Thursday, April 28, 2005


I saw the info about this demonstration on Ha'aretz website, in one of the readers comments. "Partnership, not separation: a demonstration at Bil'in, 28.4. Come and fight against the fence and the settlments which create an Appartheit system."
Another reader quickly replied: 'The fence is essential to Israeli security... 1000 israelis were killed in suicide bombings in the last four years. I hope the fence will be finished soon and that you and your lot will be put on its other side'.
True, Israelis who demonstrate against the Wall believe that separation is a bad idea, in general. And here they face a decisive Israeli consensus: most Israelis have no time for arguments about co-existance and integration. But the demonstrations are not about the principle of the wall; this fight is lost. The fight is focussed on the location of the Wall, its route, in places where it is cutting through villages with no justification.
'1600 people live in Bil'in. The Wall cuts through the village's lands, and more land was confiscated for the expanding settlements nearby. Together this will annex to Israel more than half of the village's lands (2300 dunams out of 4000) including all of their olive groves. The route of the Wall near Bil'in is very far from the '67 borders. It is built with the sole purpose of protecting the empty houses of the nearby settlement, soon to be populated.The villagers used to rely on employment in Israel, but since the second Intifada they went back to agriculture and live of their olive groves. Now their groves are confiscated.' In short, 1600 people are driven to either immigration or suicide. Even from a narrow perspective of Israeli self-interest, this is stupid and dangerous. If the wall - which is supposed to stop suicide bombers - drives thousands of people to utter desperation, then it will defeat its purpose. No walls can stop people who have nothing to live for.

I wanted to go the demo but felt a bit apprehensive. I've been reading about Bil'in on the Israeli Indymedia site. I knew that it's been violent there; the army has been brutal. People were injured (one of the infamous 'anarchists against the wall' had a tear gas canister shot at his head). I was afraid to get hurt, partly also I don't have medical insurance at the moment here - I lost my medical rights because I was too long out of the country. But this seemed a lame excuse. I decided to go.

The people assembled near the village mosque. 900 were Palestinians - men, women and children - and about a 100 Israelis - from Ta'ayush, Anarchists against the Fence, Gush Shalom and the Coalition of Women for peace; also a bunch of ISM Internationals. The Palestinian organisers asked the crowd not to throw stones at the soldiers. ''This is a peaceful rally. 'Narchists, please if our friends the Narchists can come to the front'; The reasons for this, I figured, is that the soldiers are less likely to shoot Israelis, and the Anarchists against the Wall are brave enough to be in the front (they have quite a militant and fearless reputation).

On the way, I was given an onion by a girl. 'This is for the tear gas'. 'What do I do with it?' 'Just breath it. You've never had tear gas?' 'No' I admitted. 'It's quite horrible for the first 30 seconds, you feel you can't breath, but don't worry, it goes away. Just don't rub your eyes.'
The crowd was walking and chanting slogans, as usual in Palestinian demos. Years ago, when I was working as a subtitles translator in the Israeli television, I used to get these chantings all the time for the news editions: the organiser shouts a two line slogan - in rhyme - and the crowd repeats it. (Many Israelis remember the one from the Gulf War which goes 'Ya Saddam, Ya habib, Shoot Shoot on Tel-Aviv'). This time the slogans were against the wall, against Sharon, and also against the Palestinian leaders negotiating with Israel 'No negotiation when the bulldozers work'.

We had reached the valley and could see the houses of the settlement, the road works of the wall and the bulldozers. We started descending into the valley, but didn't reach very far. Half a minute later the thuds started shocking the air, and tear gas bombs drew hazy lines of light above us. A group in the front managed to keep walking towards the works. I was in the middle, and like everyone around me, turned back and ran away from the gas. I could soon feel the itch overwhelming me. I looked for the onion and found that I lost it. I covered my face.

Later I found out that it was special forces - Israeli soldiers dressed as Palestinians - that started the commotion. 'Five guys, I never saw them in my life, holding stones and they started throwing them. I asked one of them what was his name and he said Mahmood. I said Mahmood what? he said 'Mahmood Mahmood'. He spoke Arabic with an accent. And then the soldiers started shooting'. The IDF later confirmed to Haaretz that Special Forces were throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers, but denied that they the ones who started it.

Once it started, it was difficult to stop it. All the kids took out their slingshots and were practicing their aim at the soldiers. Tear gas bombs were repeatedly thrown, one of them landed inside a house. The balance at the end of the day: 5 people arrested (3 Israelis, 2 palestinian for assaulting the special forces); about 10 injured, one of them a Israeli member of Parliament, from the ex-communist bloc. The injuries were caused by shock bombs, rubber bullets and salt bombs (which burn and itch quite badly).

For the report from Haaretz, MK Mohammed Barakeh being pushed by a soldier during a demonstration against the separation fence in the West Bank yesterday

The bulldozer kept working the whole time through. We didn't even manage to stop the works for half an hour.

As we were waiting for the taxis to take us back to the road to Jerusalem, I read a notice from the village 'Popular Resistance Committee'. They were asking all the people working in the construction of the nearby settlement to stop working there. And it is the sad reality that the settlements are being built - at least in part - by Palestinian workers. With the current rate of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza - more than 50 percent - they don't have much choice. While the workers are really in dire situation, other people are making profits. The rumor is that the cement for the Wall is supplied by a company owned by the Palestinian prime minister, Abu 'Alla. I don't know if this is true or not.

The people of Bil'in have been demonstrating almost daily in the last few weeks. They are resolute and will not give up. Their chances to stop the works seem meagre. But they don't have much choice.


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