A Big Victory Against the Wall in Bil'in


When my friends fall prey to despair, I show them a piece of painted concrete, which I bought in Berlin. It is one of the remnants of the Berlin wall, which are on sale in the city.

I tell them that I intend, when the time comes, to apply for a franchise to sell pieces of [Israel’s] Separation Wall.

Sometimes, when I give a lecture before a German audience, I ask: ‘How many of you believed, a week before the fall of the Berlin Wall, that this would happen in your lifetime?’ No one has ever raised their hand.

But the Berlin Wall fell. This week it happened in Israel, too true, only in one place, to a small section of the fence when the Supreme Court decided that the Government must dismantle the obstacle (which at this place consists of a fence, with ditches, patrol roads and razor wire) and relocate it nearer to the Green Line.  

The Bible commands us: ‘Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth’ (Proverbs 24,17). It is a very hard commandment to obey. The enemy, in this case, is the ‘Separation Obstacle.’ It is hard not to rejoice, even when it is a limited joy, a conditional joy, because we have won a battle, not the campaign.

First of all, a part of the land of Bil’in has been redeemed, but not all of it. The new fence will still be far from the Green Line. The length of the section to be dismantled is less than two kilometres.

Second, Bil’in is only one of many villages whose land has been stolen by means of the wall.

Third, the wall is only one of the means of occupation, and the occupation gets worse by the day.

Fourth, in many other places the Supreme Court has confirmed the path of the fence, even though it steals Palestinian land no less than at Bil’in.

Fifth, the Bil’in decision also has a negative side: it gives the court an alibi in the eyes of the world. It confers on the settlers an apparent legitimacy in many other places. It must not be forgotten for a moment that the Supreme Court is essentially an instrument of the occupation, even though it tries sometimes to mitigate it.

As if to underline this point, the court itself hastened this week to issue another ruling, giving retroactive authorisation to another neighbourhood that has also been built on Bil’in land.

Yet in spite of all this: in this desperate struggle, even a small victory is a big victory. Especially since it happened in Bil’in. For Bil’in is a symbol. In the past two and a half years, it has become a part of our life.

Here, every Friday, for 135 weeks without exception, a demonstration against the fence has taken place.

What is so special about Bil’in, a small and remote village, whose name was known before to just a few outsiders, if any? The struggle there has become a symbol because of an unusual combinations of traits:

Steadfastness. The courage of the Bil’iners. In other villages, too, the demonstrators have shown courage, but here the sheer dogged persistence arouses admiration. Week after week they came back. The activists were arrested again and again, wounded more than once. The entire village has suffered from the terrorism of the occupation authorities.

More than once, I was stirred at the sight of this small village’s resistance. I saw the armoured jeeps storming in, sirens screeching hysterically, the heavily armed policemen jumping out and throwing gas and stun grenades in all directions, young boys stopping the jeeps with their bodies.

Partnership. The three-cornered partnership between the people of the village, Israeli peace activists and representatives of international solidarity.

This is a kind of partnership that is not expressed in highfaluting speeches or sterile meetings in luxury hotels abroad. It was forged under clouds of choking tear gas, under the jets of water cannons, under fire from stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets, and in ambulances of the Red Crescent as well as army detention facilities. It has given birth to comradeship and mutual trust, just when these seemed to have been lost forever in our country.

Since the death of Yasser Arafat, co-operation between Palestinians and Israeli peace movements has declined in several spheres. Many Palestinians have despaired of the Israelis, who have not achieved the hoped-for change, and many Israeli peace activists have despaired in face of the Palestinian reality. But in Bil’in co-operation has flourished.

The Israeli activists, headed by the resolute young women and men of the ‘Anarchists Against the Fence,’ have proved to the Palestinians that they have an Israeli partner they can trust, and the people of Bil’in have proved to their Israeli friends that they are reliable and determined partners. I am proud of the part Gush Shalom has played in this struggle.

Now the court has proved that such demonstrations, which many considered hopeless, can indeed bear fruit.

Non-violence. Always and everywhere. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King would have been proud of such disciples.

The non-violence was entirely on the side of the demonstrators. I can testify as an eye-witness: in all the demonstrations in which I took part, I saw not a single instance of a demonstrator raising a hand against a soldier or policeman. When in one of the protests stones were thrown from among the protesters, video films conclusively proved that they were thrown by undercover policemen.

True, there was violence at the demonstrations. A lot of violence. But it came from the soldiers and the border-policemen who could not bear, I presume, the sight of Palestinians and Israelis acting together.

