Every Friday for months now, the Palestinian village of Bi’lin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has been the scene of creative and organized non-violent protests against the illegal construction of Israel’s “separation wall,”which will cut off much of the village’s farmland. Hundreds of Palestinians, Israeli anarchists, and international activists have taken part in demonstrations brutally repressed by Israeli occupation forces with tear gas, live fire, rubber bullets, experimental weapons like sponge, salt, and sand bullets, and sound weapons. Palestinian Israeli members of the Knesset have attended the protests and been attacked, as well as Muslim clerics, and Palestinian politicians, including one-time presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouthi. On Sept. 2, Israeli soldiers attacked the villagers as they left their mosque after Friday prayers with tear gas, declaring that there would be no demonstration at all. Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered that the Wall be completed by the end of the year, so a crackdown on the protests is currently under way:
BORDER POLICE ARRIVE IN BIL’IN TO ROUND UP INTERNATIONALS, ISRAELIS, STOP DEMONSTRATION
The International Solidarity Movement
Phone: 02-297-1824 and 057-661-6445 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 9, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE…
ISM MEDIA — One Palestinian has been injured and calls are going out for an ambulance as sound grenades are fired throughout the village of Bil’in this morning and soldiers and border police surround a home containing foreign, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.
Border police arrived minutes ago likely to arrest the Israelis and internationals. A curfew was announced, but it is important to note that the people in the house have not actually left it or broken the curfew. Soldiers have threatened to break down the door and have begun firing rubber bullets, tear gas and sound grenades at Palestinians who are setting up road blocks using burning rubber tires, are chanting, and drumming and rallying to the side of the besieged foreigners trapped inside the house.
The U.S. embassy has been contacted as has several peace organizations inside Israel who have in turned called members of the Knesset. This is an entirely illegal act on the part of the military and border police who have no charges to enter the home or arrest anyone on. It is a tactic the Israeli military has long used, of employing excessive violence to stop all legitimate means of protest.
CONTACT: Mohammed Al Khateb at 0545-851-893; ISM at 02-297-1824 or 054-659-4766; ISM Media at 054-659-4760.
Meron Rapoport provides background in Ha’aretz:
Last update – 01:30 09/09/2005 Symbol of struggle
Bil’in is a small village. It has only 250 families and a population of 1,696. Located about five kilometers from the pre-1967 Green Line border, it is less that a kilometer from the settlement of Upper Modi’in. Its approximately 3,000 dunams (about 75 acres) of olive and almond trees and pastureland are the villagers’ principal source of livelihood. But in November 2004, an land-seizure injunction was issued to enable the construction of the separation fence in the area of Bil’in, leaving 1,980 dunams (a little less than 500 acres) on the “Israeli” side of the fence.
Past experience shows that it is very difficult for Palestinian farmers to reach their lands when they are located on the other side of the fence, especially when two new neighborhoods of settlements are being planned on these areas. On February 20, work on the separation fence infrastructure began with the uprooting of 30 olive trees. Since then, demonstrations have been held there against the separation fence almost every Friday and the small village has become a symbol of the nonviolent struggle against the fence.
The demonstrations in Bil’in have entered a fairly regular routine: At 1 P.M., after the Friday prayers in the mosque, the demonstrators leave the center of the village for the route planned for the separation fence. About half the demonstrators are Palestinians and the other half are Israelis who are generally called “Anarchists Against the Fence” and international activists.
Confrontations with the Israel Defense Forces also have a routine of their own: The first stage is a nonviolent demonstration involving the shouting of slogans and other protests against the fence. Afterward, the soldiers block the demonstrators’ way to the route of the fence and try to disperse the crowd, mostly using stun grenades and tear gas. Some of the young Palestinians respond by hurling rocks. Sometimes the rock-throwing escalates to tear gas. About two months ago, Border Policeman Michael Schwartzman lost an eye to a rock thrown by demonstrators. A number of soldiers have been injured less seriously. A total of some 160 Palestinians have been injured by rubber bullets, tear gas and beatings. At least one Palestinian demonstrator has lost an eye in one of the 60 demonstrations that have taken place.
Overrunning the village The demonstration last Friday was supposed to have been a routine one, but very soon it became clear that this time, someone in the IDF had decided to change things. At about 11 in the morning, two hours before the demonstration, soldiers blocked the entrances to the village to prevent the influx of Israeli demonstrators, and dozens of soldiers entered the village center. Their goal was clear. Major Moshe, one of the commanding officers, told the photographers who have been documenting the struggle from its outset: “There won’t be any demonstration today.” But nevertheless, it appeared that six months of joint Israeli-Palestinian demonstrations have done something to the children of the village. Instead of the usual reception that soldiers entering the village would receive – stones thrown at them a group of children could be seen improvising a dance before the soldiers and singing them slogans.
The prayers in the mosque ended at about 1 P.M. and the worshipers began to pour out. The atmosphere – in the pictures – still seems calm. Suddenly the soldiers began to hurl stun and tear-gas grenades toward the people leaving the mosque. The time printed on the videotape is 1:15. In the documentation by two cameras, no rock-throwing can be seen. The stun and tear-gas grenades fall right into the entrance to the mosque’s yard. Only then, at about 1:30, did massive rock-throwing in the direction of the soldiers begin. This time, not only the children, not just the riffraff, but also the adults joined in.
The soldiers are seen firing rubber bullets. One fires his rifle into the air. Staff Sergeant Shai Malka, the deputy brigade commander of the Maccabim brigade, approaches Mohammed Khatib, a member of the village council, and shouts: “Today you will escape only by the skin of your teeth. Remove all the non-locals, otherwise things will be bad in the village. If you want, demonstrate alone. There will no longer be outsiders here – halas, enough!”
From one of the Jeeps, a loudspeaker blares in Arabic, “It is forbidden to loiter,” the cry that usually announces a curfew. In order to remove all doubt, Malka gets out of his vehicle and calls out on the megaphone, in Hebrew: “Curfew in the village, curfew in the village – you are violating the curfew.”
The statement made by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office the next day said: “No curfew was imposed on the village.”
These confrontations continued until about 3 P.M. when the soldiers left the village. Khatib reported that 12 people were injured, nine Palestinians and three reporters. None of the soldiers was injured.
Warning shotsA little after 1 P.M., a number of demonstrators phoned MK Zehava Gal-On of Yahad-Meretz and reported to her that there was shooting in the air and heavy firing of tear-gas and rubber bullets inside the village. She called Deputy Defense Minister Ze’ev Boim and asked him to look into the matter. When Boim got back to her, 45 minutes after the shooting had begun in the village, he told her that he had been told by the IDF that there was no firing of live ammunition in Bil’in or even shooting of the kind used to disperse riots. At approximately the same time, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued its first formal statement, in which it explained explicitly about the use of riot-control means. In the response the office gave Haaretz on Saturday night, it said: “A senior IDF officer at the site had been forced to shoot warning shots in the air.”
A little after 3 P.M., after the soldiers had left the village, the demonstrators set out for the fence route for their regular demonstration – about 100 people, about half Palestinians, half Israelis and foreigners. The videotape shows that it is very obvious that the soldiers are surprised. They apparently thought that the confrontations in the village had put an end to the demonstration. They hurry to block the road and the demonstrators sit down on the ground and chant slogans in Hebrew and Arabic. And then, without any warning, the soldiers throw stun grenades at the demonstrators. One of the soldiers rolls a tear-gas grenade at them and a demonstrator hurls it back in the direction of the soldiers. A soldier coughs and goes to wash his face. Khatib shouts to him in Hebrew: “Don’t put water on the gas. Don’t wash your face in water!” This entire time, not a single stone was thrown.
A young Israeli wearing a bicycle helmet approaches the soldiers and yells, “Get out of here.” The soldiers start chasing him. Another Israeli, a young man with long dreadlocks flees, and then stumbles. Both cameras clearly show how a group of soldiers grab him and throw him to the ground. One of the soldiers moves away from the young man, takes aim and kicks him in the stomach with all his might, again and again. Another soldier kicks him in the back. The young man tries to get up and yells “Lunatic!” to the soldier that kicked him in the stomach, and once again, he is toppled to the ground. A number of soldiers lean over him and one chokes him while another drags him on the ground.
According to the official statement published by the IDF spokesperson: “An IDF soldier was attacked and struck by an Israeli left-wing activist. As a result, the soldier was injured lightly. The left-wing activist was arrested.”
