Jerusalem construction in next decades – mostly on occupied territory

Posted: November 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , | Comments Off

This is not a Peace Now report, but an official document of the Jerusalem Municipality: According to a survey conducted at the request of the mayor’s office, 60,718 new housing units are slated for construction in Jerusalem in the next decades. Of those, 52,363 of them will be built east of the Green Line, in the territory annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War.

The document, revealed today by the daily paper Maariv, states that 23,628 of the planned units were already approved by relevant zoning committees – 20,263 of those for the “eastern” part of the city. In the area of Silwan, the biggest Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, nearly 5,000 housing unites are planned. Silwan has seen many demonstrations in recent years against the attempt to settle it with Jews, and tension is likely to grow in light of the new plans.

Jerusalem employs a system of separation between the Palestinians living in the city, who only hold the status of “residents” and the Jews, who enjoy citizen rights. Under those conditions, Arabs in Jerusalem don’t have the right to vote in national elections, their ability to purchase houses are limited, and if they leave the country for several years, they are likely to lose even their legal residency status. Most Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem receive limited municipal services.

Further Reading: The legal and moral problem with Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem (background)


US Mideast policy: Well on its way to total irrelevance

Posted: August 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

By following Jerusalem’s lead regarding the Palestinian UN bid, the United State is diminishing its own position in the region, and actually proving that the Palestinians have nothing to hope for in negotiations with Israel

A few months ago, there was still speculation in Jerusalem that the White House is behind the new wave of diplomatic pressure from the EU. Some even wondered whether the administration is secretly supporting the Palestinian UN bid, hoping that this would finally get Israel to take a step or two towards the Palestinians, possibly even freeze settlement construction, so that negotiations could resume.

Nobody thinks so now. The administration has clearly decided to throw its entire weight behind Jerusalem and against the Palestinian move. Washington is threatening both in public and in private that the UN bid would seriously harm American relations with Ramallah, and might even bring to an end the financial aid for the Palestinian Authority. As usual, the US congress—which seems crazier than the Knesset, impossible as this is to imagine—is threatening to stop all financial aid to the PA, and there are even talks of withdrawing funds from the UN itself if its members dare to vote in the Palestinian favor.

Punishing the entire world for seeking to end the occupation! It seems that American foreign policy was taken hostage by the Likud. Current political circumstances in Washington could be blamed, but the facts are pretty clear. One could find in the Israeli mainstream media, and even in the Israeli administration, those who are inclined to support the Palestinian UN bid, yet America seems to be speaking in one voice against it.

Even the New York Times, whose editorial was at times very critical of recent Israeli policies, warned the Palestinians of the possible consequences of their UN move.

The best way, likely the only way, to head off this debacle is with the start of serious negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The two sides haven’t even been in the same room together since September 2010.

(…)

Arab leaders haven’t given the Israelis any incentive to compromise. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, seemed to give up on diplomacy when Mr. Obama could not deliver a promised settlement freeze. We see no sign that he has thought even one step beyond the U.N. vote.

It’s been twenty years—since the term of George H W Bush—that the United States has allowed Israel to continue its settlement activities. While Palestinian “unilateralism” consists of turning to the international community, with the blessing and support of most of the world, Israel is engaging every day in the real unilateral activities, ones that change the reality on the ground in ways that would make Palestine, if such a state is ever to be born, no more then a tiny Bantustan (just this week Israel has approved a couple more projects that would make a compromise in Jerusalem impossible).

While the destructive Israeli policy is answered with fable condemnations from Washington – yesterday’s statements hardly made it to the papers – the Palestinians are threatened with very concrete punishments, including a move that would leave thousands of Palestinian Authority employees without means to support their families (one could guess how happy they would be to continue doing Israel’s policing work in the West Bank). To sum it up, when the US blocks a Security Council resolution condemning the settlements, and in the same year, vetoes Palestinian statehood, it’s clear that regardless of the rhetoric coming out of Washington, American policy in the Middle East is similar to that of Israel’s expansionist right.

The New York Times editorial did get something right though:

If the Palestinians want full U.N. membership, they have to win the backing of the Security Council. The United States will undoubtedly veto any resolution, and that will further isolate both Israel and Washington.

It’s not really important whether US Middle East policy is the result of the mess on Capitol Hill or whether the administration really believes in what it is doing (I imagine Dennis Ross does). In both cases, the result will be the same: Washington becoming less and less relevant in the region’s geo-political game. I even guess that Russia and China recognize that, and that’s another reason for them to support the Palestinian bid.

The irony is that all the “punishments” America inflicts on the Palestinians will just speed up this process: funds means influence, and once the United States stop supporting the PA, there are two options: either the Authority collapses, or it survives on alternative sources, in Europe or the Arab world (the latter is less likely, given the current economic and political situation). In both cases, America is out of the game.

The last few months have proved one more thing: Abbas is right in refusing to negotiate with Israel under such conditions. With Washington as a broker, what could he expect from such talks? He’ll be lucky to keep his shirt before leaving the negotiation table.


The American ambassador’s Twitter diplomacy

Posted: August 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , | Comments Off

The new American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, has a Twitter account. What does he tweet? For example, a message on his visit to a missile battery (in both Hebrew and English).

@AmbShapiro And here is the video of my visit to see the Iron Dome battery near Ashkelon. http://fb.me/HrUHkp4F

What doesn’t he tweet? His own State Department’s condemnation of settlements construction.

(Same goes for the Tel Aviv embassy’s Twitter feed – only this one had seven tweets from the Iron Dome visit.)


WATCH: Palestinian UN envoy breaks down at Security Council

Posted: July 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A vivid example of the high emotions felt by Palestinian leadership as the September showdown at the UN draws closer was evident on Tuesday, when during a Security Council meeting, Palestinian observer, Riyad H. Mansour, broke down as he was reading the last sentences in his prepared remarks:

Why should the Palestinian people be forced to languish yet another year — or even one more day — under foreign occupation? They should not and they must not. This is the time to end the Israeli occupation. This is the time for Palestine’s independence. This is the time for Palestine and Israel to live side by side in peace and security, and this is the time for a new Middle East. We believe that the international community is ready for that, and we trust that the appropriate actions will be undertaken soon to make this a reality.

Watch the debate here. The Palestinian representative starts reading his remarks around the 20th minute; start watching around the 38th minute for the text I quoted. It’s a very subtle moment, yet unmistakable. Around the 40th minute the remarks by the Israeli Ambassador to the UN begin. Full text of the meeting can be found here.

The United States has made it clear it would veto a Security Council bid to have Palestine accepted to the UN as a full member.


Watch: IDF terrorizes a Palestinian village

Posted: July 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, unarmed protest | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

nabivideo_pic

I try not to use loaded words like “terrorizes” in my writing, but there is simply no other way to describe this video, showing four army vehicles enter the small village of Nabi Saleh (West Bank) in the middle of the night, throw stun grenades and shoot tear gas at the homes of the sleeping Palestinians.

Nabi Saleh has been the site of weekly unarmed protests by Palestinians, international activists and Israelis against the confiscation of the village’s land by a nearby settlement. You can read about it here.

There are no demonstrations at nights.

The clip is one and a half minutes long. You can hear the anxiety in the people’s voices as the army convoy approaches. After the cars stop, you can hear the weapons loaded. Then there are the blasts, and the silhouettes of the soldiers throwing more and more grenades at the local houses. The occasional shots you see are the gas launchers, fired in all directions. Around one minute into the video, you can hear the tear gas spreading near the


Everything you (never) wanted to know about Israel’s anti-boycott law

Posted: July 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A reader’s guide to democracy’s dark hour

knesset_bw

What does the law say?

Basically, the anti-boycott law allows all those who feel they have been harmed by a boycott, whether against Israel or an Israeli institution or territory (i.e. the settlements in the West Bank) to sue the person or organization who publicly called for it, for compensation. This definition is very broad—even a simple call not to visit a place falls under it—and most important, the prosecutor plaintiff doesn’t even have to prove damages.

You can read the full text of the law here (it’s not long). The important part is below (translation by ACRI):

Definition:

1. In this bill, “a boycott against the State of Israel” – deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.

Boycott – a civil wrong:

A.     Knowingly publishing a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel will be considered a civil wrong to which the civil tort law [new version] applies, if according to the content and circumstances of the publication there is reasonable probability that the call will bring about a boycott and he who published the call was aware of this possibility.

