Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, April 2010
The Fifth Bil'in International Conference on Popular Resistance
By Eileen Fleming
Al-Jazeerah, ccun.org, April 26, 2010
The Wall/Fence in Bil'in: 2005-2010 eileen fleming
“They're building a wall. A wall to keep distant the terrible sound of the houses that crumble and the children that die. A wall to keep separate the truth from the lie."-Dave Rovics, “They’re Building a Wall”
The fifth Bil'in International Conference “on popular resistance to network and strategize in support to end the Israeli occupation and free Palestine” concluded on Friday, April 23rd with five demonstrators arrested and one Israeli activist taking a direct hit into the forehead which fractured his skull after Israeli soldiers shot him with a tear gas projectile.
The conference began on April 21 with all Palestinian political factions represented and speakers included politicians, leaders of Popular Committees, Israeli activists, and international solidarity activists.
Due to a mainstream media blackout on the five-year struggle in Bil’in, most Americans are unaware of the thousands of nonviolent Palestinians and growing legions of Israeli and International activists who have been waging a nonviolent campaign of resistance to the construction of the route of Israel's Wall in the Occupied Territories and to end the occupation of Palestine.
Farmers, mothers, children and activists have been braving teargas, beatings, bullets, arrest, and even death to rise up against the route of The Wall/Fence and most well equipped army in the world, with nothing more than their own bodies and the innate persistent determination within all people for justice and freedom.
In 2004 the International Court of Justice ruled that The Wall is a violation of International Law because it cuts through the West Bank appropriating Palestinian land and destroying Palestinian villages and economy in order to establish more illegal settlements.
The Wall/Fence in Bil'in and the Israeli army prohibit the indigenous people to tend and harvest their olive groves. Over 2,003 dunums of prime agricultural land have been confiscated by The Electric Fence. The Israelis have built apartments for Jewish only settlers, which the indigenous people are forbidden to even enter.
In Bil’in, the Green Line is five miles from The Wall/Fence and the Popular Committee in Bil’in has been fighting the Israeli government and forces with legal actions and nonviolent demonstrations.
The Israeli government attempts to justify their land theft by returning to the Ottoman Law that states if the landowner doesn't tend his land it can be confiscated by the State. The Israeli army and The Electric Fence have prevented the indigenous people from accessing their legally owned land, thus depriving them of food, income and human rights.
After the indigenous people of Bil’in brought their case to the Israeli Municipal Court and the High Court; both courts agreed the building of the settlement dwellings was indeed illegal and ordered the construction to cease in January 2006. Construction continued and the settlers have moved in.
The High Court accepted these 'facts on the ground' but the indigenous people and all who believe in equal human rights and international law will never give up seeking justice and resisting the route of the wall/fence. In many West Bank villages, the indigenous people are being joined by growing numbers of locals, Israelis and internationals and many have been injured, arrested and yet return for more-except those who have been imprisoned, incapacitated or killed by Israeli forces.
My first visit to Bil’in was in January 2006.I met many locals and a few internationals and Israelis who had created their own facts on the ground with an outpost where they held the ground 24/7. They slept for weeks at a time inside the 10x10 brick house on sleeping bags on a dirt floor, a few hundred yards from where a settlement of 700 upscale apartments was being erected for Jewish only settlers upon legally owned Palestinian property.
Bil'in Outpost, January 2006:
The indigenous people of Bil'in brought their case against the settlement to the Municipal Court and that Court agreed the building of the settlement dwellings was illegal and ordered construction to cease. But, building continued and the day I was there, a half dozen USA made Caterpillar tractors were moving earth for the anticipated paved road that only Jewish colonists- most of them from the USA-will be allowed to travel upon. In 2006, Eyad, a landowner and a leader of The Popular Committee in Bil’in explained to me, "A few weeks ago we brought in a caravan [trailer] on our land close to where the settlers apartments are being built. While we were inside the Israeli Force’s sawed the door open and pulled us out and roughed us up. "So, we brought in another caravan and during the night we built a concrete brick building within four hours. All day and all night people stay here to resist the wall and occupation. People come and go; they are from all over the world. They support our non-violently resisting the wall that is clearly stealing our land. This electric wall and the IDF are not allowing us onto our land to care for our olive trees. They confiscated our land and impose military law upon us and claim we are trespassing on our legally owned land." Abdullah, Coordinator of Against The Wall in Bil’in informed me that there were 1,600 people who call home Bil’in and legally own 4,000 dunums of property. The Israeli government confiscated 2,003 dunums of agricultural land and is building apartments that Palestinians are forbidden to approach.
A twenty-year-old activist from New York said, "We are fighting an important struggle. If America would only learn the truth about what is happening here, they would stop their blind support of the Israeli government that denies people basic human rights."
It was after the outpost was demolished that the Friday afternoon ritual marches to The Wall/Fence began after prayers at the mosque, and all the people chant slogans such as:
"The wall will fall in Bilin; the wall will fall like in Berlin."
