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.


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/

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/

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/

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/

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/

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

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/

A protester in Bil'in, October 2009 (Photo: Keren Manor/

The occupation in a nutshell

Posted: July 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Take a few minutes to hear the story of Adeeb Abu Rahma of Bil’in. It’s not part of the big diplomatic news like the Obama-Netanyahu meeting this week, but in a sense, it’s more important. Far from being unique, this case captures most of what there is to know about the current stage of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. It’s the kind of things you have to keep in mind when you read the morning news.

Adeeb Abu Rahma is a resident of Bil’in, the village which became the symbol of non-violent resistance to the occupation. A few years ago, Israel decided to build its security barrier on Palestinian land, and not on the Green Line, the historic border between Israel and the West Bank. The reason for this was PM Ariel Sharon’s desire to capture more land for new neighborhoods in some of the large settlements Israel was building in recent years, and to secure a reality in which most of the settlements are seen as part of Israel, and not something “across the border”.

The people of Bil’in, who had much of their land taken for the barrier project, filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against the confiscation, and even had a partial victory: The court ruled that parts of the fence were not constructed on the village’s land for security reasons, and ordered it to be moved. The court failed to address the main issue – the decision to build the fence inside the West Bank rather than on the old border – but it didn’t really matter, because the army simply ignored the verdict. Three years later, the fence is still on its original location.

For five years now, a popular struggle against the fence has been taking place in Bil’in. Every week, Palestinians, Israelis and international activists are taking part in demonstrations. Most of the action consists of attempts to march to the village’s confiscated land; occasionally stones are thrown, but there was never a serious threat to the army forces there, and certainly not to Israeli civilians who live nearby.

Without much outside help or even support from the Palestinian Authority, these demonstrations had a tremendous effect. They relegitimized the Palestinian cause in the eyes of the international community, after the blow it suffered because of the suicide attacks of the Second Intifada. The protest also spread to other villages in the West Bank, and there are already talks of a third Intifada – this time, a non-violent one.

Israel is doing all it can to stop the protest in Bil’in. It used rubber covered bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and plastic bullets against the demonstrators. Bassem Abu Rahma, Adeeb’s cousin, was among those killed on the hills surrounding Bil’in, after suffering a direct hit of a tear gas canister. As can be seen in this video, Bassem (like all the rest of the protesters) wasn’t taking part in any violent act when he was hit, and the soldiers who shot him weren’t in any kind of danger.

A few months ago the army declared the entire Bil’in area a closed military zone, and stepped up the nightly raids on the homes of Palestinian residents. Many were arrested and held under “administrative detention”, without having any charges presented against them. This is standard procedure in the West Bank; there are currently 213 Palestinians imprisoned under administrative detention orders without charges or trial.

Adeeb Abu Rahma, a taxi-driver and father of nine, was knows as one of the prominent figures in the none-violent protest. Adeeb and his wife Fatima’s families have been cut by the fence from some 25 acres of their land on which they used to grow olive trees and cereals. In this video, you can see Adeeb in an emotional outburst in front of IDF soldiers:

Adeeb was arrested on 10 July 2009, while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the fence near Bil’in. He was brought before a military panel in Ofer Prison, North of Jerusalem, one of several Guantanamo-like facilities in Israel. After being held there for 11 months (no bail for Palestinians), Adeeb was convicted last month on charges of “incitement”, “disturbing public order” and “presence in a closed military zone”.

This is from Rechavia Berman’s report on his trail:

[Adeeb's] conviction was based on testimony of four minors – 14, 15 and two aged 16 years old – of which [the Shin Beit] got an admission… that Adeeb Abu Rahma told them to throw stones.

These Minors were taken forcibly from their homes at 3:00 in the morning, handcuffed and blindfolded, and kept this way until the next day at 2 PM, without being allowed to eat or to go to the toilets. They were questioned without the presence of a lawyer or a family member, as required even by army regulations.

During the court’s hearings, the military prosecutor argued that she has videotapes of the demonstrations to prove its case [against Abeed], but when Abu Rahma’s lawyer, attorney Gabi Lasky, asked to review this material, the prosecution claimed that the tapes were mysteriously deleted. In the interrogation of the minors there was not even a distinction between throwing leaflets […] and stone-throwing.

