Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, September 19, 2005

"Bil'in, village of tactical nonviolent invention," September 19, 2007.

Friday demonstrations in Bil'in begin at 1 p.m. on the dot. Bil'in is a Palestinian village adjacent to Ramallah in the West Bank. The demonstrations are to protest the building of the security fence which will separate the villagers from more than half of their land.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz concedes that "The lands taken from the residents of Bil'in, some of which are privately owned, are mostly intended to expand existing settlements, but also to build a new settlement called Nahlat Heftziba" (Ha'aretz Sep 6 05).

Zachary Wales is a masters student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. He just finished taking summer courses at Birzeit University in Ramallah. Wales believes that the weekly demonstrations are "one of the longest-standing and most underreported acts of peaceful resistance of our era." Since February this year, the campaign has held nearly 60 demonstrations, which involve local and international contingents that have numbered as high as 500.

"The road to Bil'in passes through several remote villages whose subsistence depends largely on olive farming. But no one has to tell you when you've reached Bil'in. The streets are lined with Palestinian flags and posters of martyrs from the village - mostly young boys who fell to 'rubber' bullets....

"The demonstration itself has developed an almost ritualistic pattern that's ... typical of peaceful protests in Occupied Palestine, where Israeli soldiers tolerate passive resistance for [just] so long before they fire tear gas or rubber-coated bullets -- which break the skin and often kill -- into the crowd. Doing this invokes stone throwing from local youths, who weather a day-to-day narrative of harassment, beatings and arrests, quite apart from what the internationals experience" (Wales EI Jul 17 05).

But the demonstrations at Bil'in are not at all routine. In fact, they are marked by a light touch and creative twist.

Back in March The Popular Committee Against the Wall and the local sports society of Bil'in organized a night time volleyball tournament.

"After four nights in a row of the Israel military entering the village between the hours of 11 pm and 3am, searching homes, arresting young men and photographing the rest, residents of the village decided to creatively resist. The … volleyball game, organized to begin at 11pm, was a way for the village to show the military that they are not scared of these … raids....The heavy machinery working on the Wall and the soldiers that guard the area could be seen operating until well past 10pm, as the games were beginning.

At 12.30am, news came that the soldiers were on their way into the village. The ... teams were split up into emergency response groups in case the soldiers began searching or occupying homes. Meanwhile, the games continued.

"Over the ... protesting voices of some of the Israelis who felt the scoring of the games was erroneous, the Popular Committee and local Sports Club awarded the tournament trophy to the internationals.

"Dancing and singing ensued.

When the soldiers approached, a response team was sent out to check on the situation leaving the rest behind to continue a pick-up game of basketball.

Arriving at the sight of where the soldiers were reported to be inside a home, the response team began a rousing rendition of `the Internationale' and other historic resistance songs in the street outside the home. It seemed to work. The soldiers left and the response team returned to finish the basketball game. (Volleyball date?).

"In recent weeks, villagers have constructed mock scales to symbolise injustice, and built large cages representing the "caging in" of their village.

One of the leaders Abu Rahme was arrested inside a large prop constructed to look like a bridge that carried a banner which read "peace needs bridges not walls" (El-Haddad Al Jazeera, 28 Jul 05).

For the July 29th demonstration, "the people of Bil'in built a 'settler house' out of styrene plastic and gave it as a 'gift' to the IDF soldiers who protect the wall's construction site outside the village" (ISM Ninna and Palle Jul 30 05).

On August 5, 50 Israelis and 30 internationals joined about 100 Palestinians from Bil'in to carry a 20-foot long snake with a dove bearing the colors of the Palestinian flag in its mouth toward the construction site of the annexation wall. The display represented how the wall is snaking through Palestinian land, killing the possibilities for peace" (ISM Aug 5 05).

Then on September 2, the IDF tried to crack down on the resistance at Bil'in by brute force. One hour before the beginning of the weekly demonstration, a squad of roughly 100 soldiers invaded the village and proceeded to take over. In an unprecedented move, snipers set up posts on rooftops, jeeps and hummers patrolled the streets as a large group of soldiers positioned themselves outside the mosque, where the demonstration was scheduled to begin. Once the prayer was over, the people leaving the mosque were dispersed. A curfew was imposed immediately, and one of the commanders announced that "there will be no more demonstrations in Bil'in".

The next week, on September 9, army and border police forces entered Bil'in [at 5 a.m.], declared a curfew, prohibited the weekly demonstration and ordered the eight Israelis, who had stayed the night in Bil'in, to leave. When they refused they were all arrested. Meanwhile Bil'in inhabitants came out of their homes, breaking the curfew, and started to drum on pots and pans in the village streets. Only when soldiers started to shoot rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades, did some of the village youth start throwing stones.

Meanwhile, more than 200 Israeli activists from Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, slipped past army roadblocks by cutting through the ultra-Orthodox settlement Modi'in Illit (Kiryat Sefer) which was created on the lands of Bil'in and its neighboring villages. In the end the Israelis, including former KM Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom who on that very day marked his 82nd birthday, Yakov Manor of Ta'ayush and Dorothy Naor of New Profile, trekked through kilometers of difficult terrain and 30 degree heat. Surprisingly, they reached the actual building site of the wall, which the army had successfully blocked against the demonstrators for the past six months. (Keller Surrealism Sep 9 05)

"Life is full of surprises," Avnery noted in an article written about the day. "Suddenly an army jeep drove up and offered us ice-cold water. Since we were all by now in various stages of dehydration, we accepted....

"Thus fortified, we dispersed among the olive trees and started to walk towards the village. It was a very steep climb over the rocks, worse even than before. Half way up, I was overtaken by two young army officers. 'Wouldn't you consider coming back with us?' they enquired politely. I declined with equal civility. And then the incredible happened: They bade me farewell and disappeared."

The demonstrations at Bil'in are far from stopped. Last week, the pianist Jacob Allegro, Dutch Holocaust survivor and a supporter of the Gush Shalom movement made his way to the village. The piano of Israeli actor Yossi Polak and his wife Tami had just been donated to Bil'in. And Zamir Barlev - activist & piano tuner - came on Thursday to repair some broken keys.

Beate Zilversmidt, Gush Shalom activist who is originally from Holland and had known Allegro for many years, speculated ""Perhaps the army, which has become more and more aggressive to non-violent protests at Bil'in, will show some respect towards a protest concert."

Jakob Allegro is one of those whose first language is music. He was born in Amsterdam under Nazi occupation in January 1943, to a family from the city's old Portuguese Jewish Community. In February of the same year the Nazi-collaborating police raided the house and his parents were deported to Auschwitz. Just before that, however, the parents had managed to smuggle their new-born baby out of the house and into the hands of the Dutch Resistance, which hid him until the end of the war and saved his life. (TOI Billboard Sep 16, 05)

The ground floor of the Abu-Rahme house has been transformed into a kind of youth hostel, with mattresses spread out, and a self-service kitchen corner. … it hosts every week a group of Israeli activists who come on Thursday in order to be in Bil'in at the weekly event. The piano was moved into the garden, and Jacob Allegro played and played.

Several times the crowd in the front garden ran to the street at rumours of army patrols arriving. On Israeli TV the scene appeared after all not on Channel-2, but on the respectable first channel, using Reuters material. It was one more amazing report from Bil'in, from people who now already for months capture the headlines with their imaginative, non-violent ways of protest, undeterred by army violence.

Digg This

Recommend this Post

Sphere: Related Content