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Bil'in revisited: The small changes in life under occupation

Joining Bil’in’s weekly demonstration against the wall after not attending for a while exposes the little differences in the routine of occupation and resistance.

It’s been a couple of months since my last visit to Bil’in. Not too long, but long enough to suddenly notice those small changes that occur in every living environment, the changes that people can sometimes miss if you’re watching from within.

It started on the way from Tel Aviv. Passing by the settlement of Hashmonaim I was surprised to suddenly realize that there was one less fence in sight – and this in a region where fences and walls tend to multiply, not disappear. The fence in question used to separate olive groves belonging to the nearby village of Ni’ilin from the main highway that serves mostly settlers. After several years of construction, the separation wall in Ni’ilin has been completed and these groves are now unreachable for most villagers; someone must have realized that the fence was no longer needed to protect the highway. The view, naturally, is much nicer when not seen through a metal net, but realizing that the rational behind its removal was linking Palestinian land to settler roads and continuing its detachment from the village made things a bit grimmer.

Tear gas descending (Haggai Matar)

Tear gas descending (Haggai Matar)

Next we got to the Ni’ilin checkpoint, or I should say, the place formally known as Ni’ilin checkpoint. Apparently, the entire army base that comprised the checkpoint was recently privatized and is now run by a security company (the name of which was nowhere to be found) and its name changed to the much easier-on-the-ear, “Hashmonaim Crossing.” Not a border crossing, mind you, as it isn’t located on the internationally recognized border and there are still settlers and the army on the other side of it. It’s just a “crossing.”

Activists retreating as tear gas is fired into the demonstration (Haggai Matar)

Activists retreating as tear gas is fired into the demonstration (Haggai Matar)

And then on to Bil’in. This week’s protest was dedicated to Yasser Arafat, following findings earlier in the week that indicate the possibility the former PLO leader was poisoned to death. About 200 Palestinians, Israeli and international activists drove together almost as far as the wall, going the last kilometer or so on foot.

Nearing the wall I noticed how lively the earth around me seemed to be. After several years during which access to this part of the village’s agricultural land had been prohibited, villagers have been working hard to bring it back to life and the results are starting to show. New olive trees are taking root, a new vineyard has been planted, several huts serving farmers while they work the fields have been built and a new football field was flattened near the recreational forest “Abu Lemon,” just at the foot of the wall. Resistance through the reclaiming of land.

Local youth throwing a stone at soldiers behind the wall (Haggai Matar)

Local youth throwing a stone at soldiers behind the wall (Haggai Matar)

The soldiers were quick to open fire on the demonstration but seeing as the wind was working against them, their tear gas had little effect. After about two hours of protest, with the occasional dodging of another tear gas canister (or a dozen) and with several local youth throwing stones at the soldiers behind the wall, we made our way back to the village.

Last week things were not this easy. Activists reported that three demonstrators were wounded from rubber-coated metal bullets, and a fourth from live, 0.22mm bullets, which the IDF itself has said is illegal for use as a means of crowd control.

On the route of the old fence, which was taken down on orders from the High Court, a monument for local martyr Bassem Abu Rahme has grown. Bassem’s family members gathered dozens of spent tear gas canisters, not dissimilar to the one that killed him four and a half years ago, and planted flowers inside them, turning the monument into what might possibly be the world’s first tear gas canister garden. The local popular committee added a large metal sign telling Bassem’s story. It is now a touching, humane and beautiful spot in the rocky terrain which is the heart of the West Bank.

Read: What the press missed in Bil’in tear gas flower garden

Part of the Bassem Abu-Rahme memorial tear gas canister garden (Haggai Matar)

Part of the Bassem Abu-Rahme memorial tear gas canister garden (Haggai Matar)

Demonstrations have been taking place in Bil’in at least once a week for nearly nine years now. Two have been killed and countless wounded or arrested so far, but strong political alliances and friendships were also struck here. And as settlements expand, a checkpoint is privatized and land regained, the occupation is still omnipresent and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Bil’in’s struggle, it would seem, will have to continue into its tenth year.

As always, similar demonstrations also took place in al-Ma’asara, Ni’ilin, Nabi Saleh and Qaddum this Friday.

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    1. “Demonstrations have been taking place in Bil’in at least once a week for nearly nine years now. Two have been killed and countless wounded or arrested so far, but strong political alliances and friendships were also struck here.” : And livelihood, assistance in crises small and large. Occupation is the ecology to be survived, this a quiet engine for social change.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      I like the second picture. The ‘activists’ look like package tourists, which seems appropriate given that is what they are. I hope they gave good tips to the actors for making this a good photo opportunity. What is the going rate for posing with some kids in balaclavas these days anyway?

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        before you criticize the authenticity of the demonstration, perhaps we should replace the color of your identity card for a month or so. You can have a Jerusalem entry permit and deal with the ‘traffic’ through Qalandiya each day.
        Since abstract concern is apparently too sophisticated of a concept for the Right, perhaps direct empathy will be more amenable to your diminished cognitive state.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Or maybe we should give me a European passport so that I can drop by Bil’in for some choreographed photos of the ‘struggle’ and then go back to my nice hotel in Tel Aviv for a dip in the pool. Perhaps in Tel Aviv I would take a bus or eat at a restaurant and declare how ‘eerily normal’ and how ‘safe’ it feels while ignorantly condemning the wall and Israeli security measures that make it so.

          Reply to Comment
    3. David T.

      “… while ignorantly condemning the wall and Israeli security measures that make it so.”

      You really want to claim, that the wall prevents Paletinians from entering Israel? LOL.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        No, I want to state a fact that the wall made it significantly more difficult for suicide bombers to blow up buses and restaurants in Tel Aviv.

        Here is a nice short video of the supreme leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad testifying to that fact:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLupGAMrJa4

        Reply to Comment
        • David T.

          Yes, its’s an obstacle, they have to use a ladder now.
          http://972mag.com/nstt_feeditem/photo-palestinians-climbing-separation-wall-to-pray-in-jerusalem/

          And sometimes a ladder and a rope.
          “For Just 50 Shekels, Palestinians Are Smuggled Over Israel’s Security Fence

          … Channel Two News quotes one smuggler, Ahmad, who claims he can get 35-40 people across the barrier and into Jerusalem in a single day (50 on Saturdays). In order to accomplish this, Ahmad simply climbs up a wall near his Palestinian home, watches for Israeli police or military patrols, and then drops a rope down to the Israeli side. When the coast is clear, those waiting to be smuggled climb up the ladder, down the rope, and into Israeli territory. …”
          http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/06/21/for-just-50-shekels-palestinians-are-smuggled-over-israels-security-fence/

          How do you think the tens of thousands of Palestinians sneak into Israel to make a daily living?

          I tend to follow Shin Bet’s explanation that they simply reduced to attack buses in restaurants, because of a self imposed truce. Maybe it reminded them to much of Jewish terrorists in Palestine after 1938 who attacked Arab buses and restaurants.

          Reply to Comment
    4. David

      In the interest of technical accuracy, I should note that the bullets are .22 inches, not .22mm. .22mm would be quite small indeed!

      Reply to Comment