I was inspired to go to Bil'in, after attending a power point lecture in Gainesville, Florida given by a Palestinian and Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli member of Anarchists Against the Wall/AAtW. Pollak was also a keynote speaker at the 5th International conference in Bil’in, but in November 2006, I heard Pollak say:
"I was six years old at my first demonstration and active on my own at thirteen. I am 23 now. When they started to build the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank I would go a few times a week and watch them deceive the world. The Israeli government successfully marketed the Apartheid Wall as a security barrier. But it is all about segregation, separation and ethnic cleansing.
"Civilian uprising and non-violent activism is not like the Gandhi movie. It’s not carrying posters and saying we don’t like your wall, go away. We stand in front of Caterpillar’s knowing we will be shot and arrested. I was shot five times in the last two years by rubber bullets, which are 1/2-inch steel bullets covered with plastic. I have been shot in the head and the more experience I have the scarier it is. One learns to recognize the ritual of it all: when the IOF will begin using the Billy clubs, when the tear gas will come, when the bullets will come.
“We are not a dialogue group, we are an Israeli organization and we are not colonial liberators. All the strategy is done by Palestinians, we are with them seeking justice and giving support. There is no price to high to pay for freedom, equality and universal rights. Without justice there can be no peace.
"Negotiations alone will not secure freedom for the Palestinian people. During the negotiations of the so-called Oslo Peace Process from 1993-2000, Israel simply imposed its will on the Palestinians, using its overwhelming military and economic power, and US support. During seven years of supposed peace, Palestinians saw 200,000 new Israeli settlers arrive in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the same number of settlers that had arrived there in the previous 26 years.
"However, the recent grassroots struggle against Israel's Wall has demonstrated that it may be possible to counter Israel's overwhelming power, and its exploitation of negotiations, through nonviolent resistance. The Wall, is just one blatant Israeli attempt to impose its will, and has become a focus for civilian resistance.
"Although Israel marketed the Wall as a security barrier, logic suggests such a barrier would be as short and straight as possible. Instead, it snakes deep inside the West Bank, resulting in a route that is twice as long as the Green Line, the internationally recognized border. Israel chose the Wall's path in order to dispossess Palestinians of the maximum land and water, to preserve as many Israeli settlements as possible, and to unilaterally determine a border.
"In order to build the Wall Israel is uprooting tens of thousands of ancient olive trees that for many Palestinians are also the last resource to provide food for their children.
"The Palestinian aspiration for an independent state is also threatened by the Wall, as it isolates villages from their mother cities and divides the West Bank into disconnected cantons [Bantustans/ghettos]. The Israeli human rights organization B`Tselem conservatively estimates that 500,000 Palestinians are negatively impacted by the Wall.
"Faced with a history of suffering, Palestinians have no alternative but to struggle. The only question is how? Killing diminishes our humanity, and Israel's occupation, which has killed thousands of Palestinians, shouldn't be our teacher. It is time for both sides to refuse killing.
"Though Palestinians have employed nonviolence since 1929, they have seen little evidence that it will help them to achieve freedom. In 2003-2004, the West Bank village of Budrus decided to set an example for how nonviolence can defeat the Wall.
"All the people of Budrus mobilized, and were joined by Israeli and international activists. In 55 nonviolent marches, Israeli soldiers injured more than 300 people, arrested 33 and killed one, as the villagers, with their bodies alone, attempted to stop the destruction of their land. Faced with Budrus` determined protests, the Israeli government eventually moved the Wall to the Green Line. The village saved 300 acres of its land and 3000 olive trees. Children, women and old people were among the heroes of Budrus` nonviolent struggle.
"Throughout the West Bank, nine protesters were killed in marches against the Wall, thousands were injured and hundreds arrested. Hundreds of civilian protests throughout the West Bank are the reason the world learned of the injustice of the Wall. As a direct result, the International Court of Justice at the Hague ruled in 2004 that Israel's construction of the Wall violated international law.
"The village of Budrus and the International Court of Justice ruling represent victories for nonviolent resistance. Another success of the joint struggle was the connection forged between Palestinians and the Israelis who joined them in their resistance. This connection, stronger than anything that ideas could create, was unwittingly forged by the Israeli army, through their beatings, the joint arrests and the bullets. Joining Palestinians in nonviolent struggle has allowed some Israelis to voice very clearly that the struggle against occupation and for freedom is not a Palestinian struggle alone, but is their struggle as well.
"We believe that, as with Apartheid South Africa, Americans have a vital role to play in ending Israeli occupation - by speaking out, coming to Palestine as witnesses, or standing with Palestinians in nonviolent resistance.
"We are confident that Israeli occupation will one day be defeated, as were other US government supported repressive regimes - Apartheid South Africa, Pinochet`s Chile and racial segregation in the United States. There is no price too great to pay for freedom, and nothing will deter us from achieving this goal."
