Israeli soldiers invading Bil'in.
Five years ago the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its advisory opinion declaring that the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is illegal and should be dismantled. After five years of silence and complicity by the international community in perpetrating this crime, several villages across the Occupied West Bank have formed committees engaged in continuous demonstrations against the Wall and the settlements. Israel is getting worried by this phenomenon of mass popular resistance, especially because of the unity being created amongst Palestinians, Israeli and International activists who have been demonstrating together against the apartheid Wall for more than four years. That’s why the Israeli military is escalating the level of violence and repression against these communities (curfews, sieges, destruction of property, threats, arrests and kidnappings of activists, injuries and killings of protestors), by targeting individuals as well as collectively punishing entire communities. The aim is to break the growing popular resistance movement and to discourage villages’ support for the resistance.
In the past weeks the Israeli Occupying Forces have invaded the village of Bil’in (whose 60 percent of its farmland are confiscated by the Wall) and other villages, raiding homes in the early hours of the morning to seize demonstrators, mainly youth under the age of 18, pressuring them to confess they were throwing stones during demonstrations or in general accusing them of instigating violence. In the last few weeks almost 20 people have been kidnapped in Bil’in. That’s why the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements requested the presence of Israeli and international activists to document and discourage the night raids, spending the night in the village. On Thursday July 16th, I decided, with a couple of friends, to bring the village our solidarity and “sleep” there the night before the Friday’s demonstration. Having witnessed one of these “arrests” that night, I’ll try to write down what I passed though.
As usual we were warmly welcomed by the families of the village and we were introduced to the activists of the International Solidarity Movement, permanent presence in the village (just few days before an US activist of the ISM was arrested while trying to prevent soldiers from kidnapping a Palestinian). We organized in three groups, each standing on its rooftop in a strategic side of the village, in the attempt to catch the soldiers coming and forewarning the others. Our group was made by 5-6 people, staring at the point of the Wall where we were expecting soldiers’ jeeps crossing the Separation Wall towards the village. Hot coffee and narghile helped us with the cold night and the long wait. After a couple of hours, at around 2 am, a mobile rang and we were informed that jeeps full of soldiers had invaded the village and were arresting people. We jumped into a car and rushed to the house where the arrest was taking place. Dozens of soldiers, on a war footing, wearing dark military camouflage uniforms and black masks, already surrounded and entered the house, searching everywhere inside. We got out the car altogether trying to enter the house and we started recording and taking pictures of soldiers. Of course we were immediately stopped and ordered to leave under threat of being arrested. At this point we saw all the family (father, mother, daughters and sons) pulled out from their home in a humiliating way, still wearing pajamas. They were followed by Imad Burnat, member of the Bil’iI n Popular Committee, blindfold and hand-tied, arrested and pushed out by a bunch of soldiers. Imad was brutally dragged for one kilometer across the countryside, in the middle of the night, until when he was pushed him into a military vehicle and left to the nearby military outpost.
Some Palestinians, Amid’s father and a dozen of international activists first tried to block the path of the army unit (about 20 soldiers), then followed them asking for the immediate release of Amid and protesting the systematic policy of kidnappings Palestinians of the village. The Occupying Forces tried to disperse us hitting with their rifles, throwing percussion grenades, sound bombs and spraying chemicals in our faces. We managed to disturb the army’s path until additional units came and began chasing us. While avoiding getting caught and arrested, Haitham Al-Katib, a Palestinian activist, stumbled and got injured in his leg. As the soldiers were coming back towards the village, Amid’s father, in a fit of despair, hugged his little son and stood in front of them saying to his child and pointing to the soldiers, as if to give him a lesson: “Don’t be afraid! Look at them! They are soldiers, Israelis! They took your brother!”.
The soldiers’ unit left followed, some minutes later, by at least four more jeeps coming from inside the village. We estimated that between 50 and 80 soldiers were involved in the arrest of an unarmed civil Palestinian.
Despite the recent wave of arrests and the escalation in the repression of the protests, the popular resistance movement has not been defeated and weekly demonstrations against the Wall and settlements continue in Bil'in, Ni’lin, Jayyus, al-Ma’sara and other villages.
For further info on the popular resistance in Bil’in see www.bilin-village.org. See also “Repression allowed, resistance denied: Israel's suppression of the popular movement against the Apartheid Wall of Annexation”, Addameer and Stop the Wall Campaign new Joint Report.