Bil’in, situated to the west of Ramallah, is a village typical of the eastern Mediterranean from many points of view: the white houses that are arranged along the length of roads that hug the meanderings and natural contours of the hills; the orchards, gardens and pastures; the welcoming and generous attitude of the inhabitants; the many children, playful and wise. The people of Bil’in however are living in the same deplorable conditions as so many others in the West Bank: an illegal colony has been constructed on their land and the so called “security” wall devours acres of terrain that separates them from what is theirs. No-one has the right to move about freely, not in the direction of Jerusalem, a few kilometres away, nor towards the beach, or Bethlehem.
For Bil’in, fighting against the wall erected by Israel on their land is to combat a system of apartheid and an instrument of expropriation: more than half of their lands have been usurped by Israel. The peaceful protests around the wall, uninterrupted for five years, gather together villagers, Israeli pacifists and citizens from around the world, including Quebec. As such, Bil’in is known globally for its non-violent resistance against the occupation, and incarnates the Palestinian will to resist against the occupation and colonization.
The villagers have distinguished themselves in their persistence, their imagination, and the creative spirit that informs their revolt. Upon the release of “Avatar”, they disguised themselves admirably as Na’vi for the weekly demonstration, to draw a parallel between the film’s intergalactic struggle and their own. Interviewed about this, James Cameron, the director, said he “needed to go spend some time there and really look at both sides of the issue” (*1). Apparently he was more clearly pleased that other indigenous peoples had embraced his film. Hopefully he will, nevertheless, accept Bil’in’s invitation.
Bil’in is not an isolated case: The inhabitants of other localities in the West Bank are also mobilizing themselves against the expropriations, the pillaging, the demolitions, the arrests: Nil’in, Budrus, Jayyus, Al-Masara, Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Walaja, Nabi Saleh, Al Khalil, At Tuwani; as well as Bedouin villages such as al-Arakib in Israel.
Faced with the popularity of Bil’in, Israeli troops are acting with a growing brutality. It is no longer only clouds of teargas among the olive trees, nor simple rubber bullets. The gas is becoming increasingly toxic and the soldiers are using deadly weapons. In April 2009, a young man was killed by the impact of a teargas grenade, hitting him directly in the chest at high velocity (*2): Bassam Abu Rahme, 29 years old, full of a love of life and justice, was loved and admired by all who knew him. There were those of us who didn’t know him but who watched, mortified, the last moments of this idealist and dreamer on the internet, the 18th victim to be killed by the Israeli army during the popular and peaceful demonstrations against the wall in Bil’in and elsewhere.
For the Bil’in Popular Committee that organizes these mobilisations, the non-violence, “is not only a strategic choice but also a profound choice”. This political action accompanies legal measures in Israel and in Canada. In June 2009, three members of the Bil’in Popular Committee, including Mohammad Khatib, Mohammad Abu Rahme, Abdallah Abu Rahme – and their Israeli lawyer, Emily Schaeffer, landed in Montreal for a three day preliminary hearing before the Supreme Court of Quebec in relation to their case against Canadian companies implicated in the construction of settlements on their land. These settlements are illegal according to international law and Canada has signed protocols to this effect, in addition to equipping itself with a law on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, incorporated in articles contained in the 4th Geneva Convention and the Statute of Rome (*3).
Arrests are frequent in Bil’in and have been intensified since the beginning of the litigation. Israeli forces have conducted multiple night-time incursions to arrest the leaders of the Bil’in Popular Committee and participants on the demonstration, including many minors. At 2 am on December 10th 2009 (International Human Rights Day), Abdallah Abu Rahmah was arrested at his home in Ramallah. Seven military jeeps surrounded his house, Israeli soldiers broke the door down, took him from his bed and, after briefly allowing him to say goodbye to his wife Majida and their three children — seven year-old Luma, five year-old Lian and eight month-old baby Laith — they blindfolded him and took him into custody. However, all the Québécois who have been present during these demonstrations in Bil’in can testify to the non-violent behaviour of Abdallah Abu Rahme. The Israeli efforts to criminalise him are illegitimate according to international law, which protects political rights.
In Israel’s prisons, there are 10,000 or so Palestinian political prisoners, captives of a judiciary system that is anything but impartial. Among them are 284 children, according to Defence for Children International (*4) that also details evidence of brutal treatment received by arrested children. And to mention yet another example of the asymmetry of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we need only recall that the Palestinians have just the one Israeli prisoner: Gilad Shalit, the soldier captured by Hamas on June 25th 2006.
In August 2010, the Israeli High Court decided to sustain two charges against Abdallah Abu Rahme, triggering an international campaign in support of him. (*5) (*6). The State of Israel, as usual, is protesting any intervention.
August 27, 2010
*1 – Open Democracy, April 2010 ( LINK: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/27/avatar_director_james_cameron_follows_box )
*2 – Bassam Demonstrator killed in Bilin by Israeli forces ( LINK : http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fm_btvBgZLE )
*3 – Re Bil’in v Green Park et al : in August 2010, Mark Arnold, a Canadian lawyer working for Bil’in, wrote : “The Quebec Superior Court last Fall declined jurisdiction to hear the case because it determined that the Israeli High Court of Justice was a more appropriate forum. Bil’in appealed that decision. In a decision just released, the Quebec Court of Appeal dismissed Bil’in’s appeal upon the primary ground of not wanting to interfere with the “discretion” exercised by the Court below. An appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada is now being considered.”
*4 – Defence for Children International ( LINK : www.dci-pal.org )
*5 – Act Up for Abdallah Abu Rahmah ( LINK : http://www.popularstruggle.org/content/freeabdallah )
*6 – “Facing jail, the unarmed activist who dared to take on Israel” The Independent August 26 2010 ( LINK: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/facing-jail-the-unarmed-activist-who-dared-to-take-on-israel-2062200.html )
NB: This text is the adaptation of an open letter signed by thirty or so Montreal professionals and published in French in August 2009 on Tadamon’s website ( LINK : http://www.tadamon.ca/post/4511 ). The signatories concluded that “In view of the inertia of our government, not to say its unconditional support of the State of Israel, we the signatories of this letter note with satisfaction the progress of the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, in all countries, in undertakings of business, academia, culture and sport.”
**Translated from French by Maria Worton.