On one of my four trips to Bil'in, after chanting a while in front of the soldiers, Jonathan was the first down the steep rocky hill and over a metal railing to grab the roll of razor sharp barbed wire that is in front of the electrified fence in order to shake it. He was immediately joined by a few dozen locals and other AAtW, who were swiftly greeted by the first of dozens of sound bombs-thick orange plastic grenades that hit the ground with a deafening blast.
I was half way down the hill when a teenager next to me threw a rock at a soldier and I know that action alone can get one killed or arrested, so I headed back up the hill before the tear gas assaulted the crowd at the barbwire. By the time I made it up the hill the first of hundreds of rubber bullets were being shot into the crowd. Only two internationals were hit and other than a few Palestinian adolescents and young boys throwing rocks all remained nonviolent. I was told that because of the large International presence no live ammo was fired; although the week before a Frenchman took a bullet in the arm while standing next to a group of children. He was back at the Friday ritual with a cast and sling on.
Another who was wounded and continues to return is Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Maried Corrigan-Maguire.
On June 6, 2008, Israeli Forces assaulted Maried Corrigan-Maguire with tear gas during the Friday afternoon ritual she attended after speaking at Bil'in's third annual international conference supporting nonviolent protests against the wall and military occupation of the West Bank agricultural village.
At the conclusion of the second annual Bil'in conference, on April 21st, 2007, Mairead Maguire, was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet by Israeli Forces an hour after a press conference where she stated:
"Thanks to the media here for telling the truth…Bring this truth to whatever country you come from. Non-violence will solve the problems here in Israel and Palestine. Often, the world sees only violence. But Palestinians are a good people, working towards non-violence. This Wall must fall! It is an insult to the human family and to the world– that we are building Apartheid Walls in the 21st Century! More than forty years of Occupation and Land Appropriation."
Máiread didn’t make it to Bil’in this year as planned due to the volcanic ash closed down Tel Aviv Airport, and instead wrote:
“Your Palestinian Popular Nonviolent Resistance movement is so important because You are asserting to the Israeli Government and the World that Palestinians, like all human beings, are entitled to dignity and freedom, freedom of Movement, Freedom of expression, and access to work, health care and education.Your Peoples’ movement is touching the hearts of many people around the world, who are increasingly coming to recognize the truth, that the Palestinian people have been deprived from all of these things for decades by dispossession and Israeli military occupation.
“Increasing numbers of world citizens are beginning to support and work for your call for the immediate ending of Israeli occupation, full implementation of humanitarian and International Law, and the Right of the Palestinian People to self-determination. They are also supporting your call for the immediate removal of military check points in the West Bank, ending of settlements, house demolitions, as well as the separation wall, and for the lifting of the unacceptable and inhuman siege of the Gaza strip. Your call to support the BDS campaign to end occupation and Apartheid (as it did in South Africa) is gaining momentum with Citizens, international Bodies, and Governments and they are increasingly beginning to ‘break the silence’ and call upon Israel to implement justice and peace for the Palestinians.
“I thank you for your great spirit of nonviolent love in action, and encourage you to keep Hope alive and keep on building Palestinian Unity – united the Palestinian people will succeed. Believe passionately in peace and justice and it will come out of the seeds of nonviolence and sacrifice you, and your families, are making on behalf of us all, the Human Family. Salaam, Shalom, Peace,Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate. 2l April 2010. www.peacepeople.com
Mairead previously said:
"Hope for the future depends on each of us taking nonviolence into our hearts and minds and developing new and imaginative structures which are nonviolent and life-giving for all. Some people will argue that this is too idealistic. I believe it is very realistic. I am convinced that humanity is fast evolving to this higher consciousness. For those who say it cannot be done, let us remember that humanity learned to abolish slavery. Our task now is no less than the abolition of violence and war.
"While Governments can make a difference, in the final analysis it is the individual – that is each one of us – that will bring the dream of a nonviolent world to reality. We, the people must think and act non-violently. We must not get stuck in the past as to do so will destroy the imagination and creativity.
"To change our world we need a spiritual and a political evolution. The political steps are often very obvious: uphold Human rights, and International Laws, demand our Governments meet their obligations under these Laws, support and reform United Nations, etc., However, all the legislation, resolutions, and fine talk will be of no use, if we do not as men and women evolve and become transformed, so that we, the human family, achieve a more enlightened and humane way of living together, and solving conflicts.
“We can rejoice and celebrate today because we are living in a miraculous time. Everything is changing and everything is possible.”
“They're building a wall. And at such a cost. Land, money and safety. And all the lives lost. A wall made of brick but bricks can be broken, when the people of Zion have finally awoken! And said no more walls, no more refugees. No more keeping people upon their knees. And before apartheid was ended they were building a wall."-David Rovics.
Only in Solidarity do "we have it in our power to begin the world again."-Tom Paine
Eileen Fleming, Founder of WeAreWideAwake.org A Feature Correspondent for Arabisto.com Author of "Keep Hope Alive" and "Memoirs of a Nice Irish American 'Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory" Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu" http://www.youtube.com/user/eileenfleming
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