August 16, 2009
by Abdullah Abu Rahme, Coordinator of Bil’in’s Popular Committee
My West Bank village of Bil’in, a center of Palestinian nonviolent resistance for nearly five years, has been the target of two months of nightly raids by the Israeli military. The raids aim at ending our nonviolent demonstrations against the confiscation of our land for Israel’s wall and settlements.
On August 3rd at around 4 AM, I got a call from my friend Mohammed Khatib, one of the other members of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements. Mohammed said that Israeli soldiers had surrounded his home and were entering it. I jumped from bed and phoned some international volunteers who were staying in the village, and together we went to the village mosque.
200 Israeli soldiers had invaded our small village. Everywhere I turned they were in front of me. I continued speaking to Mohammed by phone, and he told me they were searching his home and asking many questions. The last time I called, I heard the soldiers ordering him to hang up the phone immediately. Ten minutes later I phoned Mohammed’s family, and they told me he had been arrested.
Mohammed has since been accused of incitement to “disturb the security of the area” and throwing stones. He joins in prison another Bil’in leading Non-violent activist, Adeeb Abu Rahme, who has been held on the same charge of incitement since on July 10th. Another 16 other Bil’in residents also remain in prison.
Building on a long history of Palestinian nonviolent resistance, our village began peaceful protests in late 2004 against Israel’s plans to build their West Bank wall through Bil’in, cutting off access to 50% of our land for an Israeli settlement. Since then we have been joined by thousands of Israeli and international supporters in weekly protests that follow our Friday midday prayer.
We’ve also fought the seizure of our land in the courts. In response to our petition in 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the wall in Bil’in must be moved further west, a change that would have saved some of our land from confiscation. However, nearly two years later, the Israeli government has still not implemented that decision.
In 2008, the village launched a lawsuit in Canada for War Crimes against two Canadian companies, Green Park and Green Mount, that are building settlements on our village’s land. The recent night raids began as that case was being heard in Montreal. Mohammed Khatib was arrested weeks after he returned from testifying in Canada.
Mohammed was arrested because the Israeli government is afraid of our nonviolent resistance, and doesn’t want it to spread to other regions of the West Bank. In 2005, they did the same with me – arresting me three times, but our nonviolent demonstrations continued anyway.
At a protest in July 15, 2005 we had tied ourselves inside a large prop that looked like a bridge crowned with a banner reading “peace needs bridges not walls.” The soldiers charged at us and arrested us. They claimed that I had attempted to assault soldiers - though my hands and feet were bound to our prop. I was imprisoned for saying "no" to the theft of my land. In prison, I felt the racism and injustice that are at the heart of the occupation. The judge eventually dismissed the assault charges because our video footage clearly showed we were beaten and arrested merely for protesting on a road in our own village. I was released on August 1, 2005 on the condition that I not participate in protests for months. I hope that Mohammed and the other prisoners from Bil’in will win their release as I eventually did.
On Thursday the Israeli military prosecutor presented a photo they claimed was Mohammed throwing stones, and a testimony they got from one of village’s youth currently in their custody supporting by boys from the village supporting that accusation. But Mohammed’s lawyer produced his passport and proved that Mohammed was not even in the country on the day the photo was taken. Sunday the Military judge will rule whether or not Mohammad will be held until the end of his trial.
In recent months, the Israeli government has also been escalating its repression of protests against land theft in villages like Ni’lin, Al Masara and other West Bank communities.
In Bil’in, as in other Palestinian communities, there is no question that we will persist and remain on our land, despite injuries, deaths and arrests. But we tell the many people who ask where is the Palestinian Gandhi and why don’t Palestinians use nonviolence, to understand that there are many Palestinian Gandhis whom you have never heard about. Staying on our land despite Israeli efforts to push us off requires thousands of acts of nonviolent resistance daily. But to succeed and gain our freedom, Palestinians everywhere need your active support, as we have it in Bil’in, in order to overcome Israel’s systematic efforts to crush all forms of Plestinian resistance.