September 9, 2005. Report by Adam Keller
The army imposed a curfew on Bil'in and forbade the weekly anti-Wall demonstration. Nevertheless, the protest took place with the help of 300 Israelis
"The army tries to make Bil'in into 'counterbalance' of the Gaza pull-out"
"We are witnessing an attempt to make the village of Bil'in into a sort of 'counterbalance' for the settlements evacuated in the Gaza Strip, and to use brutal force against the Palestinians here. We, Israeli peace activists, reject out of hand such a balancing act" say the organizers of the solidarity action which took place today in the village in spite of the army's effort to prevent it. The settlers in Gaza have taken by force land which did not belong to them, while violating international law. The people of Bil'in just want to preserve the land which they inherited and which is their only source of livelihood, land which the government of Israel tries to confiscate through the "Separation Fence" and pass it on to settlement extension.
Already last Friday the army invaded Bil'in and used considerable violence in an effort to prevent the weekly demonstration. At that time, the military commander demanded that the Bil'in Popular Committee not invite anymore Israeli activists to the weekly protest, a demand which was rejected.
This morning at five o'clock army and border police forces entered Bil'in, declared a curfew, prohibited the weekly demonstration and ordered the eight Israelis, who had stayed the night in Bil'in, to leave. When they refused they were all arrested. Meanwhile Bil'in inhabitants came out of their homes, thereby breaking the curfew, and started to drum on pots and pans in the village streets. Only when soldiers started to shoot rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades, did part of the village youth start throwing stones.
Meanwhile, about three hundred Israeli activists, supporters of Gush Shalom, Ta'ayush and Anarchists against the Wall and others went on their way to Bil'in in a bus convoy from Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. The army sealed tightly all roads to Bil'in but the demonstrators arrived through the ultra-Orthodox settlement Modi'in Illit (Kiryat Sefer) which was created on the lands of Bil'in and its neighboring villages. Through the building site where a new settlement neighborhood is being added, the protestors gained access to the olive groves and canyons in Bil'in village lands which are earmarked for further extension of the settlement. An army officer who arrived on the spot called over the megaphone: "Stop! Stop! You are entering a closed military zone, but demonstrators ignored him and continued descending into the rocky canyon.
Walking several kilometers in difficult terrain during the hottest hour the demonstrator column succeeded in arriving at the Separation Fence site from the western ("Israeli") side. Military and police forces which waited there started shooting tear gas and tried to arrest them. Demonstrators divided into small groups and most of them succeeded to arrive at the Bil'in built-up area, with soldiers and police persuing them through the village back alleys. The Bil'in people received the Israelis with great enthusiasm, offering refuge in their homes - and cold water. Some 25 Israelis were arrested, among them Dr Anat Matar of the Tel-Aviv University, Philosophy Department, and veteran Meretz activist Latif Dori. Some of them were dragged into the police cars after passively resisting arrest.
About a hundred demonstrators succeeded to get through to the main square of Bil'in in front of the mosque, where they joined a large number of Palestinian curfew breakers. Also present were many international activists, most of them US citizens. A bit later there arrived more Israelis, who had fallen behind but not given up, among them former KM Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom who on this very day marks his 82nd birthday, Yakov Manor of Ta'ayush and Dorothy Naor of New Profile.
For about an hour, Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators stood facing the soldiers and Border Police, chanting "The Fence is Terror, the Refuser is the Hero!" and singing "Military prison is a swell place when you follow your conscience." Some called at the soldiers: Why don't you embrace us as you did with the settlers?" The Bil'in leaders invited Israelis and internationals to join them in dancing and clapping while singing "we will win, we will win, here in Bil'in, here in Bil'in, Christian Muslim hand in hand, Israeli movement with us will stand". Then the large prisoner truck passed through the square with the detained activists drumming from the inside and their fellows calling from the outside "soldiers go home! down with the occupation!" Two women prisoners who tried to jump out of the army van were dragged back in by soldiers.
After an hour, soldiers resumed shooting and the village square was soon covered with clouds of tear gas. Environmental activist Advocate Dov Chinin got a rubber bullet in his leg. The demonstrators found refuge in the backyard of a nearby home, in the company of sheep and goats. After a quarter of an hour more Bil'iners joined them and told that the army actually has left open the route to the Separation Fence site. It was decided to hold after all, and in spite of the army's opposition, the weekly march.
Along the route additional inhabitants came out of their homes and joined. They reached without difficulty the Fence building site to which the army had blocked them in the demonstrations of the past six months. Only a small military force was present, headed by the local military commander at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Soldiers tried to Palestinian demonstrators, accusing them of "curfew breaking" but Israelis barred the way for the soldiers, giving time to the Palestinians to run back home.
Demonstrators conducted a march along the fence site, chanting "after all the wall will fall" and returned to the village center. Shortly after the army and Border Guard forces left Bil'in followed by calls of derision from the protestors.
"The army tried to break the people of Bil'in and prevent by brutal force their right to protest. They especially wanted to prevent the arrival of Israeli supporters whose presence denies the army the freedom of rampage. The result was the total opposite. Today there came to Bil'in many more Israelis than on other Fridays. No only they did not prevent the march, but it got further than before," says Yonathan Pollak of Anarchists Against the Wall, a central organizer of the weekly Bil'in protests.
Shortly after the end of the demonstration most of the detainees were released. The army did however keep in detention Abdallah Abu Rahme - central activist of the Bil'in Popular Committee who had already been detained several times in the past months. The Coalition Against the Fence demands his immediate release: "He is a personality well-known in the wide region for his total devotion to the non-violent struggle. It's a scandal that such a man is again and again put into prison."
The Popular Committees against the Wall and Settlement Expansion
Coalition of Women for Peace
The Committee against House Demolitions
Anarchists against the Wall