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PHOTOS: Pepper spray and arrests as Bil'in marks decade of struggle

Text by Haggai Matar
Photos by Yotam Ronen, Shiraz Grinbaum, Miki Kratsman / Activestills.org

Nearly 1,000 protesters — Palestinians, Israelis and internationals — marched to celebrate 10 years of popular struggle in the West Bank village Bil’in. Soldiers responded with tear gas, pepper spray and arrests. One Palestinian was badly wounded. Meanwhile, activists marked 21 years since the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, and called to open Shuhada Street to Palestinians.

Palestinian, Israeli and international activists march during a protest marking ten years for the struggle against the Wall in the West Bank village Bil'in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinian, Israeli and international activists march during a protest marking ten years for the struggle against the Wall in the West Bank village Bil’in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Approximately 1,000 protesters, most of them Palestinian, 100 Israelis and dozens of international activists took part in a large protest in Bil’in on Friday, marking ten years of popular struggle against the wall, the settlements and the occupation. Meanwhile, hundreds marched in Hebron to mark 21 years since the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre, and demanded that the Israeli army open Shuhada Street to Palestinian traffic.

Over the last ten years, Bil’in has become an international symbol of popular, nonviolent resistance to the occupation, the settlements and the separation barrier. The village’s main road was decorated with photographs taken by Activestills, who have accompanied the struggle since day one. Decorations made of spent tear gas canisters were also hung. By 10 a.m., members of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee — who lead the struggle in Bil’in — were joined by committee members from other villages; Israeli activists; journalists; members of the Joint Arab List MK Dov Khenin and Aida Touma-Sliman; and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Mustafa Barghouti.

Muhammed Khatib, a Palestinian activist with the Popular Committees in Bil'in, stands near his photo taken in 2005, at an Activestills exhibition during a protest marking ten years for the struggle in against the Wall in the West Bank village Bil'in, February 27, 2015. The exhibition presented photos taken by Activestills photographers during the protests in the last ten years in the village. (photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Muhammed Khatib, a Palestinian activist with the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee in Bil’in, stands near a photo of him taken in 2005, at an Activestills exhibition marking ten years of popular in the West Bank village Bil’in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

The march to the separation wall began shortly after noon, using the same route the residents have taken week after week for the past decade. The original separation fence kept some 1,950 dunams (480 acres) of Bil’in’s land on the Israeli side, for the purpose of expanding the Modi’in Illit settlement. The High Court, however, ruled that the fence must be moved, and after four years of waiting, the Israeli government built a new wall that only swallows some 1,300 dunams (320 acres) of the village’s land.

Friday’s protest was lead by a group of Palestinian scouts, who carried Palestinian flags and drums. They were followed by the demonstrators, who sang songs and chanted against the wall, the settlements and the occupation. As opposed to previous weeks, when Israeli soldiers greeted the protesters and tried to put down the demonstration at the site of the old route of the fence, this time soldiers waited behind the new wall. They began firing tear gas as the first demonstrators came closer to the wall.

An Israeli Border Policeman arrests a Palestinian activist during a protest marking ten years of popular struggle against the wall in the West Bank village Bil'in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Policeman arrests a Palestinian activist during a protest marking ten years of popular struggle against the wall in the West Bank village Bil’in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

At once the entire valley was flooded with tear gas, forcing most of the protesters to retreat to a nearby hill. A group of 150 protesters tried to push their way through past the tear gas in order to reach the wall. A group of them carried flags and held flowers, while the younger Palestinians threw stones at the soldiers.

Israeli border policemen arrest an nonviolent Israeli protester during a demonstration marking ten years of popular struggle against in the West Bank village Bil'in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli border policemen arrest an nonviolent Israeli protester during a demonstration marking ten years of popular struggle against in the West Bank village Bil’in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli border policeman uses pepper spray against a protester during a demonstration marking a decade of popular struggle against the wall in the West Bank village Bil'in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli border policeman uses pepper spray against a protester during a demonstration marking a decade of popular struggle against the wall in the West Bank village Bil’in, February 27, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The exchange of tear gas and stones went on for an hour. Eventually the soldiers began shooting both live “tutu” bullets as well as rubber-coated ones. A group of Border Police soldiers crossed the wall, used pepper spray against nonviolent protests, and arrested three Israelis (including one who was holding flowers) and two Palestinians. One young Palestinian was badly wounded in his head by a rubber bullet and was evacuated to a nearby hospital. Several others were lightly wounded. At the end of the protest, the activists vowed that their struggle will continue as long as the wall prevents them from reaching their land.

A Palestinian protester holds up a cross decorated with spent tear gas canisters during a demonstration marking 10 years of struggle in Bil'in. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian protester holds up a cross decorated with spent tear gas canisters during a demonstration marking 10 years of struggle in Bil’in. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

As Bil’in marked ten years of popular struggle, dozens of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals protested in the heart of Hebron, marking 21 years since Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslim worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs. Ever since the massacre, the Israeli army has severely restricted the movement of Palestinians in the city. The goal of the demonstration was to reach and demand the opening of Shuhada Street, which previously served as a main road and central economic hub of the city. The protest was organized by the Youth Against Settlements group, as well as by the Committee to Save Hebron, which is made up of different left-wing Palestinian political parties in the city.

