Jennifer Urgilez | MIFTAH
15 July 2009
The systematic arrest of Bil’in activists begins with the covert intrusion of Israeli soldiers into Bil’in at the stroke of midnight. From the west, soldiers cross the Separation Wall in military vehicles concealed under a blanket of darkness, each entering one by one in 10 minute intervals dropping off soldiers on the eastern side of the barrier. Five to 30 soldiers, depending on the size of the military vehicle, jump off and immediately transition into combat-mode, laying close to the ground, managing to maneuver across the land on their elbows, while signaling the army car to recede back into isolation within two to three minutes of ensuring no opposition in sight.
From here, the soldiers clandestinely begin their operation towards the village in silence, veiled by the obscurity of night. They slowly proceed without flashlights, some wearing military camouflage paint while others, black masks. The soldiers circumvent the most direct route into the heart of Bil’in, executing their mission through neglected back roads and fields, keeping a careful eye on the lookout for Palestinians, ready to drop and hide. Often, the activists stand on their rooftops, attempting to catch the soldiers in the act and forewarning each other of the troops’ coming. Upon receiving word, Abdullah Abu Rahmah and other activists immediately get in their cars and pursue the predators only to find no evidence of their nearing. Raids usually comprised of approximately 100 soldiers divided into groups of 20-30 men, each encircling the home of an accused stone-thrower at varying hours of the night, are ideal for operations in highly volatile regions, but not to detain a 16-year-old child taking part in a peaceful resistance movement.
Witnessing the injustices endured by the villagers of Bil’in as detonated tear gas bombs adorn the eastern side of the wall relates the oppression of occupation under which Palestinians are subjected. Even while its backdrop tells its tale, it was not until my interview of Abdullah Abu Rahmah, a local Bil’in villager and organizing member of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, that this story of their subjugation to Israeli raids and arrests became known.
Cognizant of Israel’s tightening grip over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, largely as a response to the Aqsa Intifada, the villagers of Bil’in have shunned away from armed struggle, and instead, banded in uniform as a peaceful, nonviolent resistance to the Separation Wall. Setting the ground for the annexation of 49% of Bil’in territory into Israel, the Separation Wall, far from the 1949 Armistice Line, snakes well into the West Bank isolating 1,968 of Bil’in’s 4,040 dunums, or 486 of its 998 acres of land. The inception of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall in January of 2005 afforded activists ripe ground for the genesis of peaceful, Friday demonstrations reminiscent of Women in Black’s non-violent vigils in Israel demanding the “end of the occupation.” Emblematic of the overall catastrophe befallen Palestinians, activists from all walks of life—Palestinian, Israeli, and international—unite in the struggle against economic strangulation, occupation, and apartheid.
From resisting the uprooting of olive trees for the construction of the wall, to blockading the bulldozers from gaining entrance to Bil’in roads, to building a small edifice in the midst of dusk between the Modi’in Illit settlement bloc and the Separation Wall to secure access to their lands, the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall refuses to allow the Israeli military to tiptoe around UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the International Court of Justice July 2004 ruling declaring Israel’s Separation Wall and Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank in breach of international humanitarian law. Fighting the occupation two-dimensionally, through legal contestments and nonviolent public activism, the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall has monitored and challenged the construction of the barrier every step of the way, cornering the government of Israel in its own courtroom.
In his judgment of September 4, 2007, President D. Beinisch of the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the government of Israel must implement an alternative route of the separation barrier on Bil’in land relinquishing both agricultural land in the Dolev riverbed and terrain seized for future development of the eastern region of the Mattityahu settlement. Irrespective of the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decree, the Israeli government has not rerouted the barrier, rather finalized its erection, depicting the already-suspected disconnect between the Israeli government’s judicial and military branches. Inferring from President Beinisch’s judgment and Israeli military operations, settlement growth, and not security motives, lay at the heart of Israeli expansionist policy.
Despite the brokering of the Oslo Accords in 1993 partitioning the West Bank into three distinct security enclaves—Area A under absolute Palestinian Authority (PA) control, Area B under PA civil control and Israeli security control, and Area C under complete Israeli military control—as Mr. Abu Rahmah denotes, “Nothing is Area A, everything is Area C.” Commencing on June 23, 2009, the Israeli military initiated its most recent string of raids into the village of Bil’in in spite of its Area A demarcations.
In the past three weeks, 15 youth activists have been detained—13 Palestinians, one Israeli, and one American—and scores injured at Friday’s peaceful demonstration with sound bombs, tear gas canisters, rubber-coated bullets, and a foul-smelling chemical spray, a clear use of excessive force against unarmed protesters. Hence, regardless of the detainee’s culpability, an entire military unit is not needed to arrest one individual. Judging from their actions, the Israeli military’s goal is psychological warfare—the brewing of helplessness and terror among Bil’in’s 1,800 residents aimed at freezing the resistance. Surrounding the house, destroying everything in their path, and even confiscating the detainee’s mobile phone at 3:00am can certainly break Palestinian morale. Luma, Mr. Abu Rahmah’s seven-year-old daughter, depicts the constant panic in which these children live. As of late, Luma awakes in the middle of the night, sometimes in screams and tears, calling out for her father. Luma’s sleepless nights are illustrative of the emotional and psychological despair of children in conflict.
Moreover, in their attempts to dismantle the movement, the Israeli military specifically targets the youth. For example, on June 23 and 25 of 2009, four children were detained ranging from 16-17 years of age, who during interrogation were forced to release the names of peace activists and information related to the movement’s organizing body. In response, the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, recognizing that the children do not have “experience” in these types of matters, gathered all the youths and with the assistance of a lawyer, “trained” the children on how to act during an Israeli interrogation, and further instructed them not to answer any questions—“I don’t want to speak. I have rights.”
If the systematic arrest and injuring of activists is the military’s methodological plan to demolish the movement, it fails to understand the struggle’s resilience—“If they want to arrest us all, they can. But our wives and children will continue the struggle,” admits Abdullah Abu Rahmah. On April 19, 2009, Bassem Abu Rahmah, a peaceful demonstrator, was shot in the chest with a tear gas bomb during one of Bil’in’s nonviolent, Friday protests. Thus, if neither the murder of Abu Rahmah, Abdullah’s extended family member, nor the 1,300 injuries and 60 arrests endured by activists has broken their spirits, virtually nothing can affect them now. As Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi pursued satyagraha—nonviolence—in his quest for Indian independence, the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall too employs this philosophy in the pursuit of achieving Palestinian sovereignty and absolute freedom from Israeli occupation.
The picture is clear: concessions to Israeli “democratic” values and security modus operandi deprive Palestinians of their inalienable human rights. Our common humanity generates a moral duty to uphold the United Nations’ explicit benchmark for an occupying power’s conduct in its occupied territories. Despite big brother’s backing in the Security Council, Israel is not absolved of its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War—the Separation Wall and settlement activity in the West Bank indeed constitute war crimes. The international community needs to stop playing big-power politics and start dodging the aura of taboo accompanying espousal of the Palestinian plight—accountability is a must and exoneration, pure blasphemy.