Bil'in is a small, peaceful village surrounded by hills and valleys, 10 miles west of the city of Ramallah in the West Bank of Palestine. It has a population of 1800 in an area of approximately 1000 acres. Its people are known for their simplicity, hospitality and for being good neighbors to each other. They love peace and freedom, and they reject injustice and oppression.
Over the last 20 years, Bil'in has been exploited for the purpose of building three illegal Israeli settlements on its land. However, Bil'in has stood up to confiscation time after time.
In April 2004, Bil'in's Village Council received notice of the Israeli government's intention to build a "Separation Wall" (commonly known as the "Apartheid Wall" or the "Wall" in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and by peace and social justice advocates within Israel, Palestine and the international community) on village lands. The citizens of the village demanded a committee be formed to resist this Wall and additional settlements. The committee's objectives were to represent the largest section of the village's residents, prepare daily and weekly actions against the Wall, maintain close relations with international and Israeli solidarity activists, and file a legal suit on behalf of the citizens.
The Israeli army bulldozers began work in Bil'in in February, 2005. The Wall now traverses the village and is 1¼ miles long and 30 yards wide. It is three miles inside the "Green Line," the supposed legal border separating the West Bank and the lands occupied by Israel in 1948. The Wall is being built under the pretence of protecting Israel, but as the citizens of Bil'in have made no threat to the lives of the settlers, the goal is not truly security as claimed, but rather theft of land and settlement construction.
Approximately 1000 olive trees, the life-blood of the community, have been uprooted and destroyed to make way for this Wall, which separates the citizens from their own land and orchards. Most of the village's 600 acres of farmland lie inside, or on the Israeli side of, the Wall, and is planted with 100,000-150,000 olive trees. The rest of that land is also used for sowing seeds and grains, planting vegetables and grazing for livestock.
Throughout this land confiscation we have noted that the Wall has considerably affected the village's economic resources. Bil'in's citizens face two choices - either living in disgraceful circumstances that force them and their grandchildren to live at the lowest level of poverty, or even worse, voluntary migration. Since most have refused both these options, the only remaining choice for them is nonviolent popular resistance against the Wall. This choice expresses their rejection of Israel's planned encroachment and their attachment and devotion to their land. They will strive to regain this land, whatever the cost they may pay, and work to destroy this Wall in their homeland.
Preparation and Beginning of
the Popular Resistance
This phase began with the formation of the Popular Committee Against the Wall, in which another committee within the Palestinian Authority, the National Committee to Resist the Wall, played an effective role. The coordination and meeting with international solidarity activists, especially the International Solidarity Movement, then began.
With Israeli solidarity activists, we studied the area, our options, and met with lawyers to familiarize ourselves with the legal situation Bil'in faced. This was combined with visits to Palestinian Authority officials, explaining to them the dangers of this Wall. We called for quick political mobilization, hoping to stop the plans before the actual work on the Wall, and destruction of our land, began.
Popular demonstrations, in which children, youth, elders and women participated, initially occurred on a daily basis. We then became more organized and focused, turning quantity into quality, holding two demonstrations weekly on Fridays and most often on Sundays.
The action of chaining ourselves to the olive trees was the epitome of creativity, where the spirit of nonviolent resistance exemplified the attachment of the Palestinian people to the roots of these sacred trees. This action opened the way for a number of other actions of its kind: making use of barrels, boxes/crates, a makeshift metal cage and gallows, coffins and gravestones, mirrors, cardboard snakes, a solid iron bridge, a mass grave, a huge Palestinian flag and the scales of justice - all used to halt the construction of the Wall and the destruction of our land.
Most of the props were used in actions that expressed the persistence of the Palestinian families to hold on to their land. All of the actions made clear the position of the human being who possesses nothing but his or her will in standing in front of the bulldozers, being courageous in comparison to the Israeli military's reliance on an arsenal of weapons and soldiers armed to the teeth. The contrast is stark as the soldiers use the ugliest and most violent means of suppressing simple citizens who would chain themselves to an olive tree or the corners of the Wall, or lock themselves to barrels in front of the bulldozers. The relentless attempts by the Israeli military to suppress these actions paradoxically played a significant role in attracting both Israeli and international solidarity activists, encouraging them to stand with us and next to us. Additionally, the creativity of these events attracted media coverage, spreading our message faster and on a larger scale.
