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(en) Palestine-Israel, Bil'in 8/7/05 +, Alt. Media, another take, The Onions Were Needed - protesting in Bil'in and Tel-Aviv

Date Mon, 11 Jul 2005 15:02:00 +0300


The army knew we were coming - which is not surprising,
since the people of Bil'in had been demonstrating every Friday
for the past several months, and Israeli activists are every week
coming to join them. Moreover, for today - the anniversary of
the ruling by the International Court in the Hague (which
Sharon is violating with impunity) a particularly intensive
mobilizing effort was made by various Israeli groups, a lot of
phone calls were made and email messages sent out, and also
the weekly Gush Shalom ad in Ha'aretz contained a call upon
supporters to come to Bil'in.

An armoured jeep was parked across the road, and in front of
it were five soldiers and an officer. Quite sufficient to block any
vehicle - but we have left our bus inconspicuously parked near
the giant settlement of Kiryat Sefer (whose constant expansion
is the main cause of Bil'in's plight) and continued on foot,
easily by-passing the blockading soldiers. The lieutenant could
be clearly heard, speaking into his communicator: "Too many
people, sir, we could do nothing"...

Up the ridge, through a bramble-filled field, and down the
other side under the July sun. The young anarchists who carry
out the anti-war struggle, week in and week out, were today
joined by other Israelis as well as by visiting members of a
Dutch squatter community, with much experience of tangling
with the Amsterdam police.

From the hilltop we could see the jeep speeding along the
narrow track, to get ahead of us and cut off our descent.
Soldiers, shouting "Closed military zone, advance no further!"
tried to detain random member of the group. They were met
with calls of "I'm an Israeli citizen, you soldiers have no right
to arrest me! Only a policeman can do that!".

This legal distinction was made decades ago, mainly to
benefit the settlers. The lieutenant had to let us proceed, a look
of anger and frustration on his face.

At the main square of Bil'in, there were already hundreds of
villagers gathered. The Jerusalem contingent - including many
Arab Israeli students from the Hebrew University on Mount
Scopus - was already there, having also successfully avoided
the army patrols. The well-known Tel-Avivian artist David
Reeb walked around, busily taking in the scene on his video
camera.

Bil'in organizer Rateb Abu Rahma, for whose release from
detention we had recently conducted a widespread campaign,
had ominous news: "Yesterday, Abdulla [Rateb's brother, also
just released from detention] was suddenly summoned to a
meeting with a Shabak operative. He threatened that if we
continue our struggle, the same will happen here as at Bidu".
In Bidu, as everyone on the West Bank knows, the army had
killed five anti-wall demonstrators some months ago.

"We are not alone. We have you from Israel with us, and the
internationals, and all the Palestinians - the leadership and the
people on the ground." Rateb had in his hand the new
resolution of the National Committee Against the Apartheid
Wall: "The heroic village of Bil'in so far conducted forty-five
demonstrations of protest against the ongoing theft of their
land (...) The International Community must take firm steps to
make Sharon submit to International Law and the ruling of the
International Court, which declared the Wall illegal".

Muhammad Elias (Abu Elias) of the committee, whom we
knew from previous meetings, introduced the many VIPs who
came to Bil'in to walk in the front row of today's procession.
There were legislators, former and present ministers, a
presidential candidate, senior officials of various civic groups -
representing the entire Palestinian political spectrum, from the
ruling Fatah party to the Islamic opposition and the smaller
groupings in between, both those with a decades-long history
in the PLO and those which sprung up during recent struggles.

The event provided also a rare opportunity to talk with such a
person as Sheik Hassan Yusuf, accounted the senior Hamas
leader on the West Bank. As he speaks only Arabic, Fares
Kadura, former Palestinian Authority Minister for Prisoner
Affairs, volunteered to act as interpreter.

(...) "We are glad of this chance to meet and talk, Sheik
Yusuf. In our view, a strong and lasting peace needs to include
the Palestinians who support Hamas, as it needs to include the
Israelis who support Likud".

