Guest Blog

Celebrating 5 years of successful protest

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Wednesday, 24 February, 2010

February 19th saw a double celebration at the weekly protest that has become the hallmark of the popular struggle against the Wall and the settlements. Emily Schaeffer describes this major victory for the movement and explains why the non-violent demonstrations will continue.

Just as the 5-year anniversary of the Friday non-violent joint Palestinian-Israeli-international demonstrations in Bil'in against the wall arrived, work began to re-route the barrier and return some of the village’s confiscated lands.

Bil'in and its supporters see it as a major victory of the popular non-violent movement that the wall is finally moving nearly two and a half years after the September 2007 Supreme Court decision declaring its current route illegal.

On Friday I joined Bil'in residents and over 1,500 supporters, including representatives from Israeli and Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, in celebrating the positive changes that will soon occur on the ground. Between 600,000 and 700,000 square metres - 25% of the village's lands, or a half of the half from which they are cut off - will be returned to the village.

The response by the army and border police was severe. The areas near the wall in both Bil'in and Nialin were declared "closed military zones" for the day, and as a result many demonstrators from Israel were detained on their way, and some did not even reach the village to join in the demonstration.

Those of us who did make it, risking the arrest with which we were threatened at the checkpoints, enjoyed an hour of hopeful speeches before marching to the wall.

Upon reaching the wall we were immediately pushed back by a large water tank shooting the unbearable, oil-based ‘skunk’ liquid, which causes nausea at first smell and can only be washed off with repeated salt water bathing. Just minutes later, over 50 tear gas canisters rained down onto the large demonstration, and as the wind was strong nearly everyone who came within 500 metres of the wall choked on the mass amounts of gas.

But the demonstrators' sprit was not wounded. The feeling in the air was both of celebration and frustration. Two and a half years after the Supreme Court victory, Bil'in and its supporters are ready to see immediate change, and the location of the current wall feels even more of an affront to their freedom than ever before.

Even once its construction will be complete, the new wall is neither located on the "Green Line" (the 1949 Armistice Line/1967 borders) nor does it return all of the village's land. What is more, the largest settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories (based on population), Modi'in Illit, remains on approximately one quarter of Bil'in's land, and of course the settlement project as a whole continues.

Furthermore, over 30 residents of Bil'in have been arrested since June 2009 for their participation in the non-violent movement. Two of its leaders, Adeeb and Abdullah Abu Rahma, remain in detention until the end of the criminal proceedings against them. The arrests of non-violent activists from other villages, from the northern to the southern West Bank, have increased dramatically over the last several weeks (27 residents of the neighbouring village Nialin were arrested since December alone).

There is a sense among Bil'in residents and their supporters that moving the wall is an attempt to delegitimize the continuation of the demonstrations, and possibly to justify using more violent dispersal tactics.

These facts form the answer to the question many of us who were interviewed by TV reporters at the demo on Friday were asked: "Now that the wall is moving, will the demonstrations continue?"

YES. Bil'in's non-violent popular struggle will continue. Through demonstrations, the media, and courts abroad. Not only until the new wall is built and the old wall removed, but until the settlements are removed, the village's land is rightfully returned and the oppressive occupation ends.

Emily Schaeffer, a specialist on the Village of Bil'in, is a 31 year old American-Israeli human rights lawyer, based in Tel Aviv at the Michael Sfard Law Offices. For 10 years, Emily has advocated both in Israel and the US on behalf of social justice and human rights, including housing, health and gender-based rights, most recently focusing on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

As both a member of the Israeli legal team representing Bil'in since 2006, and a participant in its joint non-violent resistance movement, Emily has represented Bil'in in numerous international fora, including on panels at human rights conferences in Europe and Africa.

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Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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