Moving the Battle behind the Wall
|A village activist pays his respects to former architects of nonviolent movements while standing in the presence of Israeli soldiers and the completed wall. Photo: www.bilin-village.org|
A group of profiteers took advantage of the destructive Israeli military operations occurring in the West Bank between 2002-2003 and began the construction of the Matityahu East settlement on Bil'in's land. This settlement was built without proper authorization from the Israeli government; Israeli solidarity activists helped in exposing the paperwork as forgeries.
The response of the Popular Committee was to place a mobile home on the land, thus annexing it to the illegal Israeli structures, with the distinction that we own the land on which we placed our home and they don't. They demolished this first mobile home, and promptly seized our second one. We had no choice then but to erect a small but permanent structure. This was tantamount to a transformation in our struggle, and in December, 2005, the house was declared to be the Center for Joint Palestinian-Israeli-International Struggle. After that, our lawyer succeeded in obtaining a Stop Work Order (a reprieve) on the work and expansion of that settlement.
Our new Center has been used for meetings and talks to explain the Wall and the demonstrations, in addition to other community activities. The Center itself gave birth to yet another nonviolent action. Some of our families from the village came to live in one of the settlement's unoccupied houses, bringing papers certifying ownership of the land. They proudly raised the Palestinian flag above the house. Not surprisingly, after five hours they were forced to evacuate the house. Our lawyers succeeded in obtaining an order to destroy this house, along with four illegally-built units, and return the soil back for agricultural purposes. This is what the Popular Committee strives for - to spur the people to come to their land and work it. And indeed the tilling and plowing period has been full of activities linked to this.
On the down side, the Wall was completed in April, 2006. The Israeli army locks the gate that connects the citizens to their land. However, the army is obligated to remain there around the clock and permit the citizens to cross whenever they want, day or night.
The Response of the Army
From the first moments of this battle to build the Wall, the Israeli army posted guards with the bulldozers in use. The guards' aim was to suppress the protest actions and prevent demonstrators from approaching the Wall. They began by using batons to beat the demonstrators. This gradually developed into the use of tear gas, sound bombs, rubber-coated metal bullets, electrical weapons, high-velocity bean bags shot from a gun, high-pressure water hoses and new weapons such as salt pellets, which literally force salt into the wounds they create. This has resulted in injuries to at least 600 people.
The army also used collective punishment on the people of Bil'in. It put checkpoints on the roads, preventing citizens from getting to their jobs. It forbade citizens from obtaining the permits they needed to cross into Israel. And on top of all this, the army besieged the village, thus preventing international and Israeli solidarity activists from reaching Bil'in, especially on Fridays when there was always a nonviolent protest against the Wall. It imposed curfews on the village and prohibited movement, and distributed statements urging residents not to participate in the marches and not to leave their homes at all on Fridays.
The village was also exposed to nightly raids and searches. These raids resulted in the arrest of 50 young men, some of whom were sentenced to four months imprisonment and fines ranging from $250-500. Some village residents who did not possess a Palestinian identity card were deported to Jordan.
Finally, the army used undercover agents known as "musta'ribeen," provocateurs who act, speak and make themselves look like Palestinians among the ranks of the demonstrators. These agents commit violent acts such as throwing stones at the army, thus justifying the army's use of violence at the demonstrations.
What must be emphasized is that all these measures have proved fruitless and have not prevented the demonstrators from continuing their nonviolent struggle. The people of Bil'in and those in solidarity with them have, from the first moment, had their eyes fixed on an objective that is still before them. They see nothing but it. And that objective is to destroy this Apartheid Wall and its settlements, regain the freedom to cultivate their land, and work and move about their land in freedom, safety and peace.
This February was the second anniversary of Bil'in's weekly
nonviolent demonstrations, and it continues to have international and Israeli
activists join in its struggle. On April18-20, Bil'in held its Second Annual
International Conference advocating the use of nonviolence as a means to fight
oppression and injustice throughout the world. To read more about Bil'in or
view pictures from its demonstrations, visit www.bilin-village.org.