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Hundreds attend Bil'in's 7th annual day of struggle against the Wall

Israeli police and army mount a massive operation to stop Israelis from reaching the special Friday protest, marking seven years of popular and joint struggle in Bil’in

Seventh annual demonstration (Activestills)

Seventh annual demonstration (Activestills)

In the beginning there were engineers, soldiers and bulldozers. It was after the International Court of Law in The Hague had already barred construction of The Separation Wall within the West Bank, and before the Israeli High Court of Justice found the Wall’s route in Bil’in illegal. It was after someone somewhere decided that more than 2,000 dunams of the village’s agricultural lands were to be annexed to Israel by force, and before countless people would be arrested and injured, and two killed. The engineers marked which trees to uproot, and the villagers removed the marks. The soldiers came to disperse the demonstrations, and the demonstrators tied themselves to the olive trees. The bulldozers started tearing the land, and the activists stood in their way. Day after day. A battle for every tree and every yard.

Seven years have passed since the first engineers, soldiers and bulldozers appeared in Bil’in. Seven years since the local Popular Committee against the Wall and the Settlements was founded, drawing from the experience of villages such as Mes’kha, Bidu and Budrus. Seven years since the Israelis and internationals were first invited to join in on the popular struggle. In the years that passed a fence was erected, causing incredible damage, and recently torn down in favor of a new wall, in a route which gives the village back some of its lands – but not all of them. The village has gained international attention and has become an example of a people’s unarmed struggle for liberation – a struggle which goes on to this day.

Targeting Israeli solidarity

To celebrate the struggle’s anniversary, the popular committee issued a special call, inviting Palestinians, Israelis and internationals to join together and raise the flag once more – focusing on the demand to release Khader Adnan on the 62nd day of hunger strike, as well as prompting Palestinians everywhere to join the popular struggle against the occupation.

In the past, events such as this would cause the army to react with extreme measures of oppression against the village – night-time raids, arrests, curfews, etc. However, in recent years it seems that the greater part of Israel’s attempt to crush the annual special demonstrations has been aimed mostly at Israelis. This was also the case yesterday, as mass police and army forces were deployed to the Ni’lin checkpoint in order to intercept the bus and the cars on their way from Tel Aviv. Upon being recognized as activists (usually five in a car, none of them religious, hence probably not going to the nearby settlements), the Israelis had their IDs taken and registered, and were warned not to proceed to Bil’in through alternative roads, as the entire region has been declared a closed military zone.

This was but one part of a well coordinated operation: all roads leaving highway 443 into Palestinian villages were blocked and guarded with riot police. A bus leaving Jerusalem was intercepted en-route, ten activists on it arrested, and the bus sent back. Private cars were turned back in others checkpoints, and while several managed to slip through – some had to give up on the demonstration. The bus from Tel Aviv eventually unloaded in the middle of highways 443, and activists climbed a hill and marched through olive groves to nearby villages, where they took taxies to Bil’in, dodging army patrols. The bus driver was arrested shortly after, without cause, only to be released later in the evening.

As a result of the police’s actions, only some 60-70 percent of the 150 Israelis who set off to join the demonstration actually managed to get there, and fulfill their basic right to protest. As all this did not even slightly change the nature of the demonstration, which was very similar to the regular weekly demonstrations, one might wonder why Israel would go to such great lengths to prevent Israelis coming to this specific demonstration.

A possible answer to this question was offered by Noam Sheizaf, who at the end of the demonstration assessed that the whole point of the police actions was to prevent “regular” Israelis – as opposed to the die-hard activists who travel to the West Bank weekly – from meeting with Palestinians. “This policy is all about forcing Israelis to visit the occupied territories and meet Palestinians only as enemies”, Sheizaf told me. “The popular committee went to great lengths to invite people like myself here – sending  e-mails, opening a Facebook event, etc. – and the police went to great lengths to prevent me from taking the very basic step of showing solidarity with the village.”

The struggle continues

Those who made it to Bil’in joined some two hundred Palestinians, and marched from the village centre to the route of the old fence, now dismantled, where speeches were made. From there demonstrators marched to the new wall, with activists wearing Khader Adnan masks and prison service uniforms leading the way. A leader in the popular committee mentioned that while no-one in the committee is a member of Islamic Jihad, they are all in support of Adnan, who joined a demonstration in the village in 2005.

Once at the wall, several demonstrators were able to cross the barbed wire protecting it, and put up pictures of Adnan and Palestinian flags on the wall. It wasn’t long before the army started shooting tear gas and spraying the demonstration with ghastly “skunk” water, which resulted in the gradual retreat of the majority of demonstrators and the beginning of stone-throwing by the village youth. The demonstration ended after two hours in atypical cold winds and little rain, with no serious injuries or arrests. As usual, demonstrations also took place in Ni’lin, Ma’asara, Qadum, Nabi-Saleh and other villages.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Steve

      Do they protest against calls to undo Israel’s existence, or to harm Israel?

