built on the village’s land, to mark 12 years of continuous popular struggle against the wall, Israel’s settlements, and its military occupation of Palestine.
Unlike nearly every other Friday over the past 12 years, no soldiers came to break up the protest, an anomaly that allowed the demonstrators to march unimpeded through blooming almond trees and olive groves, all the way to the wall.
Several of the protesters climbed the wall and tore off pieces of the fencing from the top, while others pried open a heavy steel gate in the wall. On the other side of the wall is a neighborhood of the Modi’in Ilit settlement, which is built on Bil’in’s land.
Among the participants were Higher Arab Monitoring Committee chairman, former MK Mohammed Barakeh, and Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghouti. Also present was a group of U.S. military veterans who came to stand in solidarity with the village and its struggle.
The Israeli army’s decision to simply not show up at the protest deserves special note. Soldiers have been sent to the weekly protest to forcefully suppress the residents’ struggle, both when it has been entirely nonviolent and when stones have been thrown. Even after the separation wall was built and after it was moved further from the village, the soldiers continued to show up each week and attack the protest, to cross the wall and chase the protesters all the way back into the village.
The presence of the soldiers and their violence toward the legitimate protests would lead to stone throwing, which in turn escalated into harsher violence on the part of the soldiers. Israeli soldiers have killed two — completely nonviolent — Bil’in residents over the years, seriously wounded others, and arrested hundreds.
In recent months, it seems, the army finally learned the strategic advantages of nonviolence from the residents and activists of Bil’in, and stopped coming to suppress the protests. Instead, the soldiers mostly watch the protest from afar, and sometimes — like today — just don’t show up, and allow the protest to take place next to the wall. It’s not clear why they couldn’t have done that for the past decade.
The bulldozers first arrived in Bil’in in February 2005. As it was planned, the separation barrier was to steal some 1,950 dunams (480 acres) of the village’s agricultural land — almost half of Bil’in’s total land, which is the main source of income for its residents. Like in other villages that have embarked on the path of popular struggle following the suppression of the Second Intifada, Bil’in’s residents have attempted to stop the bulldozers with their bodies. From day one they invited Israeli and international activists to join their protests.
But the fence was built. Behind it, on land left over on the Israeli side, the Israeli government began expanding the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modi’in Ilit. Two and a half years later, the High Court ruled that the fence’s route was illegal. The justices ruled that security considerations were not the primary consideration behind the barrier’s route, but rather plans to expand the nearby settlement — on Bil’in’s land. They struck down the existing, already-built route of the barrier.
But for the next four years the villagers continued to march down to the fence and protest against it, the same fence the High Court had already ruled was illegal, but which the army hadn’t bothered to move. Instead, the army continued to protect the fence.
The barrier was only moved in 2011. Six hundred dunams (148 acres) of agricultural lands were returned to the village, but over 1,000 remain on the other side of the new barrier, where the Jewish settlement continues to expand. Bil’in’s residents continue to demand the return of all of their land.
For 12 years now the demands and aims of Bil’in’s protests have stayed the same: respect international law, implement the decision of the International Court of Justice, and take down the wall and the settlements built on the village’s land. And end the occupation.
A version of this article was also published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.