B.     In regards to clause 62 [A] of the civil tort law [new version], he who causes a binding legal agreement to be breached by calling for a boycott against the State of Israel will not be viewed as someone who operated with sufficient justification.

C.     If the court will find that an wrong according to this law was deliberately carried out, it will be authorized to compel the person who did the wrongdoing to pay damages that are not dependent on the damage (in this clause – damages, for example); in calculating the sum of the damages for example, the court will take into consideration, among other things, the circumstances under which the wrong was carried out, its severity and its extent.

Check out Roi Maor’s analysis of the implications of this law and what it will mean:

[The boycott law] will have a significant and immediate practical effect. As of today, a wide range of people and groups who once called for a boycott will cease doing so. The space for debate and discussion in Israeli society will shrink right before our eyes.

How come this law passed three Knesset votes?

The key moments in the legislation process was a decision by Binyamin Netanyahu’s government (and by him personally, as hetold the Knesset on Wednesday) to have the entire coalition back the law. This means that the law will have the automatic support of most of the Knesset members, and that even coalition members who oppose it won’t be able to vote against it. Once the bill passed Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee—controlled by the right—it was clear for the two final votes, which took place Monday night.

So, how did Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak vote?

They didn’t. They avoided the vote. See the full roll-call from the Knesset vote.

When will the law take effect?

It already did. Starting yesterday (Tuesday), it is now illegal to call for a settlement boycott in Israel. The only part of the law which is not effective yet is article 4, which deals with the punishment of organizations that would support a boycott (they will be stripped of their special statutes). This article, which is seen as a backdoor way to persecute civil society and leftwing organizations (more on this issue here), will be made effective in 90 days.

Yesterday an Israeli Beitenu MK already threatened Arab MK Ahmed Tibi that he will be the first to feel the effect of the new law. “Whoever shows contempt for the law and stomps on it will be responsible for the outcome,” MK Miller told Tibi in the Knesset.

Is it really so bad? I heard there is a similar law in the US, and that in France, a court punished some group calling for boycott on Israel.

Those examples are very different from the Israeli law. The US legislation refers to boycott by foreign governments, and the French case had to do with a unique interpretation to a law concerning discrimination. In fact, a Knesset research report, prepared during the work on the boycott bill, concluded that it couldn’t find examples of similar laws in Western democracies, and resorted to citing examples from countries such as Venezuela, Eritrea and Ethiopia. As a result, the Knesset’s legal advisor filed an opinion stating that it would be very hard to defend this law in the High Court for Justice. The Government Attorney thinks it  is a “borderline case,” but he is willing to defend the law in court.

What about the High Court? I hear that it is likely to strike down the law as unconstitutional.

For that, Israel would need to have a constitution… But the answer is yes, many think that the court will kill the law or parts of it, and petitions on this issue has already been filed. Yet a verdict would take time, and more important, it might gravely hurt the Court’s own statues, as will be perceived as acting in against the will of the public (the right to override Knesset law is not formally granted to the Israeli high court, and therefore lies in the heart of a political controversy). Already, there are threats from leading politicians to the court not to intervene in this issue, or else they would limit the court’s power. This has become a true watershed moment for Israel.

Furthermore, there are those on the left who believe that going to the court would play into the hands of those who initiated the boycott law, and ultimately strengthen the ability of the right to introduce such pieces of legislation. Read this though-provoking piece from Yossi Gurvitz on this issue.

What about the Israeli public? Does it support this law?

Right now, yes. A poll found 52 percent of the public supporting the anti-boycott law, while only 31 opposes it.

Mike Asks: Is full boycott illigal as well?

Yes. for example, if an Israeli writes a letter to an foreign artist and suggests he cancel his gig in Tel Aviv as long as the occupation goes on, he could potentially be sued by the producer, and any other person who thinks this act hurts him. I guess that even by the bartender could sue – and they won’t have to prove damages. Calls for boycott of academic institutions are illegal too.

Alex asks regarding Foreign nationals in Israel – does the law include them too?

Yes. When in Israel, one needs to obey Israeli laws, including ones concerning damages. From what I understand from ACRI (Association of Civil Rights in Israel, which has been in the frontline of the struggle against the law), the anti-boycott law would include foreign nationals as well - as long as they make the boycott call while in Israel. One reservation is that it’s not a criminal law, so you need someone to actually sue you for damages, and the court needs to be able to collect them. My guess is that if this law remains active,  rightwing and settlers’ organizations will become serial prosecutors plaintiffs of boycotts in order to silence dissent, and, of coarse, make some money on the way.

