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Bil’in and Ni’lin demonstrate in the face of closed military zone orders

International Solidarity Movement

19 March 2010

The smell of tear gas hung over the villages of Ni’lin and Bil’in today. The shouts demanded an end to apartheid and access to farmlands. The odd and surreal status quo was maintained this Friday. The attempts to squash the nonviolent popular resistance have been in vain. Like the rocky, Palestinian landscape, dotted with olive trees, this resistance is fertile. As these olive trees have been uprooted or burned, the state of Israel has attempted to sow these popular demonstrations with salt. It has been to no avail.

Last week’s orders posted in Bil’in and Ni’lin declaring the villages closed military zones for all of Friday had no effect on the demonstrators or village-life in general. Butchers displayed their wares, children laughed and kicked their footballs about and the cries for freedom echoed off the walls. The midnight raids did nothing to deter the groundswell of the popular struggle.

The West Bank village of Bil’in is located 12 kilometers west of Ramallah and 4 km east of the Green Line. It is an agricultural village, around 4,000 dunams (988 acres) in size, and populated by approximately 1,800 residents.

Starting in the early 1980’s, and more significantly in 1991, approximately 56% of Bil’in’s agricultural land was declared ‘State Land’ for the construction of the settlement bloc, Modi’in Illit. Modi’in Illit holds the largest settler population of any settlement bloc, with over 42,000 residents and plans to achieve a population of 150,000 by 2020.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Wall in its entirety is illegal under international law, particularly under International Humanitarian Law. The Court went on to rule that Israel’s settlements are illegal under the same laws, noting that the Wall’s route is intimately connected to the settlements adjacent to the Green Line, further annexing 16% of the West Bank to Israel.

• Despite the advisory opinion, early in 2005, Israel began constructing the separation Wall on Bil’in’s land, cutting the village in half in order to place Modi’in Illit and its future growth on the “Israeli side” of the Wall.

• In March 2005, Bil’in residents began to organize almost daily direct actions and demonstrations against the theft of their lands. Gaining the attention of the international community with their creativity and perseverance, Bil’in has become a symbol for popular resistance. Almost five years later, Bil’in continues to have weekly Friday protests.

• Bil’in has held annual conferences on popular resistance since 2006, providing a forum for activists, intellectuals, and leaders to discuss strategies for the non-violent struggle against the Occupation.

• Israeli forces have used sound and shock grenades, water cannons, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas grenades, tear gas canisters and 0.22 caliber live ammunition against protesters.

• On 17 April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahma was shot with a high-velocity tear gas projectile in the chest by Israeli forces and subsequently died from his wounds at a Ramallah hospital.

• Out of the 75 residents who have been arrested in connection to demonstrations against the Wall, 27 were arrested since the beginning of a night raid campaign on 23 June 2009. Israeli armed forces have been regularly invading homes and forcefully searching for demonstration participants, targeting the leaders of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, as well as teenage boys accused of throwing stones at the Wall. Seventeen currently remain in detention, 10 of which are minors.

• To date, 75 residents have been arrested in connection with demonstrations against the Wall.

• In addition to its grassroots movement, Bil’in turned to the courts in the fall of 2005. In September 2007, 2 years after they initiated legal proceedings, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that due to illegal construction in part of Modi’in Illit, unfinished housing could not be completed and that the route of the Wall be moved several hundred meters west, returning 25% of Bil’in’s lands to the village. To date, the high court ruling has not been implemented and settlement construction continues.

• In July 2008, Bil’in commenced legal proceedings before the Superior Court of Quebec against Green Park International Inc and Green Mount International Inc for their involvement in constructing, marketing and selling residential units in the Mattityahu East section of Modi’in Illit.

Israel began construction of the Wall on Ni’lin’s land in 2004, but stopped after an injunction order issued by the Israeli Supreme Court (ISC). Despite the previous order and a 2004 ruling from the International Court of Justice declaring the Wall illegal, construction of the Wall began again in May 2008. Following the return of Israeli bulldozers to their lands, residents of Ni’lin have launched a grassroots campaign to protest the massive land theft, including demonstrations and direct actions.

