West Bank Villagers Fight for Promised Land

BI'LIN, The West Bank - Some 1,700 Palestinians in the West Bank village of Bi'lin have been promised land, but so far it has not been delivered.The Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the government Sep. 4 to re-route the controversial separation barrier built by Israel in the West Bank that divides Bi'lin from 60 percent of its agricultural land. The judges ruled that the current wall placement is "highly prejudicial" to the village residents, and not necessary for "security-military reasons."

But the Israeli Defence Force has not yet acted on these orders. The defence ministry announced in a statement last year it would "study the ruling and respect it." Israel's high court said a mile-long portion of the Bi'lin wall must be altered in a "reasonable period of time."

"If they want to destroy my home, they give us only 24 hours," Abdullah Abu Rahma, coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall told IPS. "But about the wall, they take months and years, maybe."

Until they do deliver, about a hundred Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists will continue to protest every Friday in Bi'lin against the wall that cuts through what even Israel's highest court calls Palestinian land. The demonstrators have been protesting weekly since January 2005 when bulldozers arrived to construct the barrier in the farming community located near Ramallah.

Israel started building the 425-mile wall in 2002. The mostly chain-linked fence is purportedly designed to prevent Palestinian suicide attackers from entering Israel.

The court victory for Bi'lin last year means the villagers should get back at least 250 acres, about half of the seized land. But the Israeli supreme court ruled a day later on Sep. 5 to legalise the Israeli settlement of Mattiyahu East, located on former Bi'lin land and home to about 700-1,000 Israelis. The back-to-back rulings mean the contentious settlement will remain in place but won't be expanded as planned.

Rahma told IPS the protests will continue until the "Annexation Wall" and the settlement are torn down.

So every Friday, the activists come to a portion of the fence and demand justice. Rahma described the struggle as "non-violent" even though the demonstrations typically lead to confrontation with Israeli soldiers.

"We need this land without blood, without shooting, without killing, but soldiers use violence and have injured many people," said the activist. In turn, protesters often throw stones at Israeli soldiers over the barbed wire section of the fence. Others try to tear down the fence or gate.

A 19-year-old resident of Bil'in, who protests against the wall every week and wanted his name withheld, described the tactics of the Israeli military in an IPS report filed Aug. 13 last year by Nora Barrows-Friedman. "When we come, the soldiers stop us and they use the gas, sound bombs and the rubber bullets. They use many kinds of weapons to stop the people, and the gas makes the people here very sick. There are many health problems now. And the (Israeli) settlers have shot us and beat us when we try to go to our land on the other side of the wall."

Elan Shalif, who has been to nearly all of the weekly protests too, told IPS the Israeli military does not use live ammunition because Israelis like him join in the protests.

"The Jew is regarded as a holy creature," said the 71-year-old anarchist from Jerusalem. "So they can't shoot Palestinians when we are among them, because it may endanger some holy Jew."

Just because the bullets are rubber coated, doesn't mean they can't do damage.

Ten protesters and seven journalists were injured by Israeli troops Mar. 28. Documentary journalist Emad Bornot was shot and his camera destroyed by Israeli rubber-coated bullets Mar. 21. He claims he has been injured more than 15 times and has had five cameras destroyed documenting the struggle each week since its inception.

While working for the Reuters news agency as a freelance photographer, he was arrested by the Israeli military because, they said, he was filming with one hand and throwing rocks with the other. The military court agreed and sent him to jail for 20 days. He spent another 40 days under house arrest.

"They don't want the media, the cameras, the journalists to be here," Bornot told IPS. "Without cameras, they can do anything. They can shoot. They can arrest. But with cameras, there is a big problem for them."

Activist Rahma, a teacher, lives in Bi'lin. "When I sit in my home and I look from my window to the wall, I feel very bad about the future of my children, because I don't have land to build a home for them," Rahma told IPS in the front lawn of the house nicknamed International House because of the foreign supporters who rally there before the weekly protest. "I dream to achieve peace for my daughters to go everywhere without a problem, without a checkpoint, without a wall."

Shalif called the Israeli wall a "waste of material", and said it would eventually be torn down.

"They (the Zionists) are losing power. They are losing and losing and losing. At the end, they'll have to give in," he said. "By coming every week, every week, it's to persist in the struggle. We are not giving away."

Rahma told IPS he wants to tell the world that Palestinians love peace.

"We don't love blood. We are not terrorists. We are not against the Israelis. We are not against the Jewish. We are against the occupation. We need our land to live and to live in peace. We are thinking about our children about to have a country about to have a good life."

Israel plans to construct nearly 2,000 new apartments in Jewish settlements this year in the West Bank.

(c) 2008 Inter Press Service

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