The law doesn’t apply to foreign nationals in the West Bank, which is under military rule and not Israeli civilian law.

how about Israelis abroad?

The law should apply to Israelis everywhere in the world, so theoretically, if a Boycott from Within activist gives a lecture in London, he could be sued by a fellow citizen upon his return to Israel. Still, it seems that suing over offenses done abroad will be more complicated; check out Woody’s comment from 12:51PM for a discussion of some of the problems it raises. I could only add that with every new law–not just this one–it’s hard to predict the outcome of such borderline cases. We can only wait the rulings of Israeli courts to see how they interpret the law.

Is discussing or repealing the law legal?

Yes it is. Remember that it is not a criminal law but a tort one, so as long as you don’t advocate boycott while repealing the law, nobody has “a reason” to sue you.

—————–

This article was cross-posted with 972 Magazine. The answers are to questions posted there.


Poll: Israeli public supports boycott law

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Polls, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

The anti-boycott law is already considered the most controversial to come out of the current Knesset, but it seems that this controversy exists mostly in the media, and outside Israel.

A recent poll, done for the Knesset channel and posted on the rightwing Srugim site,  52 percent of the Israeli public supports the law, and only 31 oppose it – not very different from the majority the law received in the Knesset. In that sense, the Israeli Parliament members represent their voters perfectly.

Srugim didn’t provide the data for the poll or the original questions asked, so we should take these numbers with a grain of salt. Also, the polls was apparently done in the morning following the vote, so the results might change with time.

According to the poll 43 percent of the public think the law will hurt Israel’s image in the world.


Boycott bill rollcall: How did they vote?

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The three most important ministers in the Israeli cabinet – Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu – didn’t bother to attend the deciding vote on the boycott bill

———————–

The anti-boycott law, perhaps the most important piece of legislation to come out of the Israeli parliament in recent years, passed with a 47-38 majority. This is how the Knesset members voted, followed by a few notes:

COALITION

Likud
Ofir Akunis – Yes
Ze`ev Binyamin Begin – Yes
Danny Danon – Yes
Yuli-Yoel Edelstein – Yes
Michael Eitan – Not present (*)
Zeev Elkin – Yes
Gilad Erdan – Not present
Gila Gamliel – Not present
Tzipi Hotovely – Yes
Moshe Kahlon – Yes
Ayoob Kara – Yes
Haim Katz – Yes
Yisrael Katz – Yes
Yariv Levin – Yes
Limor Livnat – Yes
Dan Meridor – Not present
Lea Nass – Not present
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Not present (**)
Yossi Peled – Yes
Zion Pinyan – Yes
Miri Regev – Yes
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin – Didn’t vote
Education Minister Gideon Sa`ar – Not present
Silvan Shalom – Not present
Carmel Shama – Yes
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz – Yes
Deputy PM Moshe Ya`alon – Yes

Yisrael Beitenu
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch – Not present
Hamad Amar – Yes
Daniel Ayalon – Yes
Robert Ilatov – Not present
Fania Kirshenbaum – Yes
Uzi Landau – Yes
Sofa Landver – Yes
Orly Levi-Abekasis – Yes
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – Not present
Moshe Mutz Matalon – Not present
Anastassia Michaeli – Yes
Alex Miller – Yes
Stas Misezhnikov – Yes
David Rotem – Not present
Lia Shemtov – Yes

Shas
Chaim Amsellem – Yes
Ariel Atias – Not present
David Azoulay – Yes
Amnon Cohen – Not present
Yitzhak Cohen – Yes
Yakov Margi – Yes
Avraham Michaeli – Yes
Meshulam Nahari – Yes
Yitzhak Vaknin – Yes
Interior Minister Eliyahu Yishai – Yes
Nissim Zeev – Not Present

Haatzma`ut (Labor faction) (***)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak – Not present
Orit Noked – Not present
Shalom Simhon – Not present
Matan Vilnai – Not present
Einat Wilf – Didn’t vote

United Torah Judaism
Israel Eichler – Not Present
Moshe Gafni – Yes
Yakov Litzman – Yes
Uri Maklev – Yes
Menachem Eliezer Moses – Yes