Despite all of this, the military court decided to send Adeeb to no less than two years in prison, a time in which his family will be left without its sole provider. Needless to say, his arrest and conviction were hardly mentioned by the Israeli media. These kinds of stories happen every day.


Meanwhile, on the same land but in a completely different universe, a Hebron settler named Yifat Alkoby – seen here harassing local Palestinians – was detained for slapping a soldier. According to a report in Haaretz (h/t Hagai Matar), Alkobi was throwing stones at Palestinians in Hebron, when a soldier approached her and asked her to stop. After Alkoby attacked the soldier, slapped and scratched him, she was arrested, only to be released after several hours (unlike the Palestinians in the West bank, Jews are brought before a civil court). Had Abeed Abu Rahma dared lay his hand on a soldier, he would have spent the next decade behind bars.


So there you have it all. The systematic confiscation of the land (sometimes illegally even by our own standards); the separated legal systems, with different laws for Jews and Arabs; the unproportional use of force against civilians and minors; the treatment of any kind of protest as “terrorism”, justifying special interrogation methods; the blind eye towards the settlers; and the failed notion that any of this would actually work, and the Palestinians would simply forget about their lands. In short, the injustice, cruelty and absurdity of it all.

This is the everyday level of the occupation, as I’ve first seen it 17 years ago as a soldier (though things have gotten much worse since). Adeeb’s case is not “an incident”, it’s part of a system. The occupation is not the work of a bunch of extreme settlers, but a national project in which the army and the Israeli legal system play the major role.

this is something many fail to understand: the heart of the story is not about murder, like some of the anti-Israeli propaganda claims (or should we say, most of the time it’s not about murder), but about the daily banalities of an evil system. Israel is not fighting a battle against Iran, Hezbollah or the International Jihad, like our government and its cheerleaders around the world want you to think; it is engaged in an effort to prevent basic human and civil liberties from millions of people.

Even the best of Hasbara talking points won’t blur this simple fact much longer. The world can’t go on turning its back on Adeeb Abu Rahma and the people of Bil’in. They deserve justice.

Back in the West Bank (part II)

Posted: August 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s been nine years since my previous military service in the West Bank. Back than, I promised myself that it was the last time I took such an active part in the occupation, but I didn’t keep my word. In the last three weeks I have been stationed in a small base in the Jordan Valley area, north of Jericho. I have a few more days to go. In my previous post I discussed the reason that brought me there. Now I’d like to report some of the things I’ve seen and learned.

The first thing one notices upon returning to the WB are the increased limitations on the Palestinians’ lives. When I was called to the territories for the first time, in 1993, Palestinians traveled freely into and out of the West Bank. During the Oslo days, the WB and Gaza were sealed. Now, after the second Intifada, Palestinians can’t even travel freely between their own towns and villages (though some of the roadblocks were removed recently). Most Palestinians are not allowed to use highway 90, going along the Jordan Valley, and some other main roads as well. The result is that on the West Bank Highways, you only see cars with the yellow Israeli license plates.

There are, however, exceptions. Some Palestinian Authority officials are allowed to pass through roadblocks. Others have permits to work at a certain settlements, or inside Israel, on the other side of the Green Line. Some live near the major highways, so they are issued a special permit to use certain roads which are normally reserved for Israelis. All this leads to an incredibly bureaucratic system of permits and approval, issued and renewed every few months by the army and with the supervision of the Shin Beit (the powerful internal security bureau). In most roadblocks and checkpoints one can find thick leaflets explaining the rights granted to the Palestinians by every permit. And when the permits are not enough, each Palestinian is registered on the IDF computer, so it’s possible to check where he is allowed to be, if he can use a specific “Israelis only” road, where can he work, etc.

This complicated system is operated, at ground level, by 20 years old kids or by reservists on units such as mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonviolence? Israel prefers the Hamas

Posted: April 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Ibrahim abu-Rakhma, a 31-year-old Palestinian, was killed during Friday’s weekly anti-separation fence demonstration in Bil’in. Abu-Rakhma was shot in the chest with a tear-gas grenade, launched from a distance of some 30 meters from him by IDF soldiers. The soldiers were under no threat at any stage of the demonstration, as this video of the incident clearly shows.

The death of Abu-Rakhma, a civilian from Bil’in who protested the taking of his own village’s land, is not only sad and unjustified, but also carries a bad lesson for both Palestinian and Israelis.

Read the rest of this entry »