By Frank Barat
On April the 17th, like any Fridays afternoon for the last 4 years, the small village of Bil’in, north of Ramallah, was preparing for the usual demonstration against Israel’s annexation wall (some people call it apartheid wall or separation wall. The Israeli government refers to it as the security fence).
The village of Bil’in has, since the mid eighties, lost more than 60% of its land for the purpose of Israeli growing settlements and the construction of the wall. The inhabitants of the village used to live mainly from agriculture and olive trees plantations but more and more, the people of Bil’in have to rely on the women to survive. Embroidery has become one of the main resource of the place, located a few kilometers away from Tel Aviv. (On a nice day, you can see the “inaccessible”- for the Palestinians- beach from the roof tops of Bil’in).
In January 2005, a village committee (led by Mohamed Khatib, Iyad Burnat and Abdullah Abu Rahme) was created and a month later non-violent demonstrations started, first taking part every day, then once a week, on Yum Al Juma’a (Friday, day of prayer).
The village won a huge battle in August 2008 (1) when the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the new route of the barrier in Bil’in was in violation of the Court ruling released on September 2007(2) (which ruled that the Wall path was prejudicial to Bil’in and must be altered) and ordered the State to present within 45 days a new route, which will uphold the principles of the ruling.
On Friday the 17th of April 2009, the wall still had not moved one inch and while the inhabitants of the village were praying at the village mosque many internationals (coming from all around the world) and the strong Israeli contingent (including people from the Alternative Information Centre (3) and Anarchists Against the Wall (4)) were looking for some shade (to hide from the baking sun) and chatting about the day’s event. As soon as prayer was over with, the demonstration started to move forward in direction of the wall, a few kilometers away.
You can be sure that Bassem (aka Phil) was right at the front of the march. He always was. I had met Bassem a few times while visiting Bil’in. He was a strong looking man, singing the loudest, joking all the time, jumping around and leading the way, accompanied by the rest of the village committee and the Israeli contingent.
As it usually happens, as soon as the march reached the corner where the Israeli soldiers can be seen, the tear gas started. A few brave ones continued anyway and reached the beginning of the wall, after a few minutes. Bassem, as usual, was one of those. The Israelis, present at the front of the demonstration started talking with the nearby soldiers in Hebrew and Bassem too, screamed “We are in a non violent protest, there are kids and internationals…”. He was shot in the chest and never managed to finish his sentence. He fell on the floor, moved a little bit, fell again, and died.
Bassem was shot by a new kind of Tear Gas, called “the rocket”. The soldier who shot it was a mere 40 meters away. This is the same type of tear gas that critically injured US citizen Tristan Anderson a few weeks ago. Those tear gas canisters are as fast and lethal as live ammunition. Very hard to get away from. Normally, tear gas canisters fly in the air for a long time, then fall and bounce a few times. Those ones fly like a bullet and go straight, not up and down.
Once more, Israel using the West Bank as its testing ground, the Palestinians as guinea pigs.
The soldier who fired, knew what he was doing and who he was targeting. The shame is that he probably knew Bassem. Bassem was always at the front, and had been for a few years now. The soldiers often come back more than once in Bil’in and start to get to know the ones facing them.
On April the 17, Bil’in and Palestine lost one of their heroes.
What is going to happen next?
Israel has already said that it will investigate the incident (out of every single investigation into such crimes, only 6% of the soldiers were ever prosecuted, often let off with a few weeks suspension), but before it did, started the usual propaganda, saying that the protest had been violent and that the soldiers had to react. (The video of the demonstration clearly shows otherwise).
We might even hear in a few days that it was actually the Palestinians who fired the tear gas and killed their beloved friend.
The P.A, instead of issuing the strongest statement against this act, stopping once and for all the negotiations with the Israeli government and joining the demonstrators every Friday to be hand in hand with its people, said next to nothing, and is looking forward the coming up White House meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Obama (this is being planned while I write).
The media hardly reported this. The Palestinians do not count. Even more shocking when a video of the event is available to all and could have been used to great effects.
The international community (for what it means) will not mention this “incident” (it is for them) and continue issuing calls for the Palestinians to renounce violence and resist peacefully while saying nothing about Israel’s killings (since the start of the second Intifada, 87% of the dead have been Palestinians), violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinians.
It is therefore down to us, the citizens of this world, to act, join solidarity groups, write articles, make films and talk, constantly, about the plight of the Palestinian people.
Palestine has to become the number one issue.
This is a must.
For Bassem, his family, Bil’in and Palestine.
(The village of Bil’in is organizing its fourth conference from the 22nd till the 24th of April. For more info click here.)
-Frank Barat is in the organizing committee of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and a member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK.