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Help us stop Israel’s wall peacefully

International Herald Tribune

BILIN, West Bank: While the international media has been focusing on Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, in my village of Bilin, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, we are living an equally important but overlooked story. Though Israeli forces plan to withdraw from Gaza, they are simultaneously expanding their West Bank settlements. On our village’s land, Israel is building one new settlement and expanding five others. These settlements will form a city called Modiin Illit, with tens of thousands of settlers, many times the number to be evacuated from Gaza. These settlements consume most of our area’s water. Throughout the West Bank, settlement and wall construction, arrests, killing and occupation continue.

One year ago, the International Court of Justice handed down an advisory ruling that Israel’s construction of a wall on Palestinian land violated international law. Today, Palestinians in villages like ours are struggling to implement the court’s decision and stop construction using nonviolence, but the world has done little to support us.

Bilin is being strangled by Israel’s wall. Though our village sits two and a half miles east of the Green Line, Israel is taking roughly 60 percent of our 1,000 acres of land in order to annex the six settlements and build the wall around them. This land is also money to us – we work it. Bilin’s 1,600 residents depend on farming and harvesting our olives for our livelihood. The wall will turn Bilin into an open-air prison, like Gaza.

After Israeli courts refused our appeals to prevent wall construction, we, along with Israelis and people from around the world, began peacefully protesting the confiscation of our land. We chose to resist non-violently because we are peace-loving people who are victims of occupation. We have opened our homes to the Israelis who have joined us. They have become our partners in struggle. Together we send a strong message – that we can coexist in peace and security. We welcome anyone who comes to us as a guest and who works for peace and justice for both peoples, but we will resist anyone who comes as an occupier.

We have held more than 50 peaceful demonstrations since February. We learned from the experience and advice of villages like Budrus and Biddu, which resisted the wall nonviolently. Palestinians from other areas now call people from Bilin “Palestinian Gandhis.”

Our demonstrations aim to stop the bulldozers destroying our land, and to send a message about the wall’s impact. We’ve chained ourselves to olive trees that were being bulldozed for the wall to show that taking trees’ lives takes the village’s life. We’ve distributed letters asking the soldiers to think before they shoot at us, explaining that we are not against the Israeli people, but against the building of the wall on our land. We refuse to be strangled by the wall in silence. In a famous Palestinian short story, “Men in the Sun,” Palestinian workers suffocate inside a tanker truck. Upon discovering them, the driver screams, “Why didn’t you bang on the sides of the tank?” We are banging – we are screaming.

In the face of our peaceful resistance, Israeli soldiers attack our peaceful protests with teargas, clubs, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition, and have injured over 100 villagers. They invade the village at night, entering homes, pulling families out and arresting people. At a peaceful protest on June 17, soldiers arrested the brothers Abdullah and Rateb Abu Rahme, two village leaders. Soldiers testified that Rateb was throwing stones. An Israeli military judge recently ordered Rateb’s release because videotapes showed the soldiers’ claims were false.

The Palestinian people have implemented a cease-fire and have sent a message of peace through our newly elected leadership. But a year after the international court’s decision, wall building on Palestinian land continues. Behind the smoke screen of the Gaza withdrawal, the real story is Israel’s attempt to take control of the West Bank by building the illegal wall and settlements that threaten to destroy dozens of villages like Bilin and any hope for peace.

Bilin is banging, Bilin is screaming. Please stand with us so that we can achieve our freedom by peaceful means.

(Mohammed Khatib is a leading member of Bilin’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and the secretary of its village council.)

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