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Demonstrations at Bil’in and Al Khadr

“I hope Karin writes a story about how nobody’s here.”

As Israeli Occupation Force soldiers fired tear gas canisters overhead and shot rubber bullets, a photographer spoke these words into her phone, giving her take of the Bil’in protest MPT team members attended on 2 May 2008. It is likely she was referring to Karin Laub, an AP reporter who was present at the protest and had interviewed team members before the protest began. While the photographer may have been unimpressed by the approximately 100 Palestinians, Internationals, and South Korean press that attended the protest that Friday, the story of Bil’in is a very important one. For approximately 3 1/2 years, the village of Bil’in has held weekly nonviolent actions in protest of the confiscation of “close to 60% of Bil’in land for [illegal] Israeli settlements and the construction of Israel’s separation [Annexation] wall.” (http://www.bilin-village.org/english/discover-bilin/)

Protestors march toward the Annexation Wall near Bil’in as an
illegal Israeli settlement built on village lands looms in the distance.

Unfortunately, as so many people do, this photographer was reacting to the number of people (or lack of, in her opinion) in the protest instead of significance and reason for such protests.

This same photographer may have reacted in a similar fashion to the protest the MPTers attended on 9 May 2008 in the small village of Al Khadr just to the west of Bethlehem. According to a published news report, “Organizers say that the planned construction of the wall will result in the de facto annexation to Israel of more than 73,000 dunams, or 18,000 acres, of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area alone. 20,000 dunams [5000 acres] of this land belongs to the farmers of Al Khadr, who stand to lose their whole livelihoods.”

Israeli Occupation Forces lay down barbed wire and block traffic while
protesters simply pray for peace with justice.

The e residents of Bil’in have spent large amounts of money fighting the annexation through legal channels and have won some rulings in court. A November 2007 Israeli High Court Order demanded that the route of the wall be changed and that some land be returned to the village, yet the route of the wall has not changed and settlement expansion continues. As the residents of Bil’in mention on their website, “All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Still, Israel’s Supreme Court legalized the settlement of Mattiyahu East on our land, even though Mattiyahu East appeared to violate even Israeli law because it lacked an approved building permit. The rush to build followed President Bush’s April, 2004 letter to then Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon stating that, ‘new realities on the ground, including already existing population centers’ make it unrealistic to expect Israel to withdraw completely to the Green Line. Israel responded by expanding ‘existing population centers,’ building huge apartment complexes, like Mattiyahu East, for hundreds of thousands of people, and calling them neighborhoods in existing settlements.” (http://www.bilin-village.org/english/discover-bilin/Bilin-will-continue-to-struggle-against-the-wall-and-settlements) Palestinians must continue to protest in various ways and seek solutions in court because statistics and history show that the annexation of lands for illegal Israeli settlements still continues.

Construction continues on illegal Israeli settlements,
despite their illegality under international law.

According to a report (based on the most recent plans released April 2007) by the Applied Research Institute –Jerusalem (www.arij.org), the Annexation Wall (when completed, will confiscate 283 square miles of the West Bank, or approximately 12.9% of the West Bank’s total area [2193 square miles], a territory defined under the terms of the Green Line created by the 1949 Armistice Agreements. If the West bank were a part of the US, it would be only the 49th largest state (ahead of Delaware and Rhode Island), but it would be the 36th largest state by population, with approximately just over 2.3 million people, according to a 2007 census. This would put the population density at approximately 1,069 people per square mile, behind only New Jersey and the District of Columbia. If one does not include the areas confiscated by Israel behind the Annexation Wall and those established as illegal Israeli settlements, the population density passes that of New Jersey to approximately 1,227 people per square mile.
(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Bank, http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/census2007_e.pdf, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_area, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population_density for statistical data.)

However, this should also be looked at in the context of the history of the conflict, which includes the events of 1947-1949, which Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba,” or the “catastrophe,” and commemorate each year on 15 May, with 2008 marking 60 years of such commemoration. (This date was chosen because 15 May 1948 was the day Israel declared its independence and statehood.) In 1947, the UN decided to divide the lands of the British Mandate of Palestine - those which remained after the establishment of the Kingdom of Trans-Jordan in 1946, now Jordan, - into a Jewish State, an Arab State, and a small internationally administered zone which would have included Jerusalem and surrounding areas. This plan allocated 43% of the lands to the Arab State. However, through military efforts and tactics that have been called by some ethnic cleansing (see Ilan Pappe’s recent book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine for a detailed account of the Nakba), Israel took by force half of the land originally allocated for an Arab State, thus controlling about 77% of the total area by the 1949 Armistice, instead of 56%. The West Bank was taken by Jordan, an outcome which had been secretly negotiated during 1948, and the Gaza Strip was left for Egypt. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_UN_Partition_Plan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1949_Armistice_Agreements, and http://www.merip.org/palestine-israel_primer/un-partition-plan-pal-isr.html for references and further information.)

The confiscation of land by the state of Israel began as early as 1947 and continues to this day. In a similar fashion, Israel has been employing tactics to both kill native Palestinians and drive them from their lands and homes, creating a refugee population that continues to this day. There are “4.5million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East [with] around half of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, including most of the people in Gaza, [being] refugees.” (http://www.economist.com/world/africa/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11332217) This number might be even greater if Israel had not murdered the massive amounts of Palestinians it did in the late 1940s, a killing which continues to this day. A future MPT report will include more information about the Nakba.

Protesters approach and attempt to confront soldiers but are
deterred by the multiple barriers separating them from Bil’n village’s land.

Soldiers prepare to fire off tear gas, even though protestors pose no threat to anyone.

Protesters must stop to put out a brush fire caused by Israeli fired tear gas.

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