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Bil’in: A Village Dedicated to Stopping the Wall

May 13, 2009

Four years ago, construction started on the Separation Wall through the middle Bil’in, a village outside of Ramallah.  They have lost about 60% of their land—agricultural land where most of the income of the village was made. 

Since then, the village has organized weekly, non-violent protests against the wall.  Men and women of all ages from Bil’in meet outside the mosque in the center of the village every Friday and walk together to the site of the wall along with the internationals and international press that participates in solidarity with the villagers.

I interviewed four villagers in Bil’in about how life has changed since the beginning of the construction of the wall and what they think about Bil’in’s future.

Ahmad Abu Rahmeh lives in Bil’in and is the director of the Al-Hadaf cultural center.  The cultural center is dedicated to preserving Palestinian heritage, culture, and folklore.  Its aim is to upgrade the quality of life for the village while maintaining their identity.  He attends the demonstrations every Friday—I asked him what he thinks about the wall and how it affects life in the village.

What economic effects do you think the wall will have on Bil’in?

“There are a lot of economic effects—we were working and living on the lands that got taken—eating the olives and selling the oil.”

Do the demonstrations have an effect on the construction of the wall?

“No, no effect on the Israelis…but they are important because they show the humanitarian and international organizations what the Israelis are doing—stealing land through the construction of the wall.”

Have you been injured in a demonstration?

“Yes, twice.”

Have you or anyone close to you been arrested?

“Yes, my brother has been arrested.”

Will there be more settlements around Bil’in?

“Yes, Israel was trying to build a new settlement before the wall; they have some plans already for more settlements.  They will surround the village, and will be all around the West Bank—inside and outside the wall there will be more settlements.”

Will the new Israeli government be any different?

“No.  There will be no changes.  There will be more occupying soldiers, more construction of the wall, and more killing of Palestinians.  There is no difference between Likud and Kadima for the Palestinians.  They all take new land—that is the nature of the Israelis.  They take and occupy new lands.”

What do you think about the future of Bil’in?

“Bil’in will continue to fight against the wall until it will be removed from her lands.”

Zuhdia Khatib is a resident of Bil’in and mother of five.  Her two oldest sons attend the weekly demonstrations and she has lost some of her family’s land from the construction of the wall.  I asked her about how she feels about the wall and how she feels as a mother when her sons attend the demonstrations.

How do the Israelis affect daily life in Bil’in?

“They take our freedom…we have no freedom, no fresh air, no water—Israel takes everything from the Palestinians and doesn’t give anything back.”

How much land is lost by the wall?

“3,300 dunams—no houses, just fields and our agricultural land—olive trees, wheat, beans, etc…”

Have you lost land from the construction of the wall?

“Yes, my father’s land was taken—360 dunams (one dunam is equivalent to 1000 square meters), and I lost 27 dunams.”

How has life in Bil’in changed since the weekly demonstrations began 4 years ago?

“Its miserable—the biggest problems are for the farmers.”

Have you been to the demonstrations?

“Yes, I used to go, but I had a bad reaction to the teargas and can’t go anymore.  When I was at the demonstrations I felt I was going to do something important and good—for the village and for Palestinians.”

How often are people injured in the demonstrations?

“Most of the people that take part in the demonstrations have been injured.”

How do you feel about your sons being at the demonstrations every week?

“I’m scared for them, but I love that they go—to be one strong hand and make the Israelis get out from our land.”

Have any of your sons been injured in the demonstrations?

“Yes, my two oldest sons have both been injured.  My son Jaber has been injured twice—once with a rubber coated steel bullet and once with a tear gas canister.  They use rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition at the demonstrations—they want to hurt people.”

Would you ever ask your sons to stay home?

“When they shoot steel bullets I tell them not to go or that they should leave.  But if I think that it won’t be dangerous and they won’t be hurt, I say to them, ‘go’.”

How often do the Israeli soldiers raid the village?

“Sometimes every day, sometimes three times a day—other times less often.  Most of the time the raids are at midnight; they arrest people—sometimes 25 people a month.  Every time there is a demonstration someone will be arrested for it during the night raids.  They will usually get a 3-4 month sentence.”

What happens during the raids?

