Bil’in Commemorates Land Day
All over the West Bank today, non-violent demonstrations were enacted against Israel’s Apartheid Wall and Israel’s theft of Palestinian land.
Today was the 31st anniversary of “Land Day,” a day when Palestinians commemorate the killing of six Palestinians in the Galilee in 1976. Israeli troops killed these non-violent demonstrators during peaceful protests over the confiscation of Palestinian lands.
Land Day’s encompass the Palestinian struggle against foreign occupation, self-determination, and national liberation. Today’s theme additionally focused on Israel’s Apartheid Wall and the denial of freedom of movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Simultaneously, non-violent and direct actions were taken against Israel’s current system of Apartheid. Palestinians were joined by Israeli and international solidarity activists in the villages of Bil’in, Umm Salamuna, Budrus, and Qaffin, among other places.
In Bil’in, the non-violent demonstrations have endured for well over two years now. Israel’s Apartheid Wall has stolen around 60% of Bil’in agricultural land. Still, Palestinians in Bil’in march every Friday against this obstruction and blatant barrier to peace. With their numbers usually in the hundreds, the demonstrators continue to march to the Wall, where Israeli army routinely responds to the non-violent demonstrators with tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets.
Today, on the commemoration of Land Day, things weren’t very different.
About 150 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals gathered outside of the mosque in Bil’in. Posters were plastered to the walls bearing the message of Land Day.
Half way through the march to the Wall, separating the Palestinians from their land, one could spot Israeli soldiers hiding out under olive trees, lounging out in the backyards of Palestinians, waiting for the chance to intervene with the demonstration.
When I arrived to the gate in the Wall, a soldier was holding up a piece of paper and was speaking in Hebrew. Presumably this was their “Closed Military Zone” order. Palestinian and international press were already on the hill beside the gate. As the rest of the march showed up, slogans were thrown, “No to the Wall. No to Occupation.”
On the other side of the wall, an Israeli police water tank waited to shoot its high-powered hose at the demonstrators. They have used this in the past. Though I have never felt it, others have said that the chemicals the police put in the water make it “feel as if your skin is peeling off when it hits you.”
Demonstrators, demanding to get to their land on the other side of the Wall, began trying to dismantle the barbed wire that the army placed on the inside of the Wall. The police tank then began shooting its hose towards the demonstrators. They fired the hose a few times before the soldiers eventually crossed the barbed wire and into the non-violent crowd.
With their shields and helmets and guns as protection, some soldiers started to push at the demonstrators. Against the soldiers’ armor, some rocks were thrown by some of the Palestinian boys. In response, the army started to throw sound grenades from over the fence in the direction of the demonstration.
The army then crossed the demonstrators who had gathered at the gate and began to fire rubber bullets towards the direction of the rock throwers. The marchers who were still working on getting to the gate began to retreat from the firing, and back toward the village.
This left the demonstration in two parts—a “divide and conquer” tactic I think.
Soldiers tried to arrest one Palestinian protestor but the crowd around him “de-arrested” him by locking extremities. Several Palestinians were forced to the ground with Israeli shields. Some sound grenades were thrown in intervals. Off in the distance you could hear the army shooting rubber bullets at the crowd who had retreated.
Slogans and chants were made towards the army. After about an hour, the demonstration came to an end and people began heading back to the village. Memory told me that the army would continue to fire sound grenades and tear gas as the peaceful demonstrators were retreating. And today was no different.
As the Israeli soldiers were coming back from firing at other section of the demonstration near the village, they crossed us and began to fire tear gas. Three or four Palestinian boys were slinging rocks from the bottom of the hill towards the armed Israeli soldiers at the top, and the boys began their new targets.
But every few meters you would hear a canister hit the ground and see the smoke rise from it. Nearer to the village, I could see a water tank on a Palestinian’s rooftop which had been hit with presumably live ammunition.
Land Day in Bil’in ended with no arrests and minor injuries.