Habayit Hayehudi – New National Religious Party
Daniel Hershkowitz – Yes
Uri Orbach – Yes
Zevulun Orlev – Yes

OPPOSITION

Kadima
Nino Abesadze – No
Rachel Adatto – No
Eli Aflalo – No
Doron Avital – No
Ruhama Avraham Balila – No
Ronnie Bar-On – No
Arie Bibi – Not present
Zeev Bielski – No
Avi Dichter – No
Jacob Edery – Not present
Gideon Ezra – Not present
Israel Hasson – No
Yoel Hasson – Not present
Shai Hermesh – No
Dalia Itzik – No
Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni – No
Shaul Mofaz – No
Shlomo (Neguse) Molla – No
Yohanan Plesner – No
Otniel Schneller – Not present
Nachman Shai – Not present
Yulia Shamalov Berkovich – Not present
Meir Sheetrit – No
Marina Solodkin – No
Ronit Tirosh – No
Robert Tiviaev – No
Majallie Whbee – No
Orit Zuaretz – No

Ha`avoda (Labor)

Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer – Not present
Daniel Ben Simon – No
Avishay Braverman – No
Eitan Cabel – No
Isaac Herzog – Not present
Raleb Majadele – No
Amir Peretz – No
Shelly Yacimovich – No

Hadash

Afou Agbaria – No
Mohammad Barakeh – No
Dov Khenin – No
Hanna Swaid – No

Ra`am-Ta`al
Talab El-Sana – Not present
Masud Ganaim – No
Ibrahim Sarsur – No
Ahmad Tibi – No

National Democratic Assembly (Balad)
Said Naffaa – Not present
Jamal Zahalka – No
Hanin Zoabi – No

New Movement – Meretz

Zahava Gal-On – No
Ilan Gilon – No
Nitzan Horowitz – No

Ichud Leumi    (****)

Uri Yehuda Ariel – Yes
Michael Ben Ari – Not present
Arieh Eldad – Yes
Yaakov (Katzeleh) Katz – Yes

(*) The custom in the Knesset is that opposition and coalition members who cannot attend a vote can agree to essentially cancel each other out. In major votes, parties tend to limit mutual cancellations as much as possible; therefore it is not always clear whether a Knesset member who didn’t come to the vote was cancelled out or chose to be absent for other reasons.

(**) Many of the votes were those of backbenchers, and it seems that the leading ministers preferred not to be present at the vote, once it was clear that the law was going to pass. The three most important ministers in the government–Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—chose not to attend the vote. Some leadership Israel has.

(***) The entire Ha’atzmaut faction, until recently a part of the dovish Labor party, chose not to oppose the boycott law nor to support it.

(***) Officially, the extreme-right Ihud Leumi party is not part of the government, but it supports much of its policies and all rightwing legislation in the Knesset.

Update: in response to a reader’s question, an MK who appears as “not present” wasn’t at the assembly during the vote. “Didn’t vote” simply means abstained. As you can see, Knesset members prefer not to be seen on TV refraining from voting, so unless they really have to (like in the case of the Knesset’s speaker), they simply disappear when an unpleasant vote approaches.
Update II: In response to more comments – almost all pieces of legislation don’t require ”an absolute majority” of 61 members. Still, if the coalition needed it, there would have been no problem to get 61 hands for this vote.
Aryeh: I regret to say I that don’t share your (limited) optimism. I tend to think that this vote was seen as a very major one – with a long filibuster and 87 members present (normally only 30-40 come to vote), from all the house’s parties. Plus, two MKs were too ill to vote; one had buried his mom on Monday, and most important, I think that the members who failed to show up did it on purpose. We know of two Kadima members who supported the bill (Schneller and Shamalov-Berkovich) and will be “punished” by their party today; several Likud MK opposed the law: House Speaker Rivlin, Minister Meridor and probably Eithan. One surprise came from Benni Begin, the son of the legendary Likud leader, who used to be considered a defender of personal liberties, and voted Yes. And there is, of coarse, Ehud Barak’s party, who fled the battleground. We should remember that this was a government-backed bill, so any party that would have voted against the law was signaling its desire to leave the coalition – yet I believe that had Barak taken a stand, Neatnyahu would have thought twice before approving this particular piece of legislation. In that sense, Barak’s absence is somewhat of a support.