“They arrest the boys, destroy some of the stuff in the house, breaking stuff and scaring people.  In the night they shoot, but everyone is in their houses.  If they come into your house, they put all of the people in one room on the floor and say ‘don’t move’.  Then the Israelis go around the house and ransack it, for example cutting up a blanket.”

Are there settlements around Bil’in and how do they affect the village?

“Yes, there are three settlements around the village. They took one road from the village, it is a Jewish-only road now, but it was replaced.  They affect our lives just by the fact that they are there, they never cross the wall, and they support the Israeli government when it takes our land.  Sometimes the settlers come to watch the demonstrations on Fridays, and in 2007 they had a demonstration in support of the wall.”

Do you think the new Israeli government will change the situation?

“I don’t know…the Israelis are like cancer.  They keep taking our land and leaving us with nothing.”

What do you think about the future of Bil’in?

 “We want to live in freedom like the Israelis live in freedom—it’s our right to live in peace.”

 Jaber Abu Rahmeh is Zuhdia Khatib’s oldest son.  He is twenty years old and remembers when the demonstrations first began 4 years ago.  There was a holiday from school and the students protested every day against the wall.  Since then, he has been working at the Al-Hadaf cultural center and has acted as a coordinator for the internationals and international press who come to the demonstrations.

 How do the Israelis and the wall affect daily life in Bil’in?

 “Sometimes they put checkpoints in the village—no one can enter or leave.  Because of the wall we started demonstrating every day when it was first being built.  We meet at the mosque then go to throw stones at the wall.  One time the soldiers threw teargas into the mosque while we were gathered there.  One man picked up the teargas canister with his bare hands and threw it back at the soldiers.”

 Have you been injured before?

 “Yes.  I was shot twice.  One time with a tear gas canister in the leg—afterwards I fell into a cactus—which was even more painful, haha.  The other time was with a rubber coated steel bullet in the shoulder.  I had to hold my arm out to the side for a long time after that.  My mom was mad when I came home after that because she told me not to go that day.”

 How do you think your mom feels when you go to the demonstrations?

 “She’s scared all the time—she asked me not to go anymore one time, but then she started going to the demonstrations.  But she had a bad reaction to the teargas and had to go in an ambulance.  Since then she cannot go.”

 Who comes to the demonstrations?

 “Its mostly men and boys from the village, sometimes a few women, and then the internationals and press—but there used to be more journalists—40 or so, but now there are only about 10.”

 Does the international presence cause the soldiers to act differently?

 “The Israeli leader says whether or not to shoot—sometimes it doesn’t matter whether there is press or not.  The demonstrations usually end with lots of kinds of bullets—rubber coated steel, rubber, and live ammunition.”

 What happens in the night raids?

 “They mostly use rubber bullets—they do these raids just to make problems with the village, to make the villagers react, and when they do they get arrested.  They do it to scare people.  I once heard an Israeli [captain] say to some other soldiers, ‘You work on the Bil’in people during the day on Friday and I will work on them at night’.”

 Umm Samara is a mother and grandmother living in Bil’in.  She has been attending the demonstrations every week from beginning.  Although there used to be more women who participated in the demonstrations, now she is usually the only woman from the village who goes—and she always tries to be at the front of the demonstration.

 How has life changed in Bil’in since the construction of the wall began?

 “We have been hurt a lot, and we have lost land.  The soldiers hurt us to scare us out of protesting.  My house has been raided, they raid daily sometimes.  They use sound bombs in the middle of the night.  One of my sons was arrested for one month and another was injured.”

 Are you ever afraid of getting hurt in the demonstrations?

 “No.  I have a good and strong personality—I love going.  I don’t like to be at the end of the demonstration.  I like to fight and kick and hit the soldiers at the front.”

 Why do you think it’s important to go to the demonstrations?

 “To stand in solidarity with the village for our land.”

 What’s the scariest experience you’ve had at a demonstration?

 “I have fought with the soldiers; have been on the ground being hit by the soldiers.  They were beating and kicking my cousin while he was on the ground.  I went in to stop them and got into the fight.”

 Do you think the demonstrations will be able to stop the construction of the wall?

 “Insha’allah—we hope.  Everything is in God’s hands…”

 

 

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