I came back from Hebron to go to the Bil’in demo which happens every week on Fridays. Last Friday a delegation of foreign diplomats from about 8 European countries visited Bil’in and met with the Popular Committee. Apparently they observed the demonstration but I didn’t see them. Some people felt the Israeli soldiers were on their best behaviour because of this. This didn’t stop them arresting 3 Israeli’s, 1 foreign journalist and Harrison from ISM, hitting another journalist in the back of the neck with a rubber bullet and injuring two Gush Shalom peace campaigners from bits flying off sound bombs and stun grenades. It didn’t stop the soldiers gripping their clubs like they were ready to beat the shit out of you but perhaps it did stop them doing it. I’m more scared of the clubs than the rubber bullets. The Israeli activists were arrested for being in a closed military zone and damaging Israeli Defence Force (IDF) property. The military can decide anywhere in the West Bank is a closed military zone and invariably do when there’s a demonstration. At the Bil’in demo’s people often bang the metal rail of the wall/annexation fence with stones which makes a loud ringing tone. This can lead to the accusation of damaging IDF property. It’s so kafkaesque in the context of the damage to the land caused by the fence that looks like an enormous scar across the beautiful landscape and the damage to people caused by the soldiers brutality. After Harrison was arrested he was accused of attacking the soldiers. Again a very common accusation when the Israeli Police or military get their hands, clubs, boots on a Palestinian or international. All were realeased later that day. Harrison signed a paper that means he can’t go near the wall/annexation fence at Bil’in for 15 days.
The villagers processed to the wall/annexation fence carrying a large metal pot, empty of food, with a child in it. This symbolised the hunger Palestinians are experiencing caused both by the annexation fence and the with holding of tax revenue since the election of Hamas. Lack of food and money caused by the annexation of their land which falls on the other side of the wall/fence on which villagers grow olive trees, graze sheep and goats, plant vegetables, gather wild herbs and wood. Lack of work and money caused by the wall/annexation fence being another huge barrier to travelling to work and the transportation of goods and materials from place to place. The wall is a malevolent tool for wrecking what’s left of the Palestinian economy. Baraket told me he has a permit for working in Israel but since the demonstrations started in Bil’in he hasn’t risked using it. This is because it’s very likely that when passing into Israel and showing his permit, a soldier will confiscate his permit as punishment for the protests. His permit lasts till 2009 and he’s thinking it will be better to keep hold of it for possible use in the years to come. At the moment he has work 1 or 2 days a week. Mohammed Khatib and his brothers explained that economic aid is only available for short term projects. There’s even a US Aid project that doesn’t pay wages but just gives people food in return for their labour. No one will fund a self sustaining project that will provide long term jobs. People in Bil’in are living day to day.
The people of Bil’in say they are facing another wall that is causing hunger, the International Community threatening to withdraw aid and allowing Israel to with hold Palestinian taxes. Did you know that Palestinians pay VAT on things they buy in shops in the occupied territories and road taxes to Israel. A percentage of this has to be returned to the Palestinian Authority by international agreement. It’s this money that Israel is refusing to release since the election of Hamas. It’s Palestinian money, paid by Palestinians, in Palestinian occupied territories.
On the moring of the demonstration the Israeli’s closed the gate at the wall/fence which now prevents Palestinian vehicals driving to the outpost. During the demonstration villagers tried to construct a bridge of peace over the closed gate that was seperating the two people, the Palestinians and the Israelis. When Israel builds a wall, Bil’in will build a bridge.
Today is not the first of the rain. Three nights ago it absolutely poured down, Thunder rolled across the countryside, lightening flashed in the window of the hut at the outpost. I kept waking up with a start, thinking the soldiers had come and the flash of light was the hummers headlights. As the rain stopped, Ashraf, Chris and I didn’t realise that the construction of the wall/fence had caused a damning effect, leading to the river in the valley rising and then swooshing over the bridge on the Palestinian road carrying away 2 brothers in their car. One brother was found alive and taken to hospital. The other brother Eyad Taha’s dead body was found entangled in the wire mesh of the wall/fence, half a mile downstream. His body was eventually recovered from the water, his body was carried back the half mile to the ambulance, his arms and hands jutting out from his body.
I need to head back to the Bil’in Outpost now. More later…