1,000 Mark 5th Anniversary of Bil'in Apartheid Wall Protests (Several Stories)
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Bil'in protesters dismantle section of West Bank barrier
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
Demonstrators participating in rally protesting the Israel's West Bank
separation fence dismantled a section of the barrier on Friday, during a
rally marking five years since the beginning of the Bil'in protests.
About a thousand people took part in the rally, which was also attended
by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Palestinian parliament
member Mustafa Barghouti as well as Fatah strongman Nabil Shaath.
During the rally several protesters managed to cross the barrier,
placing a Palestinian flag on top of an Israel Defense Forces outpost,
while others dismantled a 30-meter section of the fence itself.
IDF sources claimed that the fence's repair could cost several hundred
Israeli security forces were aligned in rear positions to allow the
demonstrators to protest in a "non-violent fashion," but began using
dispersal instruments as soon as protesters commenced hurling stones.
A source in the IDF's GOC Central Command told Haaretz that the incident
proved that the IDF was willing to allow non-violent protest, but that
it was clear that some of the participants act violently, hurling stones
and causing thousands of sheckels in damages to the fence
Hundreds mark 5th year of Israel barrier protests
Hundreds march to mark fifth anniversary of protests against Israel's
West Bank barrier
by KARIN LAUB
Feb 19, 2010 14:44 EST
Hundreds of Palestinians, Israelis and foreign activists — engulfed by
clouds of tear gas fired by Israeli troops — demonstrated Friday to mark
the fifth anniversary of weekly protests against Israel's West Bank
Friday's demonstrations in the West Bank village of Bilin were also a
victory celebration of sorts for the protesters, coming days after
Israel's military began to reroute a barrier segment to restore some of
the land taken from the village.
In five years of weekly protests, Bilin has become a symbol of the
Palestinians' struggle against the encroachment of the barrier on land
they claim for their state, and the demonstrations have since spread to
several other villages.
On Friday, a crowd of hundreds, including Palestinian women in
headscarves, young Westerners with backpacks, the mayor of Geneva and a
troupe of clowns dressed in Israeli army fatigues, marched from the
village center toward the barrier in a valley below.
A few dozen Palestinian teens at the front of the march began tearing at
the fence, climbed over it and rushed to the other side. Others threw
In response, Israeli troops fired a barrage of tear gas and
rubber-coated steel pellets, while a water cannon aimed foul-smelling
liquid at the crowd. Coughing and pressing tissues against their faces,
many protesters headed back toward the village. Two people were injured,
one by a tear gas canister and the other by a rubber bullet,
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said troops
initially stood back Friday, but had to disperse the crowd when
protesters began damaging the fence.
Israel says the protests are violent riots, citing the stone throwing
and injuries suffered by dozens of troops over the years.
Palestinians allege that Israeli troops often use excessive force,
dispersing protesters with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and
occasionally live rounds. Six protesters have been killed and dozens
injured in clashes with Israeli forces in barrier protests in Bilin and
The Palestinians say they're engaging in civil disobedience, and
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad praised the Bilin method of
"All we are looking for here is a way to exercise our right to life on
our land," Fayyad told The Associated Press after addressing the crowd
in the village square. "This is huge, this is great, as a matter of fact
should be encouraged," said Fayyad, who did not take part in the march.
Israel says the barrier is a defense against Palestinian militants.
Palestinians say it's a land grab, since the barrier often juts far into
the West Bank.
In the case of Bilin, 575 acres (232 hectares), or more than half of
Bilin's land, were taken by a barrier loop around the expanding Jewish
settlement of Modiin Illit. The fence cut off Bilin villagers from their
In 2007, Israel's Supreme Court ordered the Defense Ministry to move the
Bilin segment closer to Israel to reduce hardship to the Palestinians.
Only last week did the military begin laying down tracks for a new
route. Villagers said they were informed the new path would return 346
acres (140 hectares) of farmland to Bilin and other villages.
Bilin resident Hashem Bornat, 60, whose home overlooks the barrier, said
he has lost nine acres to Modiin Illt. He said he felt both pride and
sadness on the anniversary.
He lost land, he said, but added: "I'm a little bit happy because we did
something that will move the barrier."
West Bank village marks five years of protest
By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Bilin, West Bank
Despite the barrages of Israeli tear gas, sound grenades, foul-smelling
spray and sometimes bullets - rubber coated and occasionally live - the
protesters at the Palestinian village of Bilin keep going back for more.
And as they mark five years since their first protest against the
barrier Israel has built on their doorstep in the occupied West Bank,
they seem as determined as ever.
