For the past six years, villagers and international activists have convened in the village of Bil’in to protest the presence of Israel’s security barrier. The inhabitants of Bil’in, which lies just west of Ramallah and about ofur kilometers east of the Green Line, claim that the barrier separates them from sixty percent of their farmland.
In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of having the wall rerouted. Chief Justice Dorit Beinish wrote in her ruling, “”We were not convinced that it is necessary for security-military reasons to retain the current route that passes on Bilin’s lands.” The Israeli Defense Ministry began dismantling the wall this year accordance with the court’s decision.
However, on the day immediately following that decision, the Israeli Supreme Court legalized the Jewish settlement Mattityahu East, which lies on land claimed by both Bil’in and the Israeli government. Thus, the demonstrations continue to attract thousands of protesters. Dignitaries such as former president Jimmy Carter, Salaam Fayyad, and Nabil Shaath have been present to show their support.
Last month, Bil’in celebrated “Friday of Loyalty to the Martyrs” (جمعة الوفاء للشهداء), commemorating the deaths of siblings Bassem and Jawaher Abu-Rahma. Bassem, 31, was killed after being hit in the chest by an IDF tear gas canister. His sister Jawaher, 36, died in a separate incident, and although it is claimed that she died as a result of tear gas inhalation, no cause has been verified.
In a report published by the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in, organizer Sameer Bornat describes the day’s events.
“When the participants arrived at the Abu Limun preserve, they managed to remove some of the barbed wire and iron. After this, the soldiers who were behind the concrete wall fired canisters of gas as well as rubber-coated bullets. This excessive use of force resulted in the injury [of] Issa Abu Rahma and the asphyxiation of dozens of protesters. Following these events, clashes broke out between the participants and the Israeli soldiers behind the wall, during which participants threw stones at [them].”
I met Bornat this past summer during a trip to Israel and the West Bank. He made a point of assuring his audience that the demonstrations were strictly non-violent, only to then show a video depicting young demonstrators throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
Similar clashes have become a common feature of the Bil’in protests. IDF soldiers attempt to disperse crowds using tear gas and, in dire cases, resort to the use of rubber-coated bullets, while Palestinian and international protesters hurl stones and other miscellaneous items at the soldiers. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mairead Maguire and European Parliament Vice President Luisa Morgantini have been injured as a result of Israeli crowd-dispersal tactics. In 2005, an Israeli soldier lost an eye after being hit with a stone thrown by a protester.
The rerouting of the barrier will restore 700,000 square kilometers of land to the village, while 150,000 square kilometers will remain on the Israeli side of the barrier.