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IW 06

Middle East

PALESTINE

The Struggle of the people of Bil'in

Haggai Katriel, the author of this article,was beaten and arrested in one of the demonstrations in Bil`in during September 2005 and his trial was oppened at Jerusalem last week under the false accusation of attacking a “public servant”. From the beginning of the Intifada a great number of Jewish activists, including members of the CRFI in Palestine, were prosecuted under fake charges. We call to a solidarity campaing in order to discharge Haggai and all the left wing Jewish and Palestinian activists persecuted by the Zionist state.

militante antisionista israelĂ­(Photo: Israeli militant after suffering repression at the hands of the Zionist army in Bil’in. They shot a rubber bullet at him from a distance of 30 centimeters. The brother lost an eye.)

The village of Bil'in in the Ramalla district of the West Bank has in the last year become a symbol of the Palestinian popular struggle against dispossession and oppression, but its predicament is not unique, but rather a typical example of past and present Zionist policy.

The apartheid wall being constructed by Israel in the West Bank is part of an effort which has been ongoing for almost four decades, to stabilize the Israeli control of the areas which were occupied in 1967. While the rhetoric surrounding this project has changed over the years — it was disguised as "the peace process" during the 1990's, while since the Palestinian uprising of 2000 it is heralded as "fighting terrorism" or "unilateral disengagement" — and the brutality of the means has greatly increased, the essential aim and the methods have remained the same: confiscation of Palestinian land, thus depriving Palestinians of any possibility of development, construction of settlements on this land, each controlling a large area around it, as well as an extensive system of settler-highways, which Palestinians are generally prevented from using — which serve to sub-divide the region into enclaves, and the institutionalization of a system of "passes" which prevents the movement of Palestinians from one area to another. The apartheid wall is another large step in this program of Bantustanization: it both confiscates huge amounts of Palestinian lands, on which settlements are now being built at a breakneck speed, and it further isolates the Palestinians into Ghettos.

The segment of the fence system being constructed on the lands of Bil'in, will rob the village of 500 acres — half of its land, and 70% of its agricultural land - olive tree groves on which the livelihood of most of the 1700 inhabitants of the village depends. These lands will serve to build a new extension of the settlement of Modi'in Ilit, whose construction started in 1996 (at the height of the Oslo "peace process") on the lands of Bil'in and of four other Palestinian villages. Some of Israel's largest construction firms are involved in this very profitable project of Modi'in Ilit, whose population is currently 30,000 and which Israel plans to reach 150,000 by 2020.

The people of Bil'in have been engaged in a popular struggle against the apartheid wall, which, since February 2005, has taken the form of protest marches, held every Friday noon , from the center of the village towards its lands on which the construction works of the wall are being carried out.

Hundreds of people participate in each such protest, both residents of Bil'in and others: Palestinian, Israeli and International activists, carrying flags and signs. After a short march, these protests are met by the Israeli soldiers, who attack them with tear-gas, shock-grenades, rubber-coated metal bullets, and beatings. Sometimes more exotic devices are used — the occupation forces have been using the Bil'in protests as a testing ground for weapons such as "bean bullets" and "salt bullets", which cause very painful wounds to those hit. During one of the marches, a group of young men who had been participating in the march suddenly attacked two Palestinian protestors with severe violence, one of them withdrew a pistol and fired it in the air, and they quickly snatched the two protestors away while beating them and all those who tried to come to their aid. It was quickly understood (and later confirmed by the Israeli army) that these were members of one of a special unit of the Israeli forces who had infiltrated the demonstration. Before making their vicious arrests, these agents had started throwing stones in the direction soldiers ahead, in order to provide the soldiers a pretext to unleash a most brutal attack. The protestors who were attacked and taken prisoner by these agents were spent several weeks under arrest.

Arrests of protestors in Bil'in are made nearly every week. In the apartheid system, the Palestinians are taken to the police and then handed over by the army, spending some days in a detention camp before being brought to a military judge, while Israeli and International activists are kept in arrest for 24 hours and then brought to a judge and released on bail. There is a standard practice by the soldiers to accuse those they had beaten and arrested, with "attacking a soldier". In several cases videotapes taken by protestors have proven clearly that the soldiers were lying and have induced the state prosecution to drop charges. Many, however, are not so lucky, and the state of Israel has been pressing charges against them, with trials ongoing at the moment. This part of an effort to repress the struggle in Bil'in, and also to deter the joint action by Palestinians and Israelis, a relatively new phenomenon which challenges the Zionist ideology of "separation". Other forms of repression include middle-of-the-night invasions of the army into Bil'in for making arrests, and blocking of they way of Israelis to Bil'in to prevent their participation in the demonstrations.

Despite all the repressive efforts, the popular struggle in Bil'in continues. Jewish and International solidarity and support to the Palestinian people is essential now more than ever.

Haggai Katriel