The villagers - together with Israeli and international activists - see
their weekly Friday demonstrations as a leading example of Palestinian
non-violent, grassroots protest.
“ I feel really, very sad. To whom we can complain? The judge and the
enemy is the same ”
They march to the wall, chanting slogans and carrying flags, and have
even tried dressing up as characters from the film Avatar, and kicking
around a football to mock an Israeli mobile phone advert.
But they say the protests are marred - it is hotly debated how often -
as masked Palestinian teenagers use slingshots to hurl rocks at Israeli
The barrier, here a tall wire fence, snakes over a rocky hillside
covered in olive trees, cutting the villagers off from - according to
their lawyer - about 2 sq km (200 hectares or 500 acres) of their land.
Last week, Israel finally began implementing a court order dating back
more than two years to reroute the barrier near Bilin.
But the new route puts only a third of the land the villagers claim as
their own on the Palestinian-controlled side.
Some of the remainder had previously been designated Israeli state land
and allocated for the expansion of a Jewish settlement.
Mahmoud Samarra, 64, says he will get only a tiny fraction of his 93
dunums (9 hectares or 23 acres) of land back.
He points over the hill beyond the coils of barbed wire and the towering
mesh of the fence.
"It was like paradise," he says, describing how he planted olive trees
with his children and watched them grow over 17 years.
Bilin residents are allowed to access their land during the daytime,
through a pedestrian gate in the fence. But Mr Samarra has been only once.
The direct road for cars is long gone. Mr Samarra needs a stick to walk,
and says he can barely cover the 1.5km to his land on foot.
And anyway, he says, much of the land is surrounded by the Jewish
settlement of Matityahu. He says that his trees were uprooted when it
was built, and now he is too afraid of the settlers to visit.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the fence's route could not be
justified purely on security grounds.
This settlement and the land around it was part of the controversy.
"I feel really, very sad," says Mr Samarra. "To whom we can complain?"
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, as he sees it, "the judge and the
enemy is the same".
Back in the village, Subhiyeh Abu Rahma, 55, uses her headscarf to wipe
away the tears that start to flow as she talks about her son, Bassem,
who died last year, aged 31, after he was hit in the chest by a tear gas
canister during a protest.
"I miss him every minute," she says, sipping coffee in a small, bare
concrete house, adorned with posters of her dead son.
He had brushed aside her suggestions that he renovate his house and look
for a wife, focusing instead on the demonstrations, week after week.
"One has to sacrifice everything for his homeland - even if it's a high
price," she says.
Bassem's brother Ahmad says he believed in peace and a two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He even once suffered criticism among the villagers for choosing to wear
a T-shirt showing the Israeli and Palestinian flags side by side, Ahmad
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said his death took place
during "a violent riot". But there is no obvious stone-throwing taking
place in video footage of the incident, which can be seen on YouTube.
Palestinians say Bassem was hit by a high-velocity tear gas canister - a
type which has been blamed for severe injuries at other protests.
Ms Leibovich would neither confirm nor deny that they are used.
She insists that these are not quiet protests "in which protesters come
and sit on the ground".
"Those rocks they're throwing can kill people," Ms Leibovich says.
Damage costing hundreds of thousands of shekels has been done to the
fence and 77 Israeli soldiers have been injured in the past two years,
"They go to the fence and tear it down, then we have no choice but to
show up and defend the fence. And then they start throwing rocks."
Live ammunition is used only "rarely", in cases of "life and death for
our forces", she said.
But the Bilin organisers deny trying to damage the fence, although a few
sympathetic blog posts mention the use of wire cutters.
They say they try to discourage young protesters from hurling stones,
and this happens only infrequently as a reaction, when the soldiers fire
tear gas and rubber bullets first.
"We don't have planes or tanks or rifles, all we have is the rock. And
they are afraid of the rock," says Mrs Abu Rahma.
Israel says the barrier was established to stop Palestinian suicide
bombers entering from the West Bank.
But Palestinians point to its route, winding deep into the West Bank
around Israeli settlements, and say it is a way to grab territory they
want for their future state.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an
advisory ruling that the barrier was illegal and should be removed where
it did not follow the Green Line, the internationally recognised
boundary between the West Bank and Israel.
Ratib Abu Rahman, a protest organiser and university lecturer in social
work, says the rerouting of the barrier is just a partial victory.
"We hope it will be all our land. If the wall is destroyed, that will be
a big achievement," he says.
He says he has been injured about 10 times, and his brother, another
organiser, is still in an Israeli prison. Some 1,200 protesters have
been hurt, and 85 arrested, he says.
"We pay a big price," he says, "but we are in the right, this is
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