Every Friday since 2005, Palestinian protesters rally in the West Bank town of Bil’in against the barrier erected by the Israeli government that effectively cuts off Palestinians there from their agricultural land.
Last Friday, the fifth anniversary of the Bil’in demonstrations, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and former Prime Minister Nabil Shaath joined 1,000 marchers from the West Bank, Israel and abroad.
The protests concern the 420-mile barrier, which Israel began constructing in 2002 — partitioning the West Bank from the rest of the country. About 10 percent of the barrier is 25-foot tall concrete sections, and the other 90 percent is mostly electronic fencing.
Israel claims the barrier is necessary to protect its citizens from Palestinian terrorism, while Palestinians call it an illegal land grab.
In the town of Bil’in, the wall has split apart the olive grove landholdings of villagers.
But this year, the Israeli military has begun to move part of the wall near the town, in compliance with a 2007 Israeli Supreme Court decision. However, local villagers claim the new route will only return one-third of their land.
Heather Sharp reported for the BBC from Bil’in:
Some of the remainder [of the land] had previously been designated Israeli state land and allocated for the expansion of a Jewish settlement. Mahmoud Samarra, 64, says he will get only a tiny fraction of his 93 dunums (23 acres) of land back. He points over the hill beyond the coils of barbed wire and the towering mesh of the fence. “It was like paradise,” he says, describing how he planted olive trees with his children and watched them grow over 17 years.
The protests continue, buoyed by the decision of the Supreme Court. Bil’in residents want to maintain media attention on their situation, even as another weekly protest in nearby Ni’in — which sprung up in 2008 — competes for the spotlight.
A joint Palestinian-Israeli activist organization, The Alternative Information Center, quoted Mohammed Khatib, one of the protest leaders:
The Israeli court had already ruled two years ago that the Wall here should be rerouted, but it is our struggle, not their court, that forces the Army to implement this decision now.
The International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that the Wall should be dismantled in its entirety, and not just partially like the Israeli court had ordered. Today the demonstrators made an important step towards the implementation of this decision.
The protests often turn violent. Israel blames demonstrators who throw rocks at its soldiers, and Palestinians point to the belligerence of the Israeli army toward the protesters — including night-time raids on the houses of suspected participants.
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich explains why the protests deteriorate into violence:
Those rocks they’re throwing can kill people…damage costing hundreds of thousands of shekels has been done to the fence and 77 Israeli soldiers have been injured in the past two years.
They go to the fence and tear it down, then we have no choice but to show up and defend the fence. And then they start throwing rocks.
Mepeace.org describes the violence from the Palestinian perspective:
Over its five years of protest, Bil’in has seen a sharp increase in violence and repression, with regular night raids targeting protest organizers, thousands injured by riot-dispersal equipment alongside real bullets, and the death of a Palestinian man last year after a tear-gas canister was shot at him from a high-velocity gun. Basem Ibrahim Abu Rahmeh was 29 years old when he was killed.