Bilin Collects Teargas Grenades instead of Olives…

October 10, 2009

Bilin demo

Ramallah – Ma’an – Local residents and international solidarity activists helped the central West Bank village of Bil’in clean up several months worth of spent tear-gas canisters on Friday afternoon.

Israel’s military opens fire each week on demonstrators protesting its separation barrier, which, when completed, will annex more than 50 percent of the farming village’s olive groves for the use of nearby illegal settlements.

But on Friday, about 150 volunteers, including dozens from Israel, scraped up and bagged thousands of the plastic and metal casings marked with yellow Hebrew lettering, all found littered throughout Bil’in’s rolling hills.

Shortly after locals hauled the sacks away in personal vehicles, however, soldiers launched more high-velocity CS shells at what was left of this week’s protest, noticeably slimmed down from the past summer’s throngs.

According to Iyad Burnet, head of the local Popular Committee Against the Wall, the cleanup was necessitated by the risk of ordnance to kids, as many of the leftover shells have exploded in children’s hands in the past.

But he also noted that if Israel would simply allow farmers to access the other half of their village’s land, none of the protests or tear-gassings would be necessary.

“Consequently, this reaction from the Israeli soldiers prompted the villagers to replace the collection of olives with collecting tear gas that fills the fields and [is] used by the Israeli army to suppress the demonstration[s],” Burnet said. “Instead of returning with bags filled with the fruits of olive as their grandfathers used to do, they have returned with bags filled with tear gas bombs.”

Nonetheless, Palestinians and internationals piled up the cool but still potent casings following the march, which was shut down harshly about 30 minutes after it began following noon prayers.

Meanwhile, a handful of teens slung rocks toward small units of soldiers, armed with riot gear and shields, a few hundred meters north of the main protest, which tends not to verge far from the road leading to a barbed-wire fence set to unilaterally determine Bil’in’s border.

Watching at a safe distance from both confrontations was three-and-a-half-year-old Walid Khatib, wearing a small green face mask in case some of the gas drifted over, under the cautious eye of a middle-aged Palestinian.

“Actually, he’s not my son,” the man told a few foreigners standing nearby, identifying himself as a member of the village’s Popular Committee. “Walid’s father can’t come to Bil’in on Fridays – Israeli military orders.”

Indeed, 35-year-old village council member Mohammad Khatib was nowhere to be found this week, banned from entering his own town and still on the mend following an alleged mid-September violent assault by several Israeli soldiers, all of whom were led by a commander infamously recognized as “Captain Fuad” throughout the village.

Although Bil’in’s residents have continuously complained of ill-treatment at the hands of soldiers who raid the village in armored cars and on foot several nights each week to round up members of the anti-wall movement, it took more than two weeks for Israeli military police to arrest “the captain” on Wednesday, and that was only after a video of Khatib’s beating was released to the public.

An Israeli military court issued a gag order on the soldier’s identity and any initial findings, but according to the complaint filed by Khatib’s lawyer, Michael Sfard, the alleged assault took place at the home of Popular Committee official Abdullah Abu Rahma, who Israel was seeking to arrest over his involvement in the weekly protests.

Abu Rahma was not at home, and as the woman who owned his house grew uncomfortable waiting while a unit of soldiers ransacked it in the middle of the night, she called Khatib to stop by, the complaint said. When Khatib asked to speak to the officer in charge, soldiers allegedly beat him so severely that he required overnight hospitalization in Ramallah. He was then detained.

Additionally, “Fuad” also threatened to kill the council member, according to the complaint, which says the commander told Khatib that “unless the protests stop, you’ll end up like Bassem,” a reference to Bassem Abu Rahma, who was shot dead, also on video, while holding a sign near the separation barrier during a demonstration in April.

A statement from Sfard, Khatib’s lawyer, described the military’s night raids as representative of “a culture of total impunity among Israeli soldiers when they enter West Bank villages, which can only be stopped by imposing consequences on such behavior.”

According to Sfard’s employer, the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, of 1,246 files opened by military police since 2000, only six percent have led to indictments.

But even if the court ultimately fails to prosecute anyone, Wednesday’s arrest was a milestone for Bil’in, as it marked the first time an investigation had ever been carried out in response to even one of the village’s complaints over Israel’s ongoing night raids.



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