Four and a half years on, Bil’in protesters again brave tear gas June 20, 2009

Bil’in – Ma’an

Bi'lin [Ma'an Images]

More than 200 Palestinian, international and Israeli demonstrators braved clouds of tear gas to register their opposition to Israel’s construction of the separation wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in, near Ramallah, on Friday.

As they have every week for more than four and a half years, the protesters marched from the village center after the Friday Muslim prayer to the barrier, which separates the villagers from more than 60 percent of their land.

Young and old marchers waved flags, sung, and chanted slogans in Arabic, English and occasionally Hebrew demanding peace and an end to the occupation. (One chant goes “Oh Abbas, Oh Haniyeh, we want national unity,” which rhymes in Arabic.)

Upon reaching the barrier, which at this stage is still a pair of barbed wire fences, young Palestinian men managed to wrench open a gate and clear away a tangle of barbed wire, getting them through one layer. Israeli soldiers and police in riot gear were waiting on the other side.

Organizers repeatedly shouted to the marchers, “No one throw stones!”, which teenage boys from the village ignored, and soon began raining rocks on the soldiers, who protected themselves with shields.

A handful of protesters set fire to rubber tires, sending a plume of black smoke into the air. The soldiers responded with tear gas. After an hour of exchanging gas canisters and rocks, the soldiers fired a broadside of dozens of canisters into the air, streaking white gas across the sky and sending the majority of the protesters running back toward Bil’in.

No one was reported physically injured at Friday’s demonstration, although dozens choked on tear gas, including two Ma’an reporters. Two months ago a Bil’in protester, Bassem Abu Rahmeh, was killed when an Israeli soldier shot him in the chest with a high-velocity gas canister. On Friday some demonstrators carried metal shields plastered with Abu Rahmeh’s photo.

In 2007, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the military must reroute the wall further from the village, a decision that the demonstrators are still pushing to be implemented.

But according to Iyad Burnat of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall, “This is not our goal – to move the wall 500 meters back. We want to remove the wall. It’s illegal for Israel to build this settlement on our land. We want to end this settlement.”

Bil’in is also suing two Canadian companies, Green Park International and Green Mount International, in a Quebec court over their involvement in constructing, marketing, and selling homes in the settlement of Modi’in Illit on land seized from Bil’in. Burnat said a ruling is expected in that case on 22 June.

Bil’in is one of several villages that hold weekly demonstrations along the barrier’s route. In reality, the wall is a network of walls, fences, watchtowers, and electronic sensors snaking through the interior of the West Bank. When completed, it is planned to be 723 kilometers long. The International Court of Justice ruled it illegal in 2004.

After more than 225 weekly protests, Burnat said that Bil’in plans to keep marching until they win their land back. “Bassem’s death won’t stop us, because we need peace. Our message to the world is that this is not a security wall, this is a way of expanding settlements. If it was for security, why not build it on the ’67 line?”

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