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Freedom Flottila in Bil`in

Bil`in is a small village on the eastern part of the West Bank, very close to Ramallah. Israel annexed close to 60 % of the village`s land, to build the settlements and the separation wall.
At the end of the barrier land protecting the settlement, there is a double fence, an apartheid fence/wall, with a gate which denies village inhabitants the use their land and the settlement road. For more than five years, Bil`in residents supported by international and Israeli activists have demonstrated every Friday to express their resistance against the loss of land and livelihood villagers have to endure. Three people have been killed and night raids are carried out periodically by the Israeli Army who arrested several community leaders, in an effort to discourage village residents from resisting the occupation.

MPT participated at the usual weekly demonstration Friday, at 4-th of June. MPT was told that five other demonstrations will happen that same Friday in different places of the West Bank, the main motive being the Attack of the Freedom Flotilla by the Israeli Army. The event was accompanied by dozens of Israeli and international activists, international and local media including TV. The organizers built a ship carried the flags of the countries represented in the Freedom Flottilla and which was attached to a car.

The demonstration started on the main road of the village, and ended near the gate. The crowd followed by the constructed ship, the Ambulance and TV cars. MPT observed the presence of the UN (Human Rights) mission from Ramallah. The Israeli Occupation Forces were already there, in fact they were present at least two hours before the demonstration started (The Bil`in demonstrations are famous for being one of the most violent ones, in terms of the Army response, usually a huge quantity of tear-gas canisters are used and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse the crowd, and sometimes real bullets).

The soldiers waited for the “Freedom Flotilla” (the constructed one on the car) to line up in front of the fence, and after a few minutes of watching the marchers chanting slogans and waving flags, the first tear gas canisters were shot from the top of the hill, an almost invisible presence till then. The crowd started to run back on the road, but very soon everybody realized that they were surrounded by army forces from a western road, who continually shoot tear-gas canisters. The tear gas from the soldiers on the top and the west, caused heavy gas to cover everywhere in a few seconds, and everybody was running to reach a safe place to breathe. A Finnish women photographer fainted (but at first appeared totally unconscious) and was taken by ambulance, and the heavy tear-gas affected many.

The soldiers opened the fence and run after people, possibly to catch people to arrest. One well-known Israeli activist was taken and MPT was told this man is always present in Bil`in and sometimes is arrested, but because he is an Israeli citizen he is always released.
Later, the soldiers grabbed a twelve-year old boy and took him away in their military jeep.
For many minutes, most of the demonstrators placed themselves in a safe distance from the tear-gas canisters, trying to figure out what would happen with the detained person and with the ship.

After a couple of minutes, the detained Israeli activist showed up, putting himself in the position of mediating between the soldiers and the demonstrators about the abandoned ship. The process was successful. The “ship” was driven back to the village.

During the demonstration, MPT saw Huwaida Arraf, peace activist and one of the organizers of the "Freedom Flotilla".

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