14,000 new settlers in last 12 months

Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Comments Off

14,000 new Jewish settlers moved to the West Bank the last year alone – not including East Jerusalem. Total number today, IBA radio reported, is 334,000.

The settlements are not an obstacle to peace, Israel says.

(via @notidfspokesperson)


Among tear gas and injuries, Bil’in celebrates victory

Posted: June 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hundreds gathered in the West bank village to witness the removal of the Separation Wall after more than six years of protest, but the IDF was in vindictive mood

Protesters march from Bil'in to the wall, June 24 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)

Protesters march from Bil'in to the wall, June 24 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)

Bil’in, West Bank – It was a hot Friday in Bil’in – one of those early summer days here that remind you what to expect come August. The crowd at the village’s center was unusually large: The weekly march to the fence—a protest which made this village an international symbol of unarmed resistance—was to take the form of a celebration, after the Israeli army has began moving the infamous barrier that separated Bil’in’s people from their land.

Some context: Instead of having its separation wall on the Green Line—the internationally-recognized border until 1967—Israel decided to have it run deep into the Palestinian territory, cutting through villages and neighborhoods, separating farmers from their lands and families from their loved ones, and most important, annexing to Israel lands which had excellent market value, for their proximity to the Israeli cities along the Mediterranean coastline. Under the pretext of “security concerns,” communities like Bil’in, Nil’in and Budrus saw their fields being taken away, olive trees uprooted, and valuable land annexed to nearby settlements.

Palestinian residents of these villages made two important choices: To fight for their lands—the source of most of their livelihood–and in doing so, to use popular, unarmed resistance. It wasn’t something new for Palestinians–general strikes and mass protests were common in the years leading to the first Intifada–only that this time, the Palestinian farmers weren’t alone: Almost from the beginning of the protest against the security barrier they were joined by international and Israeli activists.

You can read about the role these activists played in the struggle, and the effect it had on the Israeli society in this piece Joseph Dana and I wrote for The Nation a few months ago.

Every week, and sometimes every day, Palestinians and activists would march to site of the planned wall, confront the army and try to reach the lost lands. Some tied themselves to the bulldozers, while others sat on the road in front of it for hours. In places where the work was completed, the protesters tried to make it to the wall or the fence, occasionally crossing or cutting it. They were met with beating, tear gas, arrests and even live bullets.

A young Palestinian is seen injured during a protest against the wall in Bilin, April 2004 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

A young Palestinian is seen injured during a protest against the wall in Bilin, April 2004 (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

Around the time the protest began, the people of Bil’in filed a petition to the Israeli high court, demanding the barrier be removed and their land returned to them. It was not an easy decision on their part: Petitioning to court is seen as recognition of the Israeli occupation and the authority of its institutions over the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, who have no civil rights or representation in those institutions. But the need to get even some of the land back overcame this argument.

The Israeli Supreme Court is a relatively liberal institution, but at the same time, it is extremely hostile to Palestinians – contrary to its public image, the court rarely rules against settlements or the army, and in most cases it wouldn’t even hear Palestinian petitioners. This time, however, even the Israeli court couldn’t ignore the obvious attempt to rob Bil’in’s people of their property. In a landmark verdict against the army and the defense ministry, the court ruled that the land was taken from Bil’in not to increase security, but to make way for the nearby mega-settlement Modi’in Ilit. It ordered a new barrier to be constructed in a route that would have some of the land returned to the people of Bil’in.

The court didn’t order the removal of Modi’in Ilit settlement, or the return of the land already built upon. It never does.

What happened next was even more shameful: the army didn’t carry out the verdict. Months and years passed, and the barrier–part fence, part wall—wasn’t moved. Only after an escalation of the demonstrations and a threat of contempt of court on behalf of the defense establishment, did the work on the new barrier begin.

A few days ago, after more than six years of struggle, the removal of the old security barrier near Bil’in began. the new barrier, already seen in the hills surrounding the village, will be a concrete wall.

All these years, the protest in Bil’in continued. Every Friday, dozens of Bil’in residents marched in the direction of their lost lands. Occasionally, some kids hurled stones at the soldiers, but most of the time the protest was peaceful and creative. Yet it was met with brutal oppression: Hundreds of people were injured. Two – a brother and a sister – killed. Warning – graphic images]. Dozens of Palestinians, many of them minors, were arrested and held without trial for months in military prison. At nights, the army raided the village’s homes (as seen in the video above, one of many), searching for suspects in “incitement” offenses, i.e. organizing protest.