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a protest against the closure of the Shuhada street to Palestinians, in the West Bank city of Hebron, February 27, 2015. (photo: Miki Kratsman/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a protest against the closure of the Shuhada street to Palestinians, in the West Bank city of Hebron, February 27, 2015. (photo: Miki Kratsman/Activestills.org)

Palestinians protest against the closure of Shuhada Street, Hebron, West Bank, February 27, 2015. Hundreds of Palestinians and internationals gathered on Friday marking the 21th anniversary of the street's closure. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinians protest against the closure of Shuhada Street, Hebron, West Bank, February 27, 2015. Hundreds of Palestinians and internationals gathered on Friday marking the 21th anniversary of the street’s closure. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinians protest against the closure of Shuhada Street, Hebron, West Bank, February 27, 2015. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinians protest against the closure of Shuhada Street, Hebron, West Bank, February 27, 2015. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Soldiers and Border Police began firing stun grenades and tear gas at the protesters even before they were able to reach the street. Many of the demonstrators retreated, while the youth began throwing stones at soldiers from nearby roofs. Clashes continued for nearly an hour, while the marchers tried to find alternative routes into Shuhada Street. However, they were blocked by the soldiers every time. Three young Palestinians were moderately wounded by live fire.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Brian

      The soldier in the 7th and 8th photos, what a charming attractive person. Ditto with the gentlemen in gas masks manhandling the lady. What an attractive country. Light unto the western nations.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      I’ve been puzzled by an aspect of Israeli society – so where better than here to ask a question? I’ve been studying the home demolitions and no doubt about it, they’re legal under Israeli law: all the right pieces of paper are signed by the right authorities, all the places on the documents that need stamping are stamped appropriately, but at the end of the day…between 25,000 and 30,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished, and zero – zero! – Israeli Jewish homes have been destroyed. In the history of Israel, not one Jew has had their home bulldozed because of building permit issues, zoning laws, etc. I somehow feel in the pit of my stomach that something isn’t quite right – something is off. Just can’t shake that feeling! Can anyone explain what’s going on?

      Reply to Comment
      • I don’t think you are right than Israeli Jews have never been expelled by the State from their home. There is the recent case of long term squatters of just a few months ago. As well, I suspect some Jews have had their homes redistricted into commercial land, forcing their removal in some form, but do not know; economies do this, capitalistic or purported something else (like old style Soviet communism). This doesn’t however, remove you point of a massive racial imbalance in removal.

        There is a mildly similar situation in the US over racial imbalance in arrests and treatment in custody. While it is quite difficult to prosecute an individual State actor (such as a policeman) over a single event, the Justice Department has been successful at filing civil claims arguing for an overall racial imbalance, forcing changes in administration policy. But I do not think Israel has anything as proactive as the Civil Rights Act. Nor does it have a federal system which allows a higher autonomous State actor to intervene locally, say at the municipal level. I guess the Israeli government could do this. But I know of no case where it has, possibly because neither enabling law nor political will exist.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Greg, Bruce is talking about homes bulldozed because of building permit issues, zoning laws; not about mere evictions. Isn’t the score on this still what Bruce says it is?

          Reply to Comment
          • The squatter evictions, which 972 covered in at least one piece, weren’t “mere.” The squatter homes have been destroyed I believe, having lived there for years. I am quite aware of what the IDF does to housing in occupied territory, and what police do in Israel proper to Bedouin housing. I am also aware that the previous Administration considered, at one point, moving settlement housing in toto when the High Court ordered their removal, not bulldoze, but place the houses elsewhere, abandoning the proposal for cost; that they considered it seriously shows the power of settler ideology and an inherent protective posture toward Jewish citizens, not Arab citizens.

            Nonetheless, it is not true that Jews are immune in Israel. The threshold is quite high, but it does, in some forms, happen. Since my goal in thought is to find a way beyond the racial barrier, I think it worth noting that the State can remove some of its Jewish citizens from housing. What the Conflict does is make removal ideologically difficult because of the very racial logic Bruce notes. To claim all Jews are immune is false. To claim many are by spatial location is clearly the case.

            Considering the widely held conclusion that the Arab List would be unable to join a Labor coalition government, there can be no doubt of the pivotal role of racism in Israel; that role cannot but be stronger in occupation, for the guns are pointed only in one direction. Nonetheless, not all Jews are treated equally in Israel. If think, if you talked to some right nationalists, they would see, say , the destruction of squatter homes and Bedouin homes as identically deserved. I wish I had the 972 link to that story, for it notes the legal process involved over years, and how the courts ruled against the squatters, who as a class were promised residences there years ago. The logic that operates against the Bedouin, East Jerusalemites, and occupied Palestinians can occasionally backflow to Jewish citizens.

            To make all Jews identical is to fall into the trap of the present dominant ideology. But Bruce’s point, as you note, is hardly wrong.

            Reply to Comment
          • oops. Sorry, Brian, my reply is under Bruce, but should have been under you.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Bryan

      Is there no one here who can defend heavily armed conscripts intervening outside the borders of Israel to arrest peaceful civilian demonstrators against an ongoing and illegal occupation?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jello

      All I see is Palestinians marching theatrically on a wall built to prevent Palestinians from coming in and blowing up Israeli women and children on buses and in restaurants. They expect to be confronted by Israeli soldiers and they are not disappointed. Israeli useful idiots are along for the ride. These are Israeli useful idiots that would rather see dead Israeli civilians than to see a wall defend their own people.

      Would the Palestinians marching condemn the suicide bombers that came in and murdered Israeli civilians? Probably not. Most likely and like the rest of Palestinian society they would embrace them as heroes. So, as far as I am concerned, there is really nothing to talk about. They can march until their feet are sore or until this has turned into a Disneyland for tourist activists (perhaps too late) and still all I see is people using camera-friendly ways of trying to remove a barrier put in place to prevent their friends and family from coming into my country in order to murder my friends and relatives. So they can march all they want. The wall will stay as long as we see Palestinian society embracing suicide bombers as heroes and embracing the murder of Israeli civilians as a legitimate political tactic. And no amount of marching will change this one bit.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        “All I see…” Yup. “as far as I am concerned…” Yup. We get it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          I can only express my opinion and views.

          Reply to Comment

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