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(en) Egyptian Media: Beyond the wall - Something is astir in Bilin -- mass Palestinian demonstrations based on non-violence and Israeli participation.

Date Mon, 18 Jul 2005 07:56:13 +0300


Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established by Graham Usher
Protesters in the West Bank village of Azoon near Qalqilya
scuffle with Israeli soldiers during a demonstration, on 9 July,
against the ongoing construction of Israel's apartheid wall.
This week marked the one-year anniversary of the World
Court's decision that the wall is illegal and should be dismantled
Sheikh Taysir Al-Tammimi, one of the leading Islamic
clerics in the West Bank, gently pulls away the barbed wire
that has been laid before him. He then spreads out his prayer
mat, facing Mecca. A hundred or so Palestinians cross the
imaginary line that once demarcated the coiled border and
kneel behind him. Fifty Israeli soldiers stand and look. As the
prayer ends, two hundred people quietly applaud, some of
them foreign activists from the International Solidarity
Movement (ISM), most of them Israeli Jews, from different
parts of the Israeli peace camp. It is an act of non-violent
protest of almost Gandhian simplicity. For the moment, it
works. Israel's military phalanx, its iron wall, is rendered
politically and morally mute.

We are in Bilin, a minuscule Palestinian village two and a
half miles east of the Green Line. Before the demonstrators --
behind the Israeli soldiers -- is a scar of freshly razed white
earth, the preliminary ruptures for the next section of the West
Bank wall. Behind that is the vast, sprawling settlement
metropolis of Modin Illit, which the wall "defends" by
devouring 600 of Bilin's 1,000 acres of land.

Since February, Bilin's 1,600 residents have mounted 50
demonstrations against the wall. Two principles govern them.
One is non- violence. One day they chain themselves to olive
trees, demonstrating that the wall not only steals their land but
their lifeblood. Another day they give out letters to the troops,
explaining in Hebrew that the struggle is "not against Israel as
a state but against Israel as an occupation".

This week they are commemorating the first anniversary of
the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) ruling on the wall:
that it and the settlements it "effectively annexes" are illegal
under every tenet of international law and must be dismantled.
A mock up "scales of injustice" has been erected on the back
of a truck. On one weight, the lesser one, hangs the world; on
the other, the heavier, hangs Israel. Uncle Sam holds the
balance. It tells much of what you need to know about the
dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The army has not responded in kind. Since the protests
began over 100 Palestinians, Israelis and other have been
injured from teargas, beatings, rubber coated steel bullets and
live ammunition. Dozens have been arrested, including, in
June, two of Bilin's brothers, Abdullah and Rateb Abu Rahme,
allegedly for throwing stones. An Israeli military judge
dismissed the charge after the army's own videotapes showed
it to be spurious. The prayers too were eventually dispersed in
an explosion of tear gas and rubber bullets, leaving 14 injured,
four arrested and an ambulance struck by gunfire.

But the iron fist has not quelled the protests. On the
contrary, they have grown -- which brings us to the second
principle.

All of the demonstrations have been joint actions by
Palestinians and Israelis, backed by the ISM. They march
together, plan together, organise together and in some cases
live together, with Israelis maintaining a vigil in the village to
monitor the army's arrest raids, which usually come the night
after the demonstrations.

Together with like demonstrations in the neighbouring
villages of Budrus and Biddu, Bilin represents the most
concerted joint Palestinian-Israeli protest since the Intifada
began and consigned the two peoples to their ghettos:
ideological in the case of the Israelis, physical in the case of the
Palestinians. This is as significant as the ICJ ruling and the
non-violence, says Israeli peace activist, Adam Keller.

"In many ways the wall is a physical manifestation of what
has happened to the two peoples ideologically. The
demonstrations in Bilin and elsewhere challenge this
segregation. By joining the struggle here Israelis are signalling
they want to integrate, not only with the Palestinians, but with
the region -- which is the ultimate precondition for peace," he
says.

No one would argue (least of all Keller) that the Israelis who
come to Bilin are representative of Israeli opinion. They are its
radical fringes. But as a veteran of the protests of the Lebanese
and the first Intifada he knows that what was once deemed
heretical can become the heritage. "We know these
demonstrations won't become mainstream today, but they can
become the catalyst for the mainstream in the future," says
Shaul Moghrabi-Bergen from Anarchists Against the Wall, the
most active Israeli group in Bilin.

Is a similar catalyst being formed on the Palestinian side,
beyond the confines of Bilin, Budrus and Biddu? The first row
of worshippers behind Al-Tammimi comprised representatives
from all the PLO factions, including (like Keller) veterans from
the Lebanese war and first Intifada. But they were joined by
delegations from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

This is new. For years the Islamists adjured non-violent
protest in favour of the armed struggle. They also refused all
joint activities with Israelis as an implicit recognition of the
"Zionist enemy". Today they are marching alongside the
Anarchists Against the Wall. "We are not against these
demonstrations," says Hassan Youssef, Hamas's West Bank
spokesman. "Hamas, like all the Palestinian people, is giving
Israel a chance."

The chance is based on two considerations. The first is the
only road from ICJ ruling to enforcement is through
international public opinion, including, critically, Israeli
opinion. It is only when the Israeli peace camp as a whole
supports the Palestinian struggle on the bases of international
law that it will shed its implicitly racist notions of demographic
separation in favour of a genuinely anti-colonial sentiment.
The second is that critical breach in Israeli opinion is more
likely to be wrought through non-violent struggle than violent
and uncoordinated resistance. "When we demonstrate
non-violently the world at least is with us. When we resist
violently, it isn't," says Bilin resident Samir Banar, beneath the
skewed scales of injustice.

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