Dawoud Confronts Goliath at Bil'in
Yesterday I received an
email with a letter from a prisoner who has been on death row in Texas for
more than 15 years. He has just been told he is to be killed on 9 May. I
then read an account of the daily violence in the occupied Palestinian
territories. During the 24 hours to 8am 5 April there were
15 attacks on Palestinians – 29 raids
– 4 beatings – 10 injuries -- 6 taken prisoner – 18 detained – 92
restrictions of movement. These incidents include:
can any human beings be so inhumane to other human beings? If we ignore
the Golden Rule we become less than human. This is a Jewish version: What
is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour; that is the whole Torah
After Friday prayers in the mosque, some 30 Palestinian men and youths, accompanied by eight Israelis, a similar number of internationals, and four press photographers, walked the short distance from the centre of Bil’in to where Israel has built the separation barrier. I was told that there are always Israeli Jewish activists at the protests which are held every week. Today there would have been more at Bil’in had not a larger contingent been at another protest in a nearby village. Here, as in other country areas, the barrier is a fence with a tarmac road beside it for Israeli army patrol vehicles. Along most of its length the barrier is not on the border with Israel – the Green Line – but is well inside the Palestinian West Bank. At Bil’in it is 4 km inside. It is primarily an annexation barrier, cutting the villagers off from their water supplies and from much of their land. Hence the protests in many villages, and why, in 2004, the International Court of Justice declared construction of the barrier to be contrary to international law.
As we walked to the fence we were led by Palestinian flags, two drummers, and a Bil’in man in a wheel chair who is a regular protestor. He is courageous because he can’t move quickly out of the way of firing or tear gas. Israeli soldiers on the other side of the barrier outnumbered the protestors. They intermittently fired a number of teargas projectiles to drive us back from the fence. A live round was fired towards a youth who was close to the fence. After 45 minutes, a more intense barrage of teargas drove us back towards the village, bringing the protest to an end. No one was hit by a projectile. However, Tristan Anderson, a Californian taking part in a similar protest in the neighbouring village of Ni’lin three weeks ago, was hit by a high-velocity teargas projectile. It fractured his skull, damaging his brain and left eye. He remains in coma.
I was told that the
protests at Bil’in were started by a man from the village who had
studied Gandhi’s use of non-violence against the British in India.
Nearly all the non-violent protests by West Bank villagers whose land has
been sequestered behind the barrier, go unreported. Gandhi believed that
non-violence would work with the British because they had a sense of fair
play – a generous sentiment about the colonial power controlling his
country. He was doubtful whether non-violent protest would influence the
behaviour of the Nazis in Germany. I fear that, as in Hitler’s Germany,
the savage ruthlessness and racism of political Zionism make it unlikely
that protest will influence the Israeli government and military. That does
not mean that I think non-violent action is a waste of time. On the
contrary, it is an essential tool to raise awareness about injustice.
The protest itself in Bil’in was non-violent but afterwards four of the village youths slung stones towards the soldiers. A middle-aged woman collected stones into a Palestinian flag as ammunition for the lads. There were no Palestinian women at the demonstration itself, and I saw a child who tried to join the march being sent home. Was it wrong of this women to encourage the youths? Be critical of her if you will, but first think how it must be to live under a very harsh occupation, to have your land stolen from you, and with it the produce you depend on to feed your family and to sell for your livelihood.
An old man who joined
the protest let me use the toilet in his house – provided I did not
flush it. Israel is turning on the water supply to the village – their
own water from the aquifer under their land – only one day a week. This
is so that Israelis living in Israel, and in settlements in the West Bank,
can have an unrestricted supply. It is illegal under international law for
Israel to take water for the use of its own citizens from the territory it
is occupying, including of course those Israelis living in the settlements
in the occupied territory, which are themselves illegal. Also according to
international law, Israel owes the Palestinians reparations for past and
continuing use of their water.