But Israel’s Supreme Court demonstrated both the power of nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation, and its limits. On September 5 the court rejected our petition to stop the construction of another Israeli settlement, Mattiyahu East, on our land even further to the west. Israel, with US support, appears determined to retain major West Bank settlement blocs, including one west of Bil’in, that carve the West Bank into bantustans.
Bil’in is a West Bank agricultural village with 1600 residents located just east of “the Green Line”, the pre-1967 border between the West Bank and Israel. In Bil’in, as in tens of Palestinian villages, Israel exploited security justifications to build a wall deep inside the West Bank and seize Palestinian land for illegal settlements. Israel trapped 60% of our land behind the wall, mostly olive groves that we depend on.
In December, 2004 when the Israeli army started bulldozing our land and uprooting olive trees to build the wall, we went to our fields to protest. We learned from other West Bank villages that nonviolently resisted the wall, and we studied Gandhi, King and Mandela.
We developed creative activities for our weekly protests. One Friday, activists locked themselves inside a cage, representing the wall’s impacts. Another time, we built a Palestinian “outpost” on our village’s land located behind the wall and next to an Israeli settlement, mimicking the Israeli strategy of establishing outposts to expand settlements.
Another Friday we handed the Israeli soldiers a letter saying, “Had you come here as guests, we would show you the trees that our grandfathers planted here, and the vegetables that we grow… There will never be security for any of us until Israelis respect our rights to this land.”
We hosted two international conferences on nonviolent resistance, and many Israeli and international activists responded to our call to join us in a “joint struggle.” Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners suffered patiently together as the soldiers met our nonviolent actions with teargas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and clubs. Over 800 activists were injured in 200 demonstrations. An Israeli attorney and a Bil’in resident both suffered permanent brain damage from rubber-coated steel bullets shot from close range. Another Palestinian lost sight in one eye. 49 Bil’in residents, including some protest leaders, were arrested. Some spent months in prison.
Our achievements are due to our persistence, the worldwide media attention we attracted, and the support we gained from committed Israeli activists.
We never expected much from the occupier’s courts. The Israeli official who planned the wall told the Washington Post last month that he lost only three legal challenges to the wall’s path, out of 120 appeals filed, this though the wall isolates 10% of the West Bank and was ruled illegal where it is built inside the West Bank by the International Court of Justice.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Still, Israel’s Supreme Court legalized the settlement of Mattiyahu East on our land, even though Mattiyahu East appeared to violate even Israeli law because it lacked an approved building permit.
The rush to build followed President Bush’s April, 2004 letter to then Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon stating that, “new realities on the ground, including already existing population centers” make it unrealistic to expect Israel to withdraw completely to the Green Line. Israel responded by expanding “existing population centers”, building huge apartment complexes, like Mattiyahu East, for hundreds of thousands of people, and calling them neighborhoods in existing settlements.
These expanding settlement blocs fall conveniently on Israel’s side of the wall. Strategically situated, the settlement blocs divide the West Bank into four isolated regions. Therefore, their annexation to Israel will render any Palestinian state unviable. Yet annexation of the settlement blocs is reportedly central to new Israeli government peace proposals to Palestinian President Abbas.
We will continue to challenge these expanding settlements because they threaten the futures of Bil’in and the Palestinian people. And we will put our experience at the service of other communities struggling against the wall and settlements. From Bil’in, we call on Israeli and international activists to join us as we renew our joint struggle for freedom.
Mohammed Khatib is a leading member of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and the secretary of Bil’in’s Village Council.