Said activist was in jail for 24 hours, after which one of the soldiers filed a complaint against him, claiming that he threw stones at him and struck him. He was released on bail.
I meet the activist in a Tel Aviv cafe. His name is Nimrod Ronen and he is 19 years old. He was born on Moshav Sde Nitzan and today lives in Tel Aviv, after doing a year of service with children with learning disabilities in Haifa. He started to participate in the Bil’in demonstrations about three months ago. While he was being dragged on the way to the Jeep, he explains, one of the soldiers kicked him in the stomach, another in the back, and a third pulled his hair.
“I didn’t feel pain,” he says, “I felt humiliated. And what hurt the most was that I was being beaten by guys my own age. They have discretion and that is what they are doing.”
Ronen plans to file a complaint against the soldiers that struck him. The procedures launched against him will continue. His attorney, Gabi Lasky, showed the prosecution with the videotape documenting the event, and she obtained a continuance for the proceedings. One of the videotapes can be seen on the Indymedia Internet site. The tapes were also sent to the IDF spokesperson with a list of questions regarding the reasons why the soldiers entered the village, why they used riot-dispersal methods without warning and why the demonstrator was beaten.
The IDF spokesperson’s laconic response: “In the wake of the demonstration that occurred in Bil’in on last Friday, an investigation has been launched to clarify the behavior of the soldiers.”
The crackdown is happening despite an editorial in the liberal-centrist daily Ha’aretz, which decries the supression of the Bil’in protests, and questions the legitimacy of building the fence in Bil’in, noting its location is to isolate village farmland behind Israel’s wall in order to build more illegal colonies:
By Haaretz Editorial
After proving their sensitivity and intelligence in dispersing the demonstrations in Gush Katif, the Israel Defense Forces and police could have been expected to apply the same policy in handling the demonstrators against the separation fence in the village of Bil’in.
The IDF and police did not fire at the protesters on the roof in Kfar Darom, even when the latter threw dangerous substances at them, and they refrained from using force even against violent protesters. Similarly, it could have been hoped that the soldiers would hold their fire when facing left-wing and Palestinian protesters.
Instead, outrageous images are published week after week of soldiers kicking left-wing demonstrators and firing salt or rubber-coated bullets – showing their general contempt for the right to legitimate protest.
Three different judges have recently castigated the defense forces for the excessive use of force in Bil’in. Despite this, they once again fired at the demonstrators, this time – last Friday – even before they had left the village area toward the fence.
The demonstrations of the West Bank villagers, whose lands have been confiscated for the construction of the separation fence, have been taking place for the past two years. Together with the petitions to the High Court of Justice, they are a legitimate and sometimes effective means of protest against the annexation of land intended to expand settlements, under the pretense of building the fence. The lands taken from the residents of Bil’in, some of which are privately owned, are mostly intended to expand existing settlements, but also to build a new settlement called Nahlat Heftziba.
Expropriating more than half the village’s lands for nonsecurity purposes arouses unnecessary anger, and it is doubtful whether such measures are necessary or wise. The flexible building plans of the settlements are in dispute. In Bil’in’s case, it is doubtful whether there are even confirmed plans.
Demonstrations that took place in other villages have been effective in getting the fence line moved closer to the Green Line. In Bil’in, the residents still hope their protest will reduce the scope of the disaster.
The demonstrations in Bil’in and the adjacent villages have become the Palestinians’ main protest against the continued expansion of the settlements, and they are even dubbed the “fence intifada.” If the authorities are thinking of putting an end to these demonstrations forcibly, and taking protesters into preventive detention, they should also consider the alternative. There is a fear that the legitimate and very restricted “fence intifada” will lead to the eruption of another armed intifada.
The separation fence is a means to stop terror, but all the sides know that its line marks, to a large extent, the future border between Israel and the Palestinian state. The attempt to annex more territories, to build more settlements and to arouse more hatred among those whose land is confiscated is superfluous.
The most obvious lesson from the dismantling of the Gaza settlements is that they should never have been set up in the first place. One day’s settlement success became another day’s political and security millstone. The injustice imposed on Bil’in residents could still be fixed. But, in any case, the village’s legitimate right to protest must not be tampered with.
See our last post on Bil’in
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