The remnants of Palestinian civil society, brutalized by the occupation and ongoing encirclement by the apartheid wall, is now reeling under the shock of the sudden removal of all US and EU aid. Their crime? To have voted in free and fair elections for a movement, Hamas, which Bush and Blair argue is ‘terrorist’.
Bank transfers to the Palestinian Authority (PA) have been blocked by the US. Slowly but surely the PA is being starved of the funds needed to maintain basic services and infrastructure. The civil workforce have not been paid for two months and hospitals are desperately short of vital medicines. Jack Straw argued that aid to the PA had to be cut because Hamas refuses to recognise Israel or renounce the right to resist the occupation. Yet the UK is an enthusiastic backer of the Israel whose new Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said “I believe with all my heart in the people of Israel’s eternal historic right to the entire land of Israel.” – meaning a racially-exclusive state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. Hamas’s claim to the same territory, with roots in living memory rather than biblical mythology is treated as terrorist rhetoric and attracts crippling sanctions from the West. Are we about to do to Palestine what was done in Iraq during the nineties?
Annual UK arms sales to Israel have doubled over the last year to £25m, and since 2000 the UK has sold £70m worth of arms to Israel, including tanks, helicopters, mines, rockets, machine guns, tear-gas, leg irons, components for fighter jets and surface-to-surface missiles. Over the last 30 years Israel has been by far the largest recipient of US foreign aid.
This sanctions regime is being conducted against an occupied people on behalf of an occupying power. While the West demands that Hamas renounce violence, the low intensity war against the civilian population in Palestine continues. In the months of April and May, over 40 Palestinians have been killed by the army – most of them civilians, at least eight of them children – with the most perfunctory coverage in the western press. Aggressive expansion of settlements together with the building of settler-only roads continues. Israel maintains a stranglehold over the Palestinian economy, meaning that the PA is totally dependent on external sources of funding.
The icon of this oppressive regime is the building of the apartheid wall – some 730km of concrete and steel which will annex huge swathes of Palestinian land and turn towns and villages into gated mini-prisons. If completed it will allow Israel to control all significant movement within the West Bank, allowing further degradation of daily life in the Occupied Territories. A bitter fight to resist this symbol of repression has been growing over the past few months, as SchNEWS’s correspondent in the village of Bil’Iin, near Ramallah, reports…
“Bil’In is a small village close to Ramallah six kilometres inside the Green Line (the 1967 ceasefire line). For over eighteen months the villagers of Bil’In have been resisting attempts by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) to build a section of the apartheid wall on village lands.
At a demonstration on Friday 12th May, 300 Palestinians, international and Israelis converged at the gate of the wall, the villagers non-violent protest was met by a hail of plastic-coated steel bullets fired at close range. Two international activists were hospitalised with head injuries (one needing treatment for a brain hemorrhage) and dozens of Palestinians were also shot and injured.
As in other villages, the Israeli government argues that the route of the wall in Bil’in was determined purely for security reasons. However, a visit to Bil’In shows that the work is aimed at the annexation of the villages’ ancient olive groves in order to allow expansion of the illegal ‘Israeli-Jewish’ settlements of Mattiyahu East and Mod’In Illit. The annexation will directly benefit the Israeli real estate developers ‘Green Park’ and ‘Heftsiba’
.The villagers of Bil’In have gained large-scale support from Palestinian, Israeli and activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in their struggle against the construction. Since February 2005 villagers have staged hundreds of demonstrations at the route of the wall. The village has become a symbol of Palestinian non-violent resistance and the demos have become a regular feature in the Israeli press.
Israel has built an incomplete barrier separating the villagers of Bil’In from their olive groves. In 2005 the villagers built an ‘outpost’ on their own land, imitating the Israeli settler tactic of claiming Palestinian land through building illegal outposts, close to the settlement of Mod’In Illit. The outpost is constantly manned by Palestinian and international activists and has become a point where villagers can meet and discuss resistance to the construction.
The villagers hold a demonstration at the gate to their lands every Friday. On one such demo in April, villagers’ protests centred around the boycott of apartheid Israel. Protesters burned Israeli products in front of border police in riot gear, before breaking down the gate in the wall and trying to access their land. The demonstrators were met with with batons, tear gas and rubber bullets.
Mohammed Khatib, a member of the Bil’In Popular Committee Against the Wall, said… ‘in the face of our non-violent resistance, Israeli soldiers have attacked our peaceful protests with teargas, clubs, rubber-coated steel bullets and other ammunition. They have injured over 400 villagers, they invade the village at night, entering homes, pulling families out and arresting people.’
The IOF have repeatedly arrested youths from the village in attempts to intimidate those taking part in resistance, often demanding large sums of money in bail. In April two children were arrested while herding goats.The two boys picked up one of the pieces of scrap metal that litter the fields next to the construction site. One of the settlers noticed and called the police, accusing them of theft. The police arrested the pair and later made additional charges of entering Israel illegally and throwing stones at a recent demonstration. The boys’ release was secured by the ISM for 5000 NIS (Israeli shekels) each.
Despite IOF repression, the resistance raises the spirits of the people of Bil’In in the face of the brutal Israeli occupation. Tom Hayes, a volunteer in Bil’In with the ISM, an organisation aimed at supporting Palestinian non-violent resistance, said that, ‘the atmosphere in Bil’In is one of hope – the villagers respond to Israel’s apartheid policies with increased resistance and are confident that they will win their fight.’
Similar widespread resistance in the nearby villages of Budrus and Biddu, where other sections of the wall have been built, has lead to Israeli Supreme Court decisions limiting the amount of land which the IOF can annex behind the wall. The villagers of Bil’In are hoping to draw international pressure and media attention to influence the court’s decision.
The villagers of Bil’In have issued three petitions against the wall to the Supreme Court. The most recent, filed on May 14th, states that the route of the wall is specifically designed to benefit real estate companies and should be removed. Supreme Court Judge Salim Jubran ordered the state to respond to the villagers’ request for a temporary injunction within seven days.
The ISM has worked in Bil’In for over a year and is committed to supporting the villagers’ struggle. Contact www.palsolidarity.org to join us in Palestine.”
- www.brightonpalestine.org – blog of ISM activist working in Palestine
- www.palestinecampaign.org – Palestine Solidarity Campaign
- www.ism-london.org.uk – ISM London
- www.stopthewall.org – Palestinian anti Apartheid Wall Campaign
- May 20th – Demonstrate for Palestine, March and Rally, assemble 12 noon, Embankment, London
- May 24th – Introduction to ISM – Wednesday 24th May 7.30pm @ The Bread And Roses Pub, Clapham
- May 27-28th – ISM Training Weekend – @ The Square, 21 Russell Sq, London, WC1.
- May 30th – International Work in Palestine, discussion, 6.30pm, Cowley Club, 12 London Rd, Brighton