The original route of the Wall, which Israel began constructing in 2004, was ruled illegal by the ISC, as was a second, marginally less obtrusive proposed route. The most recent path, now completed, still cuts deep into Ni’lin’s land. The Wall has been built to include plans, not yet approved by the Army’s planning authority, for a cemetery and an industrial zone for the illegal settlement Modi’in Ilit.

Since the Wall was built to annex more land to the nearby settlements rather than in a militarily strategic manner, demonstrators have been able to repeatedly dismantle parts of the electronic fence and razor-wire surrounding it. Consequently, the army has erected a 15-25 feet tall concrete wall, in addition to the electronic fence. The section of the Wall in Ni’lin is the only part of the route where a concrete wall has been erected in response to civilian, unarmed protest.

As a result of the Wall construction, Ni’lin has lost 3,920 dunams, roughly 30% of its remaining lands. Originally, Ni’lin consisted of 15,898 dunams (3928 acres). Post 1948, Ni’lin was left with 14,794 dunams (3656 acres). After the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the illegal settlements and infrastructure of Modi’in Ilit, Mattityahu and Hashmonaim were built on village lands, and Ni’lin lost another 1,973 dunams. With the completion of the Wall, Ni’lin has a remaining 8911 dunams (2201 acres), 56% of it’s original size.

Ni’lin is effectively split into 2 parts (upper and lower) by Road 446, which was built directly through the village. According to the publicized plan of the Israeli government, a tunnel will be built under road 446 to connect the upper and lower parts of Ni’lin, allowing Israel to turn Road 446 into a segregated-setter only road. Subsequently, access for Palestinian vehicles to this road and to the main entrances of upper and lower Ni’lin will be closed. Additionally, since the tunnel will be the only entryway to Ni’lin, Israel will have control over the movement of Palestinian residents.

Israel commonly uses tear-gas projectiles, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition against demonstrators.

Since May, 2008, five of Ni’lin’s residents were killed and one American solidarity activist was critically injured from Israeli fire during grassroots demonstrations in Ni’lin.

* 5 June 2009: Yousef Akil Srour (36) was shot in the chest with 0.22 caliber live ammunition and pronounced dead upon arrival at a Ramallah hospital (http://palsolidarity.org/2009/06/7023).

* 13 March 2009: Tristan Anderson (37), an American citizen, was shot in the head with a high velocity tear gas projectile. He is currently at Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv with uncertain prospects for his recovery (http://palsolidarity.org/2009/03/5324).

* 28 December 2008: Mohammed Khawaje (20) was shot in the head with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition. He died in a Ramallah hospital 3 days later on 31 December 2008 (http://palsolidarity.org/2008/12/3742).

* 28 December 2008: Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22) was shot in the back with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition and pronounced dead upon arrival at a Ramallah hospital (http://palsolidarity.org/2008/12/3714).

* 30 July 2008: Yousef Amira (17) was shot in the head with two rubber coated steel bullets. He died in a Ramallah hospital 5 days later on 4 August 2008 (http://palsolidarity.org/2008/08/3346).

* 29 July 2008: Ahmed Mousa (10) was shot in the forehead with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition and pronounced dead upon arrival at a Ramallah hospital (http://palsolidarity.org/2008/07/3329).

In total, 20 people have been killed during demonstrations against the Wall (http://palsolidarity.org/2009/06/7647).

Israeli armed forces have shot 40 demonstrators with live ammunition in Ni’lin. Of them, 11 were shot with 5.56mm caliber live ammunition and 29 were shot with 0.22 caliber live ammunition.

Since May 2008, 112 arrests of Ni’lin residents have been made in relation to anti-Wall protest in the village. The protesters arrested by the army constitute roughly 9% of the village’s male residents aged between 12 and 55. The arrests are part of a broad politically motivated Israeli campaign to suppress grassroots resistance to the Occupation.