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Where’s the restraint in Bil’in?

By Haaretz Editorial

After proving their sensitivity and intelligence in dispersing the demonstrations in Gush Katif, the Israel Defense Forces and police could have been expected to apply the same policy in handling the demonstrators against the separation fence in the village of Bil’in.

The IDF and police did not fire at the protesters on the roof in Kfar Darom, even when the latter threw dangerous substances at them, and they refrained from using force even against violent protesters. Similarly, it could have been hoped that the soldiers would hold their fire when facing left-wing and Palestinian protesters.

Instead, outrageous images are published week after week of soldiers kicking left-wing demonstrators and firing salt or rubber-coated bullets – showing their general contempt for the right to legitimate protest.

Three different judges have recently castigated the defense forces for the excessive use of force in Bil’in. Despite this, they once again fired at the demonstrators, this time – last Friday – even before they had left the village area toward the fence.

The demonstrations of the West Bank villagers, whose lands have been confiscated for the construction of the separation fence, have been taking place for the past two years. Together with the petitions to the High Court of Justice, they are a legitimate and sometimes effective means of protest against the annexation of land intended to expand settlements, under the pretense of building the fence. The lands taken from the residents of Bil’in, some of which are privately owned, are mostly intended to expand existing settlements, but also to build a new settlement called Nahlat Heftziba.

Expropriating more than half the village’s lands for nonsecurity purposes arouses unnecessary anger, and it is doubtful whether such measures are necessary or wise. The flexible building plans of the settlements are in dispute. In Bil’in’s case, it is doubtful whether there are even confirmed plans.

Demonstrations that took place in other villages have been effective in getting the fence line moved closer to the Green Line. In Bil’in, the residents still hope their protest will reduce the scope of the disaster.

The demonstrations in Bil’in and the adjacent villages have become the Palestinians’ main protest against the continued expansion of the settlements, and they are even dubbed the “fence intifada.” If the authorities are thinking of putting an end to these demonstrations forcibly, and taking protesters into preventive detention, they should also consider the alternative. There is a fear that the legitimate and very restricted “fence intifada” will lead to the eruption of another armed intifada.

The separation fence is a means to stop terror, but all the sides know that its line marks, to a large extent, the future border between Israel and the Palestinian state. The attempt to annex more territories, to build more settlements and to arouse more hatred among those whose land is confiscated is superfluous.

The most obvious lesson from the dismantling of the Gaza settlements is that they should never have been set up in the first place. One day’s settlement success became another day’s political and security millstone. The injustice imposed on Bil’in residents could still be fixed. But, in any case, the village’s legitimate right to protest must not be tampered with.