Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bil'in - and the world looks on...

Here's a blog entry from a friend of mine still in Palestine, who has been attending the peaceful protests in Bil'in against the Israeli land-grab. It speaks for itself:

"As some of you will have read, on New Year’s Eve, two Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces: one, a 24 year-old student at a checkpoint near Nablus; the other, a 36 year-old woman at the weekly demonstrations in Bil’in.

Jawaher Abu Rahma was watching the protest but collapsed after inhaling large quantities of tear gas – a ‘non-lethal weapon’ used regularly by the IDF – and later died in hospital. An investigation is underway as to the cause of her death, but as it is being held by the Israeli army we may be sceptical as to any conclusions drawn. Already, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, the commander of the IDF in the West Bank, has claimed she probably died of ‘other medical complications’ rather than as a result of the actions of the IDF. Many who were at the protests on New Year’s Eve claim that the tear gas used was more potent than normal – due to the larger-than-normal crowd expected at the final protest of the year – but whilst this may well be the case, it would be difficult to prove. Regardless of the noises made by either side, the fact remains that following the peaceful protests and violent retaliation a woman lost her life. The story is made all the more tragic by the fact that one of her brothers was killed in 2009, when he was hit by a high-velocity tear gas canister during a similar protest.

This week, the protest in Bil’in was held in Jawaher’s memory, and we had to go along. The plan was that the march would start at noon as usual – just after the midday prayer – and the women would lead, preceded by a truck on which Jawaher’s mother was standing and speaking to the large crowd. Around 300 people attended, but the number would surely have been higher had the Israeli army not installed flying checkpoints around the city and blocked entrance to any car carrying internationals. Indeed, I was extremely happy to note the high number of Israeli women who had made it through the blockade, and at times it seemed that Israelis and other internationals were actually in the majority at the march – a sure sign of the growing distance between Israel’s government and her people, and their discontent at having a government murder in their name.

The march proceeded very smoothly at first; unlike the last time I was here, the protestors reached the wall without being fired upon. It was obvious that due to the tragedy of the previous week the army were unwilling to be seen to be using tear gas too aggressively – and certainly not in front of the world’s media, who had turned out in droves (which, oddly enough, included a reporter from Fox News). In Bil’in, the Separation Wall is actually a high fence, and once the protestors reached it, they began to attack it with wire-cutters - this, it should be noted, is viewed as both a legal and legitimate form of protest against occupation under international law. Only a few feet from the soldiers, you could see them holding tear gas grenades and waiting for the command. They didn’t throw them, but there was a roar of an engine, and all the shabab started to run. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone going to a protest in the West Bank, it would be that when the shabab – the Palestinian kids with the rocks – start to run, fucking leg it, because they know something bad is coming.

And they were right... From behind the fence came an armoured-van with a water cannon that sprayed the crowd with a bright green, vile-smelling torrent of liquid. This ‘skunk-juice’ is some of the most foul stuff I have ever come across – like a fetid mix of shit and rot and sewage – which makes you choke nauseously if you even get near the spray. If it touches you, it stays on you for weeks, and if it gets on your clothes or hair, you’re better to throw the clothes out or shave your head. I can only imagine what it does to the land. Fortunately, I managed to avoid the shower of filth, but the stench lingered in the air. I must say that this liquid seemed a much better deterrent than tear gas; unlike the gas, it doesn’t make you hurt and angry, just revolted and sick. The van continued to spray the crowd, and kept them back from the wall. The kids, however, moved faster than the van, and before long were at the fence further down and cutting the wire; it was at the kids they launched the first tear gas, but after the first had been launched, the cannisters came falling down like hail. So much for restraint: the army quickly ramped up the assault, and before long, and in a haze of gas, the IDF were on the Palestinian side of the fence. The shabab hurled rocks, the IDF hurled grenades; the protestors retreated, and the press went home.

All this mess, with its choking gas and rotten stench, lasted less than a couple of hours, but the protests have gone on for years. Another week passed in Bil’in, and now, less than a day later, all the holes in the fence will be fixed. Next week will bring more of the same, and we can only hope that last week’s events do not happen again. Knowing the belligerence of the IDF, I am not optimistic. We came back to Nablus, tired and hungry, and crashed back into our world. For the kids of Bil’in, this struggle is everything they know."

His blog: ''

No comments:

Post a Comment