"At this moment, the entire Palestinian people is willing to
give Israel a chance - all Palestinians including Hamas. But
Sharon does not want it, he just wants our land. He intends to
get out of Gaza just in order to increase the land grab on the
West Bank. What is going on here in Bil'in is a good
example." "We completely agree about Sharon and his
intentions. But the Israelis who vote for him, the grassroots
Likud supporters, don't really care about the West Bank.
Today most of them accept Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza. If
tomorrow another PM would withdraw from the West Bank,
they will likely accept that, too." "Insh'allah!" (The last world,
meaning "let that be Allah's will" needed no translation, as it
had long since passed into colloquial Hebrew).

The march started. The creative Bil'in villagers, who on
previous occasions came up with such innovative props as
cages, barrels and mock tombstones, had made something
new for today: the enormous "Scales of Injustice", carried at
the front of the procession, in which the ball wrapped with an
Israeli flag heavily outweighed the entire terrestrial globe - with
the balance held, as in the actual diplomatic arena, by Uncle
Sam.

It was not far to go at all, marching among the village houses,
with small children waving from windows and balconies, and
out into the fields and olive groves scarred with months of the
bulldozers' work. A clear indication of how little would be left
of Bil'in's land once the Wall goes up. There, as on every
Friday, the soldiers were waiting.

The local commander had evidently set the scene with some
care. A roll of barbed wire blocked the road. Just behind it, a
wooden notice board had been set up: "Under my authority as
military commander in Judea and Samaria, I hereby declare
the area delineated in the enclosed map a closed military
zone,entry into which is forbidden except by special permit..."
A considerable distance behind the barbed wire and the notice
board stood the soldiers - a compact mass with conspicuous
helmets and guns and plastic shields.

It was the great moment of Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, head of
the Muslim Courts in the Palestinian Territories - owing
allegiance to Abu Mazen's Fatah Party. With perfect aplomb,
wearing his resplendent robes of office, he moved aside the
barbed wire, gracefully entered the forbidden zone, spread out
a beautiful prayer rug, kneeled in the direction of Mecca and
began praying. Hundreds of others followed suit, with villagers
making do with carton placards to protect their knees and
foreheads from the hot asphalt. The army's notice board, with
its stern prohibition, was overturned, to also become an
improvised prayer mat.

Non-Muslim demonstrators stayed respectfully back. Over
the scene, the beautiful voice of a cantor virtually sang the
Muslim credo, every word clearly enunciated - a solemn
moment, also for those who feel little attraction to religion in
general or Islam in particular. Even the soldiers on the other
side seemed to feel it, staying quiet and stock-still during the
entire prayer.

With the end of the religious part and the departure of many
dignitaries, the lead was taken by more secularist Palestinian
intellectuals and students, among whom Israelis and
internationals freely mingled. The chanting constantly shifted
between Arabic, Hebrew and English: "Listen Sharon, hear the
proof - here we stand, we shall not move!", "The wall must fall
- the wall will fall!" "No justice - no peace!", "No no
occupation - yes yes liberation!", "Soldiers - whom are you
guarding?", "Soldier, it's no use - you can just refuse!". The
soldiers responded with occasional warnings of the "closed
military zone".

Suddenly, a stone thrown from somewhere behind hit - not a
soldier, but the back of the one of the demonstrators.
Hundreds whirled around, shouting in three languages "No
stones! No stones!". The stone-thrower, whoever he was, was
nowhere to be seen. The demonstrators then turned back to
the front for another round of chanting.

"We talked with the military commander" said an organizer,
"We promised that soon we will move back quietly towards the
village houses, and the soldiers will go the opposite way." For a
moment, it seemed that for once a Friday protest at Bil'in
would end without a violent confrontation. And then - just as a
BBC reporter asked us for our evaluation of the about-finished
action - the barrage began.

It was very heavy, even for Bil'in standards. Usually, one can
try to outrun the tear gas canisters and get to a patch of clear
air. This time the explosions were everywhere and the white
clouds sprouted all around - front and back, left and right.
Everywhere, people were coughing and cursing and reaching
for the slices of onion which we had prepared in advance as the
antidote.

