Friday, September 25, 2020

Bilíin marks a decade of popular resistance

By Ruairi Henchy - February 28, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [Bilíin] [popular resistance] [popular struggle] [Popular struggle committee] [Popular Struggle Coordination Committee ]

All photos by Lazar Simeonov.

The village of Bil’in held a special demonstration on Friday 27 February to commemorate 10 years of non-violent resistance to the separation wall and the ongoing colonization of village lands.

Nearly one thousand Palestinians from Bil’in and elsewhere, together with scores of Israeli and international solidarity activists, gathered in the village center after midday prayer and marched to the separation wall a short distance outside the village. As the demonstration approached the wall, Israeli soldiers showered the area with tear gas. Four activists were beaten and arrested, two Palestinians and two Israelis, and six Palestinians were shot with rubber-coated steel bullets.

The Palestine Monitor spoke to Mustafa Barghouthi shortly after he had been tear-gassed while approaching the separation wall. “We are marching… to emphasise that popular non-violent resistance which started 13 years ago is surviving and growing and is the best alternative to failed negotiations,” he said. Dr Barghouthi explained that while Bil’in can be looked at as a success because the Israelis were forced to move back the separation wall, pushing the wall back “is not enough. We need to remove all the wall, just like the Berlin wall.”

In 2007, the Israeli High court, in response to a petition from the village’s residents, ruled that the proposed route of the wall was illegal and ordered it to be rerouted. In 2010 the Israeli authorities finally implemented the court order, moving the barrier back several hundred metres. The village residents won back 600 dunams (approx. 148 acres) of their farmland, but a large portion of their farming land still sits out of reach, on the other side of the wall. 

“We are following in the best traditions of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi in protesting Israel’s apartheid and racial discrimination. We think it’s a shame for the world that when they are celebrating the anniversary of the Berlin wall, we still have this wall in Palestine,” bemoaned Dr Barghouthi.

Jaber Abu Rahme, a resident of Bil’in and volunteer with the local Popular Resistance Struggle Committee, told the Palestine Monitor that the weekly demonstrations will continue until all of the village’s land is liberated. “The settlements behind the wall are still on our land, it is still occupied. We are still fighting and struggling to get all our land back,” he said.

Jaber was keen to stress the importance of the solidarity from the Israelis and the internationals present. “This sends our message to their communities and has helped make our action a symbol of non-violent resistance throughout the world,” he declared.

Jaber’s cousin, Bassem Abu Rahme, was killed in 2009 during a similar demonstration in Bil’in. Israeli troops shot him in the chest with a tear gas canister from close range. Jaber explained that Friday’s demonstration was important to carry on Bassem’s legacy. “Bassem was not only a cousin, he was a friend for all of us. He was always so active in the front lines, but he never had anything against the Israelis. He stayed peaceful and never threw even one stone.”

Haitham al-Khatib, an award winning photographer from Bil’in, told the Palestine Monitor about his experiences attending the demonstrations. “Many times they shot me and tried to arrest me, but I continue because I believe in my rights, not just as a journalist but because it’s my land,” he asserted.

Haitham also outlined the significance of the Israeli and international activists. “Without them they would just kill us. I want to welcome everyone… to be with us against this illegal occupation and to have freedom,” he said.

The Israeli authorities have tried all means to break the protest movement, from killing protestors like Bassem Abu Rahme, and his sister Jawaher who choked to death after inhaling large amounts of tear gas at a protest in 2011, to blocking Israeli activists joining the demonstrations. The latest attempt has focused on another leader of the demonstrations, Abdullah Abu Rahme. Abdullah was recently given a four-month suspended jail sentence, for “interfering with the work of a soldier,” with the prosecutor reportedly arguing that Abdullah commits “ideological crimes.”

Abu Rahme was told that his jail sentence would be activated if he took part in any more demonstrations. On Friday, he marched at the head of the procession to the wall in defiance of the court ruling. “This is an illegal court, and I refuse to stand in this court even if they force me to go there,” Abdullah stated in an interview with the Palestine Monitor.

“What we are doing is not an ideological crime. The soldiers commit this by taking our lands. It is our right to refuse this,” he explained. Abdullah said that the soldiers attempted to arrest him at the demonstration but that he managed to escape “They will try to arrest me again for sure, tens of times they tried to arrest me before,” he claimed.

Abdullah insisted that nothing could break his will to carry on the fight. “This punishment will not stop me from resisting, even if they succeed to arrest me again. I will continue to resist inside the jail, and I will not stop resisting until my lands are no longer under occupation,” he declared.

The example of persistent non-violent resistance in Bil’in inspired similar movements in villages like Nil’in and Nabi Saleh in the occupied west bank. However, only Bil’in and the nearby village of Budrus have had any degree of success in having the separation wall moved back as Israel continues its colonization of the west bank apace. The success and contiguity of the non-violent resistance movement in Bil’in has won international acclaim however, and continues to serve as a symbol of Palestinian resistance to occupation. 

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