One of these organizers, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, was tried for one year in military prison. When he finished his term, rather than releasing him, the army simply kept Abu Rahmah in prison, and meanwhile appealed the sentence. While serving his time, Abdallah met in prison his cousin, Adeeb, who was also arrested, tried and imprisoned. 99.8 percent of Palestinians’ trials end in conviction. Watch this emotional outburst by Adeeb in front of the soldiers in one of the protests:

Both Adeeb and Abdallah remained men of peace. Like the rest of the people of Bil’in, they didn’t let their persecution change them. During the worse days of the struggle, they kept declaring that they are fighting the army and the occupation, not Israelis or Jews. When Jawaher Abu Rahma died from IDF tear gas, her family and friends invited the Israeli activists to her funeral.

Here are some things Abdallah Abu Rahmah wrote in a public letter from Ofer military prison. The entire text can be found here. It’s more than worth reading.

I have been accused of inciting violence: this charge is also puzzling. If the check points, closures, ongoing land theft, wall and settlements, night raids into our homes and violent oppression of our protests does not incite violence, what does?

Despite the occupations constant and intense incitement to violence in Bil’in, we have chosen another way. We have chosen to protest nonviolently together with Israeli and International supporters. We have chosen to carry a message of hope and real partnership between Palestinians and Israelis in the face of oppression and injustice.

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Tear gas, shot by the army, inside a bulldozer driven by a Palestinian protester, during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Tear gas, shot by the army, inside a bulldozer driven by a Palestinian protester, during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Politicians love to co-op success, so Bil’in saw visits from Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad and Israeli Palestinian MK Muhamad Barakeh prior to yesterday’s festive protest. There were around 40 Israelis present, and many international activists. A few hundred Palestinians led the march. A pickup truck with large speakers played music. At the village’s edge, a bulldozer joined the convoy—the people of Bil’in wanted to take part in dismantling the fence that had become the symbol of their misfortunes, and their lack of freedom.

The army had other plans. When the bulldozer approached the old fence, dozens of tear gas canisters were shot simultaneously at the crowd. Live fire was used to stop the bulldozer. A teargas grenade penetrated the driver’s cockpit. He barely made it out alive out. The rest of the crowd—unarmed and not threatening anyone—was sprayed with “skunk,” a stinking liquid, one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing crowd control weapons there is (and naturally, an Israeli invention). A few brave Palestinians in storm suits were trying to collect samples of the awful liquid (to be analyzed later, I was told), before collapsing from the effect of the smell and the gas. It all happened so fast that many members of the media didn’t have time to put on their gas masks and started chocking themselves.

Standing a couple of hundred meters back, I couldn’t open my eyes and could feel my throat burn. I figure the army shot around 60 or 70 canisters at the protesters.

A protester, injured from tear gas, lies on the ground during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

A protester, injured from tear gas, lies on the ground during the weekly protest against the Israeli wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, June 24, 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

As we walked back to the village, everyone around me was coughing and choking. Yet the spirit was high. The unbelievable violence – aimed against unarmed people, for the defense of a fence that is already been taken down (the new barrier is up and ready for a long time now), showed how scared and confused the army is, how lost it is because of the immoral and self-destructive mission it carries out.

In the next few days, the army will continue to dismantle the fence it so vigorously protected yesterday.

The people of Bil’in might continue the weekly demonstration. Even with the removal of the old barrier and the construction of a new one, much of their land won’t be returned to them. The simple fact is that as long as the occupation goes on, the Palestinians have every right to resist it.

Israeli army begins to remove parts of the separation barrier, Bil'in, June 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills.org)

Israeli army begins to remove parts of the separation barrier, Bil'in, June 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills.org)

Whether they chose to do so, or prefer to heal their community from the long struggle – it’s up to them. But the victory of Bil’in’s people—however partial or limited it was—has taught us a valuable lesson: Israel will have to either give up the occupation or to considerably escalate its methods for maintaining it, at a growing cost. Either way, the occupation’s days are numbered.

A protester in Bil'in, October 2009 (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A protester in Bil'in, October 2009 (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)