To many of us the army's attack seemed competently
unprovoked. Later, some people who were at the front rows
told that somebody did provide the soldiers with a pretext -
though their "reaction" was certainly overenthusiastic.

Individuals and small groups reached the relative shelter of
the first village houses. And then, some village youths started
back by roundabout routes, crouching behind any bit of cover,
carrying stones, some armed with slings. The soldiers started
shooting - no way of knowing if they were using live
ammunition or "rubber" bullets (which at short range can also
be lethal). Red Crescent ambulances went screeching, with
sirens blazing, carrying more and more wounded - one in
critical condition - to the hospital in Ramallah. It was no longer
a demonstration, but a pitched battle.

Israeli radio, completely ignoring the earlier stages, reported
"an outbreak of heavy rioting at Bil'in" and "the throwing of a
molotov cocktail at soldiers". "That's a lie, our boys used
nothing but stones" protested a village organizer. "It is the
army's own concussion grenades which started the fire".
Whatever the cause, a whole row of olive trees had caught fire
and burned down, one more disaster for the family whose
livelihood they were.

And just as things were at last settling down at Bil'in,
horrifying news came from the village of Beit Likia, a few
kilometres to the south-east. There - where no large-scale
demonstration took place and there weren't any Israelis,
internationals or distinguished Palestinians - a fifteen year old
boy, Mahayoub Aasi, had just been shot to death, very near the
spot where two of his cousins were killed a few weeks ago. Beit
Likia is where the army has its car-park where the Wall
bulldozers are kept during nights and weekend - a spot of fatal
attraction to the local young...

***

Saturday evening outside the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv,
the dreary site of so many protests over the past three decades.
Across the street from the locked gate of the occupation army's
nerve center, more than a hundred activists have gathered in
short order at the call of Ta'ayush, Gush Shalom and the
Anarchists, as well as the students and lecturers of "The
Campus is Not Silent" at Tel-Aviv University. More and more
people continue to arrive every moment.

"Murderers, murderers - out of the territories!" rises the
chant out of the ragged picket line. "An easy hand on the
trigger" say the placards, and "A Palestinians child has a
mother, too" and "Stop the killing, stop the occupation" and
"This Wall is killing us all". A lone TV crew, from the Channel
10 News, takes footage which would be briefly broadcast later
in the evening. (News editors at the other networks were not
interested.)

Suddenly an activist comes on the scene, directly back from
the funeral in Beit Likia, with a bundle of newly-printed
Palestinian posters: the face of Mahayoub Aasi (looking far
younger than fifteen) on a background composed of the Wall
and of Jerusalem's the Al-Aqusa Mosque. They are
distributed, to be held aloft by Israeli demonstrators on this
Tel-Aviv street.

"After the funeral, Beit Likia villagers went to the spot where
the boy was killed. The army opened fire again" the activist
said. "A twelve-year old, the main witness to what happened
yesterday, was hit in the head by a rubber bullet and taken to
the hospital. And one of the wounded Bil'in demonstrators is
to undergo urgent brain surgery at Mukasad Hospital, to stop
the internal bleeding. He might not last the night".

Demonstrators again take up the chant of "Murderers!
Assassins!". Across the street, the lone uniformed guard at the
ministry gate goes into his hut, closing the door behind him.

Meanwhile, the 18-year old Saul Berger - who recently got his
call-up order for August 15, when he will refuse to enlist and
presumably go to military prison - is circulating among the
demonstrators with yet another emergency brewing up: "The
bulldozers started working at the land of villages around the
settlement of Immanuel, far more north. The people urgently
ask for our help. Who can go there tomorrow morning?"

The struggle continues.



For information on the ongoing anti-wall protests contact:

Yonatan Pollak + 972-(0)54-6327736, <cat@squat.net>
Photos of the Tel-Aviv protest at w w w . g u s h . s h
a l o m - o r g [remove the spaces]

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