This past Friday approximately 500 people gathered in the West Bank village of Bil’in to commemorate the 9-year anniversary of theirweekly Friday demonstrations.
Demonstrators began at the mosque and marched in a procession towards the wall surrounding the neighboring settlement of Modi’in Illit. People came from all over Palestine to participate, including many demonstrators from other villages participating in the popular struggle protests such as Nabi Saleh. It is worth noting that numbers were minimized due to the scores of people who chose to attend the public funeral of Moatazz Washaha.
Demonstrators reached the wall and broke open the gate meant to deter protesters from the rest of their land and the neighboring settlement. Several young Palestinian men scaled the wall to secure Palestinian flags at the top. The Israeli military responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. Youths scattered throughout the hills, hurling stones over the wall towards the soldiers.
Settlers from the neighboring Jewish settlement gathered in the streets to watch the events unfold. Clashes lasted for a few hours, before the army came out and arrested two demonstrators: Sameh Tayseer Sa’adar and Kufr Nimeh.
Nine years of demonstrations
Bil’in is a small village located in the West Bank about half an hour north from Ramallah. The local economy relies primarily on olive trees for income. Citizens of Bil’in began staging these weekly protests in February of 2005 after Israel set up a separation barrier (then just a fence) that cut the residents of Bil’in off from 200 acres of their agricultural land. The settlement of Modi’in Ilit, illegal under international law, now sits on a portion of the village’s land.
Demonstrators adopted the method of popular resistance, choosing to partake in unarmed protests and coordinated action by demonstrating every Friday after prayer ended.
The Israeli military categorized (and continues to categorize) the weekly protests in Bil’in as “violent disturbances of the peace,” according to B’Tselem.
Under Military Order 101, created in 1967 when Israel began it’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, Palestinians in the occupied territories have no right to the freedom of expression or assembly. The order contravenes both Israeli and International law.
The demonstrations in Bil’in have been met with brutal repression by the Israeli military as well as the settlers. Siblings Bassem and Jawaher Abu Rahmah were killed in separate occasions during clashes with the Israeli military. Night rides are a common occurrence in the village; olive trees have been burned, homes are raided, children are taken to jail, and unarmed demonstrators are often subjected to beatings and bullets.
The protester’s persistence paid off in 2007 when Israel’s High Court of Justice found the fence to be illegal and ordered it to be removed. However, it took three years for the fence to be removed and the new wall is to be rebuilt (this time made of concrete) around the edges of the Modi’in Illit settlement. During the three-year wait, the settlement had expanded and thus the new barrier still prevents Bil’in residents from accessing 1,500 dunams (about half a square mile) of their land. Protests continue in attempt to regain the remaining land.
Rajai Abu Khalil, an activist at the demonstration, spoke to the Palestine Monitor, explaining that for him the protests are also about resisting the occupation. “The daily oppression, apartheid, segregation, discrimination and daily theft of lands for the benefits of the expansion of Israeli illegal settlements.”
Bil’in has become a rallying point for those involved in the popular resistance movement. Their non-violent methods and success in moving the barrier have served as an inspiration for many activists throughout the occupied territories. According to Abu Khalil, “The popular struggle has proven to be a very effective method and I believe it can bring change to the situation [in Palestine]”
The model of demonstration used in Bil’in is becoming increasingly popular as a form of resisting the occupation, notably in villages such as Nabi Saleh, Ni’lin, Kufr Qaddoum and Al-Maasara.
“For us it is so important to continue to encourage other people in other places to use this type of resistance. Through this action we will invite new people, Israeli, International, Palestinian together to give people support to continue their struggle… this is not just a vision for Bil’in, it is a vision for all of Palestine” said Popular Struggle Coordination Committee member and Bil’in leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah in an interview the Palestine Monitor.
Activists in Bil’in intend to continue their weekly demonstrations until they receive the rest of their land. For many, the struggle will continue until the occupation has ended entirely.
Abdallah Abu Rahmah expressed his most basic wish: “to have all of our land without any settlers, to live in peace and freedom and independence.”