Just finished my first full day with our delegation to Bil’in – I think I speak for all our participants when I say we are honored and thrilled to be here.
As I mentioned in my previous post, our group is made up of Chicago-area Jews and Palestinians, with one participant from Los Angeles. We are longtime friends and fellow activists for a just peace in Palestine and we organized this trip to show solidarity with the Palestinian nonviolence resistance movement on the West Bank. While individual members of the delegation have different personal opinions on the politics of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and might differ on how a solution should politically be achieved, we are united in the conviction that full equality and civil rights should be enjoyed by all the people – Jews and Palestinians alike.
Our “home base” for the trip is Bil’in; our host is Iyad Burnat, a prominent leader in this movement. Iyad serves as the head of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, which has led weekly demonstrations against Israel’s separation barrier for the past nine years and has been one of the leading communities in the Palestinian popular resistance. I’ve written a great deal about Bil’in over the years and I’ve closely followed the news out of this small but mighty West Bank village. And like many, I was transfixed by the Oscar nominated documentary, “5 Broken Cameras,” directed by Iyad’s brother Emad, which movingly documented Bil’in’s ongoing struggle.
Our hosts here have been gracious and wonderful – Iyad (in the orange shirt, top pic) and his wife Tasaheel (in the blue hijab) and his cousin Mustafa and his wife Sabrin have joyfully welcomed us into their homes and their families. This is clearly much more than a chance to learn about a movement – it is an opportunity to share in a way of life, to forge new relationships, to make dear new friends.
In our introductory tour, Iyad explained that Bil’in was one of the early West Bank villages to organize regular nonviolent demonstrations against the wall that was cutting the village off from a significant portion of agricultural land in order to create a buffer around the nearby settlement of Mod’in Ilit. Bil’in’s efforts have borne fruit – in September 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the wall should be moved back 500 meters. The ruling was finally carried out by the military on June 2011, which restored 1,100 dunams of farmland back to the village (almost half of their of their originally confiscated land.)
And yet the struggle continues: the wall continues to choke off the people of Bil’in from their livelihood and the occupation continues to take a major toll on the life of the village. Our group will be participating the demonstration at the wall at Bil’in’s weekly demonstration this Friday – at which time similar demonstrations will take place in villages across the West Bank. This act of solidarity will be, without question, the most important aspect of our itinerary.
One of the newest additions to the village is a new garden dedicated to the memory of Bassem (“Pheel”) Abu Rachme, a much beloved and very charismatic leader in Bil’in who was killed in 2009 when a tear gas canister struck him in the torso. His killing was captured on camera in “5 Broken Cameras” in one particularly heart-rending moment.
Last month, the IDF officially announced it was closing the investigation into his death. According to a report in +972:
The military prosecution claims it was unable to determine the identity of the Israeli soldiers and border policemen involved or whether open-fire regulations were breached. This, despite the fact that as B’Tselem and Yesh Din pointed out in a joint press release condemning the decision, three video segments filmed during the demonstration show that Abu Rahmeh was situated to the east of the barrier, did not act violently and did not endanger the soldiers in any way…
Late last year, a soldier who served in the same unit that killed Abu Rahme gave testimony about the incident to Breaking the Silence. “…(T)his one time, one of the soldiers simply aimed at someone directly, and [the tear gas canister] hit his chest and he got killed. .. The guy who shot him … was kind of pleased with the whole thing, he had an X on his launcher,” the former soldier continued. An X on a weapon indicates a “kill.”
Bassem’s memorial garden (above) lies in the land that was recently reclaimed from the relocation of the wall. The myriad of small black planters are made of tear gas canisters. Please read the long tribute from the plaque at the garden, below, to get a sense of this man who will always occupy a dear place in the hearts of the villagers of Bil’in.
In my next post I’ll write about our memorable visit to Nabi Saleh, another prominent village involved in the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Back soon.