By Ghassan Bannoura – Bethlehem
The small Palestinian village of Bil’in, located in the central West Bank, hosted its fourth annual conference on non-violent resistance to the Israeli separation barrier and West Bank settlements, from 22 – 24 April.
Certainly, nonviolent, peaceful forms of resistance are not something new to Palestinian society. What makes Bil’in a special story is that it’s where Israelis and Palestinians began working together to fight against the separation barrier and settlement construction. Local and international protesters have been conducting weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the Israeli wall in Bil’in for four years.
Since the protests started, a large number of Israelis have joined the villagers in their attempt to protect their lands. Jonathon Polack, for example, is an Israeli who takes part in the Bil’in protest each week. He says he comes to Bil’in because he feels it’s his duty. “What is being done here is being done in my name, as an Israeli. It’s my duty to come and help the Palestinian farmers keep their lands. It’s the minimum requirement for every Israeli.”
Eyad Burnat, one of the conference organizers and the head of the village committee against the separation barrier and the Israeli settlements said that the fourth conference continued to uphold the values of non-violence.
"150 people from different parts of the world took part in the conference today. Our objective is to support and expand non-violent popular resistance everywhere," he said.
Among those who took part in the conference were delegations from South Africa, the Catalan government and Luisa Morgantini, vice-president of the European parliament, in addition to Palestinian officials, including interim Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Al Barghouthi.
“So far the Bil’in struggle is something really that gives hope to everybody. We did not see the wall go down, we saw settlements grow up, but at the same time I think it’s so important, the struggle that Bil’in is doing, because it’s also an example of trying to be together in a bigger movement,” Luisa Morgantini told the villagers and their supporters on the second day of the conference.
Abdullah Abu Rahmah, another conference organizer, told those gathered about the death of a Palestinian protestor, Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was killed a week before the conference during the weekly demonstration. "He was shouting, ‘Stop shooting, you have injured an Israeli woman…’ (The injured woman turned out to be French.). The soldiers did not allow him to finish. They shot and killed him." Bassem was a 30-year-old farmer who had participated in the weekly village protest for the past four years.
In September 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the construction of the wall around Bil’in must stop. The court also ruled that the section of the wall currently built on the Palestinian villagers’ land must be re-routed. But the military still refuses to adhere to the court ruling.
The lawyer for the village, Michael Sfard, met the villagers on the second day of the conference, as the delegates were touring the West Bank. He told the farmers, “Now two and a half years after the first decision, and after two attempts by the army to evade implementing the decision, finally the army has issued a new route. If implemented, it will restore something like 750 dunums out of 2,000 dunums that were taken in the first place.” (Four dunums is equal to one acre.)
The three-day conference ended with the weekly Friday nonviolent protest. It again erupted into violence when twenty-five of the demonstrators were injured after Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas at them.
Even with these obstacles, the Bil’in message of non-violence has become a model for other villages facing a similar loss of land. Ni’lin, Ma’sara, Al-Khader, Tulkarem, Tuwani, Beit Ummar are just some of the villages that are all now adopting the non-violent method of popular resistance that began in Bil’in four years ago.
Despite the loss of life and the many who have been injured, the Palestinian, Israeli and international protestors have vowed to continue their non-violent resistance, which they believe is the best way to counter the Israeli separation barrier and the West Bank settlement construction.
– Ghassan Bannoura is a Palestinian journalist from Bethlehem. (Published in the Common Ground News Service – www.commongroundnews.org – April 30, 2009)