Every Friday, after noon prayers, the people of Bilin prepare to peacefully demonstrate against the Israeli theft of their land. Israel insists it has the right to take over 50 per cent of the land to build a security barrier. But anyone who been to this beautiful village, nestled in the hills of occupied Palestine, realises that Israel’s main interest isn’t security. It’s stolen the land to expand illegal settlements.
Israeli bulldozers have been working every day for more than two years, tearing into the landscape on either side of its 15-foot high, razor wire barricade. One small gate is there for the farmers to tend their land on the other side, but it’s rarely open, and the villagers have watched their olive and fruit trees die for lack of attention. Israel calls this illegal structure built on Palestinian property ‘a fence.’ However, it’s a prison wall, complete with sensors, and signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English, saying ‘Mortal Danger —Military Zone, any person who passes or damages this fence, ENDANGERS HIS LIFE.”
The villagers petitioned the courts, saying that the land had been stolen from them. But Israeli courts move slowly when Palestinians ask for justice. So, in 2005, they decided to organise the Popular Committee Against the Wall, and they would protest every Friday after prayers. They put out a call to Israeli and International peacekeepers to come and protest with them. Every week, hundreds now appear to bear witness, standing alongside the Palestinians in support.
The large number of Israelis now participating considerably embarrasses the Israeli government, who often orders the village locked down the night before, blaring through loud speakers that no one can enter or leave. They have declared a military curfew. Of course, the minute an occupation force declares that people aren’t allowed in or out, peace activists figure out another way to get to this embattled village.
As the word has spread, and the village has become more inventive at creatively designing a focus for each protest, dozens of media people from all over the world have begun to cover the story of the brave little village that non-violently responds to Israeli aggression.
Mohammed El Khatib, the creative force, generates a new theme every week. One week, the Israeli military decided it would try out a new “sound” machine, a big, white truck that looked like a commercial icebox. They backed it up to face the protestors who were lying on the ground, cardboard tombstones placed above their heads. When the military turned it on, the shriek was deafening, and many writhed in pain, holding their ears and heads.
At the next week’s demonstration, everyone stuck cotton in their ears and marched to the wall with copies of the painting, “THE SCREAM’ by Edvard Munch. The machine, which cost millions of dollars, didn’t work, and the villagers won a small victory, since it’s never reappeared.
Each new theme drives the Israeli military crazy… a huge snake consuming Palestine attached to a car… a wall constructed of razor wire, clothes stuffed to resemble dead Palestinians hanging from it… a long pipe rolled to the site, where people sat in it, handcuffed to each other until they had to be cut out… a house made out of cardboard that they built in front of the soldiers, then demolished… a bright yellow paper bulldozer with Sharon’s face appearing over the cabin. (www.palsolidarity.org/main/category/bilin/)
At the last demonstration I attended in September, 2005, the military not only locked the village down the night before, but they tear gassed the mosque after noon prayers, screaming into the village in jeeps and paddy wagons, terrifying the small children who had come out to watch us march to the wall.
We took to the roofs and pounded out our own music on the pipes and ductwork, a clarion call across the landscape that Bilin wouldn’t be defeated. Two huge banners were lowered from the rooftop, one with a bird flying through prison bars, the other a painting of the wall with a fist through it, holding an olive branch. “You can’t break our spirit, you can’t stop our dreams.” And “Our dreams can’t be imprisoned.”
As they began rounding up activists, the rest of us slipped behind them and began to march to the barrier. Dozens of border policemen in riot gear, backed by another 25 to 50 soldiers stood in front of the gate. Peacekeepers face these heavily armed soldiers with posters, flags, our backpacks and sandals, little protection against their force, for they often attack, hoping to wound us enough so we wouldn’t come back. We have been tear gassed, sound bombed, and beaten. Yet we return. Always. It’s only a matter of time before this wall is removed. The Berlin Wall fell, so will this one.
Greta Berlin is a peace activist and member of International Solidarity Movement for Palestine.