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Outsmarting the Occupation in Bil’in

Outsmarting the Occupation in Bil’in
by Martinez, 4 May 2007

Beginning the march in Bil'in, Photo by Jonas

For 27 months, villagers from the West Bank village of Bil’in have been non-violently resisting Israel’s Apartheid Wall and land theft. Palestinians have been joined by Israeli and international solidarity activists at Bil’in’s regular Friday demonstrations against the Wall.

Today, activists met outside of the mosque in Bil’in and started their usual march to the Wall. Chants, songs, and slogans were sung as the demonstrators marched through the heat to reach the Apartheid structure.

There were even two members of the Tel Rumedia Circus for Detained Palestinians who showed up to lighten up the atmosphere and try to squeeze some smiles from the otherwise grumpy soldiers.

Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians, Photo by Jonas

The demonstrators made their way three quarters of the way to the Wall without incident. Then, up ahead in the distance, one could make out a hurdle of barbed wire, splitting the path into two sides: one path symbolized non-violent resistance, Ghandi-style; the other path symbolized violence and occupation, police state-style.

Israeli Occupation Forces on the police state side of the barbed wire aimed their guns towards the protesters, whose weapons came in the form of video cameras and peace signs and circus equipment.

In Arabic, Hebrew, and English, demonstrators yelled, “No to the Wall!” and “Don’t shoot!”

After army blocks road, tear gas is fired, Photo by Jonas

As one Palestinian demonstrator began to pull away the barbed wire which was preventing the crowd of reaching the bigger Wall behind it, Israeli forces began to fire tear gas.

Demonstrators rushed into the olive grove, hands and handkerchiefs covering eyes and mouths to prevent the suffocating gas from reaching their corneas and lungs. I myself heard rubber-coated steel bullets whizzing through olive branches. Everywhere you looked projectile tear gas cannisters were either dropping like heavy flies from the sky or screeching through the trees.

The peaceful protesters retreated after 20 minutes but regrouped further up the path. Some quick decision making was made on behalf of the Palestinian organizers and their solidarity colleagues. And soon the crowd bolted down some rugged terrain.

Protestors find alternate route to reach wall, Photo by Jonas

The goal was to reach another side of the Apartheid Wall- to possibly dismantle some parts of it, but at least to reach the Wall and cross it.

On the other side of the Wall, of course, the Israeli settlements of Mod’in Ilit and Mattityahu East are illegally constructed. These colonies, and the Apartheid Wall in this story, have been built on nearly 60% of land that has been confiscated by Israel from the Palestinian village of Bil’in. This is Apartheid at its finest.

So, through the mountain side, about 30 demonstrators, a blend of Palestinian, Israeli, and internationals, quietly hustled on over to another portion of the extensive Wall of Apartheid.

Hiking to the Wall, Photo by Jonas

Luckily, most people had their boots and tennis shoes on because it was a rocky road. The military camera was facing the road on which the demonstrators had marched. It was not facing this covert action against a different portion of the Wall.

Once the hikers regrouped, they placed tires and branches on the barbed wire and were able to make their way across the first wall. At this point, the demonstrators were between Walls. One a wall of barbed wire and the other electrical fencing and barbed wire.

Crossing the barbed wire, Photo by Jonas

Further in the distance, Israeli forces were firing into the remaining demonstrators who stayed behind in the olive grove. Signs in Hebrew at this part of the wall read in Hebrew something like this: “If you come any closer, there is a threat of death.” So, demonstrators cut the wires and flung the posts down the rocky slope.

This small march made its way between walls towards the Occupation forces. Soldiers did not even notice the crowd until they were just meters away. When they were spotted, however, soldiers turned their fire from the olive grove and onto the pack of 30.

Making their way to the desitination, Soldiera unaware, Photo by Jonas

“Don’t shoot!” was screamed in a handful of languages. Soldiers were caught off guard. Their unsynchronized reactions proved this. Soldiers were coming right up to the fence and pointing their guns at the non-violent demonstrators.

Demonstrators stick hands in air, Photo by Jonas

Soldiers could not throw the tear gas over the first wall because it would have tumbled down the mountain so they threw it on the road near the jeeps.

Tear gas at the Wall, Photo by Jonas

It dissipated quickly. Mohammad Khatib from the Popular Committee walked further up the path. A soldier confronted him at a gate in the Wall. Mohammad recounted:

“The soldier was pointing his gun right at me. He was just centimeters from shooting me. I told him we were non-violent and not to shoot. You can arrest us if you want but don’t shoot. I then heard the commanding officer tell the soldier in Hebrew to stand down.”

Soldiers firing over the heads of the protesters, Photo by Jonas

After some negotiating with the soldiers, the Palestinians were able to get the army to agree to let the thirty demonstrators exit through the main part of the wall, without shooting them. This is the location in the Wall where, every week, demonstrators have been trying to reach.

Over the past few weeks, Occupation forces have not allowed the demonstration to reach this gate in the Wall, and have prevented the marchers from doing so by using tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets, just like they were using today.

Two weeks ago, Israeli forces shot Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mariad Macguire in this same way– she was part of the demonstration that was trying to reach the gate in the Apartheid Wall. About 25 peaceful protesters were injured by demonstrators that day.

Two weeks ago, Nobel Peace prize winner shot by Israeli forces, Photo by Jonas

So, it was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. The demonstrators outsmarted the army and crossed the wall. They walked past Israeli soldiers on the right side of the wall, firing into the mountainside. And they walked past soldiers on the left, who were still firing tear gas at the Palestinians in the olive grove.

Demonstrators exit through the destination point, Photo by Jonas

One member of the Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians swirled around her circus poi as she passed the absurdity of the Occupation.

When asked to make an official statement about TRCDP’s role at the demonstration, she said “If we can make one soldier smile at us, it’s a success because that means he is not shooting a Palestinian during that second.”

Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians, Photo by Jonas

* * * * *

Bil’in is a Palestinian village that is struggling to exist. It is fighting to safeguard its land, its olive trees, its resources… its liberty.

While annexing close to 60% of Bil’in land for Israeli settlements and the construction of Israel’s separation wall, the state of Israel is strangling the village. Every day it destroys a bit more creating in an open air prison for Bil’in’s inhabitants.

For more about Bil’in, click HERE