While Walt and Eric remained in an area of high tension in the south, team members Nicole and Martha headed north to Bil'in on Friday (4-18-08), where locals and activists gather for a weekly nonviolent demonstration against the segregation wall.
Bil'in has gained a place in history due to the dedication and persitence of Palestinian-led efforts to oppose the Wall (and the annexation of sixty percent of their land) by nonviolent means--usually marches, "sit downs," etc., at the site where the wall crosses this relatively small village. According to a local organizer being interviewed by international press, there have been over 1,000 people injured at Bil'in since the start of protests here; some individuals have been injured more than ten times. According to the same source, there have been more than 60 arrests in connection with this weekly demonstration. Friday was Prinsoner's Day in Palestine, a day declared by the Palestinian Authority to commorate those Palestinians who are, or were, in prison.
The movie Bil'in Habibati was filmed about the situation here, and we were able to meet several people from the film this week. Locals, Israelis, and internationals are still out there every week demonstrating against the wall, years--and several court decisisions--later. This week there were at least a dozen journalists, more than 30 internationals and Israelis, and many more local people. There were international activists from Europe, Australia, Japan, Seattle, Chicago, and many other places. For more in depth information and background on this village and the non-violent resistance here, see previous MPT reports:
And, visit the website of local Bil'in organizers: http://www.ffj-bilin.org/strona/index.php.
Here's our brief photo story of this week's ("fairly calm") Friday demonstration in Bil'in...
A few bold activists have moved the barbed wire and, rather symbolically, opened the gate to the road. They are unable to move through the gate, however; soldiers opened fire with rubber-coated steel bullets soon after this photo was taken.
MPT team member Martha takes up a yellow flag, as a Palestinian cameraman stands on a boulder, wearing a high visibility vest. At this point, the rubber bullets were coming at regular intervals from the soldiers you can see towards the middle of the photo above--small figures in the distance, in front the camera man in neon yellow. There were at least four soldiers located behind cement blast walls and four soldiers further down the barbed wire who also shot at people.
Another bold local man stands with a Palestinian flag at the forefront of the activists, while soldiers reload with more "rubber" bullets in the background. Luckily, it doesn't seem like they were aiming at anyone in the front, though shot after shot hit a tree further back, where young men gathered during the demonstration; broken branches and leaves rained down on the people under the tree.
Everyone "hits the deck" in response to another round.
A child brought us this rubber-coated steel bullet from under an olive tree (the symbol for peace) as the demonstration broke up.
Soon after the rubber bullets, more than 15 tear gas canisters were launched at the nonviolent demonstrators. One started a small fire in the scrubby, arid field. Activists covered their mouth and nose with scarves or strong-smelling onion, and rushed into the clouds of tear gas to put the fire out before it spread.
An empty tear-gas cannister.
This Red-Crescent ambulance arrived on the scene after the small fire started by the tear gas cannisters. It was unclear whether anyone was injured or whether anyone recieved medical attention from the medical personnel in the ambulance.
Cameramen and reporters from BBC-Arabic (along with several other journalists) were on the scene of the demonstration from the start this week. This could be one reason the response from the Israeli army involved less manpower, army jeeps, tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets than MPT teams have experienced in the past.