Generally, it happened like this: The demonstrators marched together from the centre of the village towards the fence. In front, there marched young men and women wearing or carrying symbols of non-violence. On one occasion, they were handcuffed to each other, another time they were holding high portraits of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, another time they were carried in cages imagination and creativity were given free rein. Sometimes well-known personalities marched in front, arms locked.

Near the fence, a large contingent of soldiers and border-policemen were waiting for them, wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests and armed with rifles and grenade launchers, with handcuffs and sticks dangling from their belts. The protesters did not stop but advanced towards the gate, banging on it, shaking it, waving flags and shouting slogans. The soldiers opened fire with gas and stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets.

Some protesters sat down on the ground, others retreated and then came back again and again. Some were dragged away with their bare backs scraping along the road and the rocks, choking on the gas. Arrests were made. Wounds were treated.

When the demonstration came to a close and the participants headed back towards the village, the local boys would start to sling stones at the soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets. Chases took place between the olive trees, with the light footed boys generally having the advantage.

Sometimes, the stone-slinging started even earlier, when the boys saw from afar the concentration of forces lurking in the village groves and the demonstrators being dragged brutally towards the army vehicles. But, in accordance with the standing agreement among themselves, the protesters never joined in the violence, not even when they were dragged on the rock-strewn ground or were kicked and beaten while lying there.

This combination of steadfastness, partnership and non-violence is what turned Bil’in into a beacon of the struggle against the occupation.

The Bil’in affair has another face, which was revealed in all its ugliness over the last few weeks.

The Supreme Court has decided that the path of the fence in this sector was not based on security considerations, but was designed to enlarge the settlement. For us, of course, that was not a startling revelation. Everyone who has been there, including foreign diplomats, has seen it with their own eyes: the path was fixed in such a way that the Bil’in land was annexed de facto to Israel, to serve for a huge new housing project called ‘Matityahu East,’ in addition to the settlement called Matityahu (and also Modi’in Illit and Kiryat Sefer) that is already standing.

In a second decision this week, the Supreme Court, for the sake of a spurious ‘balance,’ decided that the housing project that is already standing in Matityahu, also on Bil’in land, can remain there and may now be populated, in spite of the fact that the same court has in the past forbidden this.

And who built Matityahu?

Some weeks ago, a huge scandal was exposed. The culprit is a building company called Heftsiba. It collapsed, taking with it the apartments that its clients had already paid for. Many of them have lost their entire savings.

The owner of the company fled and was tracked down in Italy. The company’s debts come close to a billion dollars. The police suspects that the fugitive has stolen immense sums.

And lo and behold: this is the same company that built the original Matityahu neighbourhood, and that intended to build the new Matityahu project on land stolen by means of the ‘Security Fence.’ It also built the monstrous Har Homa housing project and other neighbourhoods in the occupied territories.

Who can now deny what we have been saying for years, that the settlements are a huge business of billions upon billions of dollars, which is entirely based on stolen property?

Everybody knows the hard core of settlers, nationalist-messianic fanatics, who are ready to drive out, kill and rob, because their God told them so. But around this core has gathered a large group of gangsters, real estate operators, who conduct their dirty and hugely profitable business behind the screen of patriotism. In this case, patriotism is indeed the refuge of scoundrels.

Talia Sasson, a lawyer appointed at the time by the government to investigate the setting up of ‘illegal’ settlement outposts, has concluded that most of the ministries and army commands have violated the law and secretly cooperated with the settlers. It may appear that they acted out of patriotic sentiments. I have my doubts. I dare to guess that there must be hundreds of politicians, officials and officers who have received large bribes from businessmen who made billions from these ‘patriotic’ transactions.

PS:The man who invented the wall was Haim Ramon, then a leader of the Labor Party. Ramon started out as one of the ‘doves’ of the party (when that was popular). Later he jumped ship to the Kadima Party (when that was profitable).

This week Ramon proposed cutting off the electricity that Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip, as punishment for the Qassam rockets fired at Sderot. It must be remembered that from the beginning of the occupation, Israeli governments have prevented the setting up of independent water and electricity works there, so as to make sure that the Strip would be completely dependent on Israel in matters of life and death.

Now Ramon proposes cutting off this lifeline, to plunge Gaza into darkness, to stop electricity for hospitals and refrigerators, as a collective punishment – which constitutes a war crime. His government has accepted the proposal in principle.

If Bil’in represents the struggle of the Sons of Light, Ramon surely represents quite literally the Sons of Darkness.

This is an edited version of a piece published on the Gush Shalom website on 8 September.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.