      Or do they only protest against Israel’s defensive reactions?

      Reply to Comment
    2. rose

      No Steve, They protest against fascist mentality such as yours.
      The psychological humiliation and exploitation of natural resources that are taking place beyond the wall/barrier cannot in any way be justified by your ignorance

      Reply to Comment
    3. Haggai Matar

      By carrying out joint demonstrations they reject any notion that counters the demand for peace, security and equality for both nations – and that is no small thing.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jazzy

      Haggai: So they moved the wall and gave back SOME of the land? And when will we know when ALL of the land is given back? When the village elders say so? According to Israeli records?

      Reply to Comment
    5. It’s always the same crap. They are carrying flags in support of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade that have guns on them. This is a march to try and claim ALL the land (including Tel Aviv). It is not peaceful as they throw rocks and incendiaries. THe land is in dispute, the Arabs claim ALL is theirs and threaten to kill for it. The Fence they protest keeps out terrorists who murder both Jews and Arabs.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Passerby

      “It was after the International Court of Law in The Hague had already barred construction of The Separation Wall within the West Bank, and before the Israeli High Court of Justice found the Wall’s route in Bil’in illegal. It was after someone somewhere decided that more than 2,000 dunams of the village’s agricultural lands were to be annexed to Israel by force, and before countless people would be arrested and injured, and two killed.”

      Completely inaccurate paragraph. But very dramatic. Congrats.

      Reply to Comment
    7. dukium

      “THe land is in dispute, the Arabs claim ALL is theirs and threaten to kill for it.”
      Up to know is Israel, and not the Palestinians, that uses the Bible in a selective way in order to steal Palestinian land. If this was not the case, Israel should give back all the Ashkelon area that was never ‘Israelite’.
      Security is most of the time an excuse so that the fascist way to exploit palestinian land with dozens of quarries can be carry on and the humiliation of this people can be covered.
      A minority of the people that support the Palestinian legitimate fight for self-determination is motivated by the hatred for Israel. But the percentage of Israelis that justify this immoral way of stealing Palestinain land is sadly much higher. Also the above comments confirms this sad reality.

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      Those who claim that a statement is not accurate bear the burden of proof to cite evidence in support of their claim.

      .
      The amount of land claimed by the village is in the lawsuit it filed. In the meantime, predatory real estate interests pressure the IDF to clear the land so they can construct a new Jews-only settlement and profit from it.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Haggai Matar

      Jazzy – as Aristeides said, the amount of land is mentioned in the lawsuit. The first toure of the fence grabbed some 2,300 dunams, of which about one thousand was returned by the new route. You do the math.

      And to others commenters – the popular committee is demanding that the route of the wall not go inside Palestinian territory, which means no deeper than the green line.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jazzy

      Haggai: Maybe you can give me some further clarification. I’m looking at the Google Maps satellite view of the Bil’in area and I see what looks like the old route of the wall and the new route, which roughly traces the edges of an area of Modi’in Illit that is under construction. I am away that this area is east of the Green Line. Does that mean current demonstrations are aimed at recovering land where this construction is currently taking place, or has been completed?

      Reply to Comment
    11. Haggai Matar

      Jazzy: Yes, in part. There has been much construction on Bil’in lands on the “Israeli” side of the wall. Though built without any permit required by Israeli construction regulations, and on the village’s land, it was legalized by the high court. But apart from that, there are also still agricultural lands on that side of the wall as well.

      Reply to Comment
    12. rose

      “There has been much construction on Bil’in lands on the “Israeli” side of the wall.”
      this sentence gives the impression that what took place was something similar to an exchange of territories, although not agreed. this not the case: the agricultural lands of bil’in,ni’lin&co are much more in terms of extension and geographical importance than the “much construction on Bil’in lands on the Israeli side of the wall” that you mentioned.

      Reply to Comment
    13. zayzafouna

      whether the wall is on the green line or east of the green line, it is Palestinian land, and the wall must be removed

      Reply to Comment
    14. Jazzy

      Haggai: errr, ok, well, do you expect them to pay to re-terraform the land so it looks natural again? This seems like a lost battle. Maybe start protesting other parts of the wall that take land that is otherwise unmolested? There is a lot of land like thats left that I can see on Google Maps. Or maybe the villages nearby those tracts don’t want to make trouble for themselves? In any case, the prospects of success for Bil’ins remaining land look quite grim. And even if you’re doing it for political reasons, it would make sense to concentrate efforts somewhere else where demanding land back wouldn’t look as unreasonable. It does, by the way, look somewhat unreasonable. I think most people would be satisfied if Bil’in were compensated at this point.

      Reply to Comment