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Last Friday in Bil'in

Fridays are demo day in Palestine. It's the weekend but not yet shabbat so religious Jewish Israelis can participate in solidarity. Right now there are about ten non-violent demonstrations each Friday. Activists travel from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem coordinate cars to drive to and between demonstrations


Sharon and I met Emily and Noam early, picked up Ginger and drove to Bil'in. We went to Emily's friend Abu Nizar's place for one of the most amazing meals of my life. We sat on the roof of their home and ate from dozens of different amazing tasty dishes - foul, salad, hummus, baba ganoush, and so many things I don't know the name of. We hung out with Abu Nizar, his wife Amina, his eldest son Nizar and many of his other children. Abu Nizar is the popular committee's legal representative so he works with Emily (who is the village's lawyer) a lot. One of Abu Nizar's friends is a writer who is writing a book about Bil'in, and he came by to ask us who we were, why we were in Bil'in and what we thought about the situation. He was a really interesting guy, having grown up in Bil'in and left Palestine in 1974 and worked with the PLO before returning exactly 22 years later to become part of the new Palestinian administration.
Breakfast at Abu Nizar's


The formula for the demo in Bil'in (which is similar to what we've seen in other towns) is to gather in the middle of town and march in a celebratory fashion to the point of conflict. The issues that Bil'in is protesting are that a bunch of their land was taken to expand an illegal Israeli settlement, and that Israel's "security barrier" / "apartheid wall" cuts the town off from much of their remaining land and olive trees. In 2007 Israel's supreme court has ruled that the wall must be moved so that the villagers can freely access their land, but it's still there, so we march up to the wall.

Now Emily, Ginger, Sharon and I didn't actually march up to the fence, we stopped a couple of hundred meters back to watch the action. We weren't there to get tear gassed or arrested, we were there to learn and for solidarity. Noam went along with the bulk of the protesters up to a gate in the razor-wire fence that the wall is made of here. Sure enough pretty much a soon as the protesters reached the fence the tear gas started flying. Some kids started throwing stones across a section of fence nearer us so the soldiers responded with tear gas there too.
View of the fence from where we stood

We were never in a cloud of tear gas, but the invisible stuff that floats on the wind is pretty unpleasant. It stung our eyes and throats. The best defence was covering our mouths with cloth. I had the Berber turban I picked up in Morocco and that did a decent job. We had onions too, which help your eyes tear up to was the gas out.
Protection from the gas

For half an hour or so of soldiers lobbed tear gas over the fence. The protesters would retreat a bit and then return, asserting their right to be there. Then suddenly the army crossed over and half a dozen heavily armed soldiers came towards the village. The three of us retreated to Rani Bornat's house. Rani is a disabled Bil'in resident who goes up to the wall every week. He was paralysed on the first day of the second intifada during a non-violent protest yet he continues to protest non-violently. He's a real inspiration. He also has newborn triplets which the girls were really excited to see.
Rani, non-violent protest hero
Emily and Sharon with tiny babies

Emily hadn't heard from Noam and he wasn't answering texts so I ventured out of the house to find him. At the entrance to the village I saw Noam with a bunch of Bil'in residents and Israeli activists surrounding three soldiers. Then they escorted the soldiers down the hill back towards the gate. Noam explained that the soldiers had come into the village to arrest some people and the activists had managed to prevent that. The soldiers left empty handed. They came back a few minutes later, I think more kids were throwing rocks, but we were back in the village.

We had a wonderful day. It was great to meet Abu Nizar and his family. It was great to see Rani, his father Waji and the rest of their family. The weather was beautiful, the food was amazing, the conversation was interesting and everyone was so friendly. The only thing I don't love about Palestine is the occupation.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 20th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
Intense shit.

In lighter news, that FOOD looks AWESOME.
Jan. 21st, 2010 09:40 am (UTC)
The food was fucking amazing.
Jan. 20th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
You guys are either braver than I am, or crazy.
Jan. 21st, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)
it's not so scary, really. we are always with emily who is so familiar with the villages and the rituals and the people that we know she will keep us safe. there are several places we never go (ni'ilin and sheih jarash for example) because safety and un-arrestedness is not guaranteeable there. you can see from the photos (here and the ones i posted from last week) how far away from the action we remain. the brave people - like noam - go right up and yell at soldiers and grab people away who are being arrested!

which reminds me, i have a video to post on my page...
Jan. 21st, 2010 09:42 am (UTC)
It's way way safer than East Oakland, East Palo Alto or Hunters Point. Not that I go those places if I can avoid it. It'd say a Bil'in demo has Mission-levels of risk of injury. If you don't want to put yourself in harms way then it's easy to avoid it.
Jan. 21st, 2010 04:44 am (UTC)
So is it Tel Aviv Israel or Tel Aviv Occupied Palestine?
Jan. 21st, 2010 08:47 am (UTC)
tel aviv is in israel, not in the occupied territories... jerusalem is half and half (east jerusalem is palestine).
Jan. 21st, 2010 09:56 am (UTC)
Under UN Security Council Resolution 242 the land occupied in the 1967 war is not recognized as part of the state of Israel. Israel does not grant its residents the right to citizenship, however it still maintains complete or partial authority over 97.3% of occupied Palestine. It annexes land from Palestinian individuals and communities to build cities for Israeli citizens who live under Israeli law with Israeli rights and are provided with Israeli services, all of which are denied their neighbors. Israel is building a "separation barrier" (aka "security barrier" or "apartheid wall") to separate the occupied West Bank from Israel, but instead of following the internationally recognized borders of Israel it juts into the West Bank significantly. Take a look at the map.

All of this is clearly illegal under international law, clearly immoral and clearly counter to a lasting peace that doesn't rely on the extermination of the Palestinian people.
Jan. 21st, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I got it too - its definitely good news, but I want to hear it from official sources before I get too excited. Now if we can get Israel to accept the Palestinians' right to elect Hamas to public office we can get some progress.

"Right to exist" is a tough one though. I respect the right of the people living here to live here, but I don't actually accept the right of them to have a state that defines citizenship along racial and religious lines. I doubt Hamas will either.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )