Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bil'in as a model of Palestinian civil disobedience

Bil'in as a model of Palestinian civil disobedience


by Lincoln Z. Shlensky


Jewish Peace News - Sept. 01, 2009


A NY Times article on August 27


discusses Bil'in, a Palestinian village that is a

frequent site of confrontations between protesting

Palestinians and the IDF over the Israel's separation

barrier, which has foreclosed access by villagers to

much of Bil'in's historic farmland and olive groves.

Bil'in has become a model for Palestinian civil

disobedience in the Occupied Territories, attracting a

series of high profile visits from high profile public

figures, such as Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu, but

also from less obvious political players, like Richard

Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, and Jeff Skoll,

founding president of eBay, as well as from a wide

range of international state and grassroots leaders.


In recent months, Bil'in has been the subject of a

series of night raids by IDF forces bent on breaking

the back of the village's protests by arresting the

town's leaders. But villagers have not ceased waging

weekly protests in the village's streets -- and

extending their efforts to remove Israel's separation

barrier by taking the fight into Israeli courts, where

in 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the route of

the barrier "highly prejudicial" to Bil'in (subsequent

Supreme Court rulings, however, have ratified the

building of new Israeli settlements on land confiscated

from Bil'in). Protests in Bil'in have often been

creative: Bil'in's children, for example, participated

in a recent "We Want to Sleep" demonstration captured

on a YouTube video <>.


Bil'in maintains a blog on its Web site, which makes

for highly informative reading <>.

The site, which makes mention of allied political

struggles around the world and asks site visitors to

not forget the plight of Gaza, offers activist

resources and suggestions for supporters who want to

help the village defend itself against Israeli

occupation and ever encroaching land confiscation by

Israeli settlers.


[Jewish Peace News (JPN) is an information service that

circulates news clippings, analyses, editorial

commentary, and action alerts concerning the Israel /

Palestine conflict. We work to promote a just

resolution to the conflict; we believe that the cause

of both peace and justice will be served when Israel

ends the occupation, withdrawing completely from the

Palestinian territories and finding a solution to the

Palestinian refugee crisis within the framework of

international law.]




In Village, Palestinians See Model for Their Cause


By Ethan Bronner


New York Times -- August 27, 2009


BILIN, West Bank - Every Friday for the past four and a

half years, several hundred demonstrators - Palestinian

villagers, foreign volunteers and Israeli activists -

have walked in unison to the Israeli barrier separating

this tiny village from the burgeoning settlement of

Modiin Illit, part of which is built on the village's

land. One hundred feet away, Israeli soldiers watch and wait.


The protesters chant and shout and, inevitably, a few

throw stones. Then just as inevitably, the soldiers

open fire with tear gas and water jets, lately

including a putrid oil-based liquid that makes the

entire area stink.


It is one of the longest-running and best organized

protest operations in the history of the Israeli-

Palestinian conflict, and it has turned this once

anonymous farming village into a symbol of Palestinian

civil disobedience, a model that many supporters of the

Palestinian cause would like to see spread and prosper.


For that reason, a group of famous left-leaning elder

statesmen, including former President Jimmy Carter -

who caused controversy by suggesting that the Israeli

occupation of the West Bank amounted to apartheid -

came to Bilin on Thursday and told the local organizers

how much they admired their work and why it was vital

to keep it going.


The retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also on

the visit, said, "Just as a simple man named Gandhi led

the successful nonviolent struggle in India and simple

people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led

the struggle for civil rights in the United States,

simple people here in Bilin are leading a nonviolent

struggle that will bring them their freedom."


Mr. Tutu, a South African Nobel Peace Prize winner,

spoke on rocky soil, surrounded by the remains of tear

gas canisters and in front of coils of barbed wire,

part of the barrier that Israel began building in 2002

across the West Bank as a violent Palestinian uprising

was under way. Israel said its main purpose was to stop

suicide bombers from crossing into Israel, but the

route of the barrier - a mix of fencing, guard towers

and concrete wall - dug deep into the West Bank in

places, and Palestinian anger over the barrier is as

much about lost land as about lost freedom.


Bilin lost half its land to the settlement of Modiin

Illit and the barrier and took its complaint to

Israel's highest court. Two years ago, the court handed

it an unusual victory. It ordered the settlement to

stop building its new neighborhood and ordered the

Israeli military to move the route of the barrier back

toward Israel, thereby returning about half the lost

land to the village.


"The villagers danced in the street," recalled Emily

Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer who worked on the case for

the village. "Unfortunately, it has been two years

since the decision, and the wall has not moved."


The village is back in court trying, so far in vain, to

get the orders put into effect.


Ms. Schaeffer was explaining the case to the visitors,

who go by the name The Elders. The group was founded

two years ago by former President Nelson Mandela of

South Africa and is paid for by donors, including

Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, and Jeff

Skoll, founding president of eBay. Its goal is to

"support peace building, help address major causes of

human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity."


Both Mr. Branson and Mr. Skoll were on the visit to

Bilin, as were Mary Robinson, the former president of

Ireland; Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister

of Norway; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president

of Brazil; and Ela Bhatt, an Indian advocate for the

poor and women's rights. Their visit to Israel and the

Palestinian territories has also included meetings with

young Israelis and young Palestinians.


Mr. Cardoso said that he had long heard about the

conflict but that seeing it on the ground had made a

lasting impression on him. The barrier, he said, serves

to imprison the Palestinians.


Like every element of the conflict here, there is no

agreement over the nature of what goes on here every

Friday. Palestinians hail the protest as nonviolent,

and it was cited recently by the Palestinian president,

Mahmoud Abbas, as a key step forward in the struggle

for a Palestinian state. Recently, one of the leaders

here, Mohammed Khatib, set up a committee of a dozen

villages to share his strategies.


But the Israelis complain that, along with protests at

the nearby village of Nilin, things are more violent

here than the Palestinians and their supporters acknowledge.


"Rioters hurl rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning

tires at defense forces and the security fence," the

military said in a statement when asked why it had

taken to arresting village leaders in the middle of the

night. "Since the beginning of 2008, about 170 members

of the defense forces have been injured in these

villages," it added, including three soldiers who were

so badly hurt they could no longer serve in the army.

It also said that at Bilin itself, some $60,000 worth

of damage had been done to the barrier in the past year

and a half.


Abdullah Abu Rahma, a village teacher and one of the

organizers of the weekly protests, said he was amazed

at the military's assertions as well as at its

continuing arrests and imprisonment of village leaders.


"They want to destroy our movement because it is

nonviolent," he said. He added that some villagers

might have tried, out of frustration, to cut through

the fence since the court had ordered it moved and

nothing had happened. But that is not the essence of

the popular movement that he has helped lead.


"We need our land," he told his visitors. "It is how we

make our living. Our message to the world is that this

wall is destroying our lives, and the occupation wants

to kill our struggle."


[A version of this article appeared in print on August

28, 2009, on page A8 of the New York edition.]




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