By Adam Keller
Links to other reports in the end.
Hebrew press release version attached / גרסת הודעה לעיתונות בעברית מצורפת
In the streets of Bil`in, like anywhere in the Palestinian Territories these days, every available flat surface is totally covered with many layers of elections posters.
Some of the faces are very familiar: Arafat of course, the assassinated Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin, the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti with manacled arms above his head, human rights campaigner Hanan Ashrawi.
Others, not instantly recognized by Israelis, are very well-known in the Palestinians society. Some are rather obscure even to Ra`ed, a young Bil`in villager who is quite knowledgeable about Palestinian politics.
`This one` he points to the visage of a moustached middle-aged man `is an independent, and hardly anybody knows him except his own clan [hamula], and I am nor sure even they will vote for him. One thing is clear, anyway: I don`t see how how Bush or anyone else could say anymore that we don`t have democracy in Palestine. Not after all these weeks with the candidates and parties making us dizzy, all the time asking for our vote`.
Indeed, the Bil`in anti-wall march has itself become an active arena of electioneering. Bil`in, with its proud ongoing struggle against the Wall, has become very much of a symbol for all Palestinians. The contending parties have all sent high-ranking candidates to march at the front. And among the signs and banners in the gathering crowd, the colours and emblems of major and minor political parties outnumber the Palestinian national flags.
Meanwhile, more and more of the Palestinian yellow taxis arrive at the square outside the Bil`in mosque, disgorging Israeli activists, altogether, some three hundred.
A big Hebrew/English banner, `The Wall Must Fall` is unfurled. Among the handwritten signs brought from Tel-Aviv, there is a dominant new theme: `The Fence route serves the real-estate sharks`; `The contractors steal land, we pay with blood`; `the Fence - armed robbery`. In recent weeks, there have been increasing revelations about the very questionable way that Bil`in lands have been `sold` for use as settler habitations, and the considerable amounts of money which some people gained in the process.
This day`s march was headed by a line of prominent Palestinian electoral candidates -linking arms. Invited to march with them was Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom but, more important - his being such a well-known senior peace activist. (Very soon this notables` line stopped being first, as enthusiastic youths ran ahead of them.)
Walking through the narrow streets of Bil`in, with welcoming faces and waving children at every window, is always a warm, rather light-hearted experience. Today especially so, due to the large influx of Israelis, internationals and also many Palestinians from outside Bil`in.
But, like every Friday, the tension could be felt as soon as the march got outside the shelter of the houses entering the open fields -towards the Fence and the waiting soldiers. The confrontation started early. Even before the entire march had gotten to the fence, the dull explosions were heard from the front, and tear gas canisters started whistling overhead.
`Trigger-happy today, are they?` remarked a young Englishwoman. She stood her ground, covering her face with a scarf. `Don`t run. Hyperventilation makes it worse`. Not everybody was that cool, but Israeli and Palestinian organizers were stopping the stampade, urgently calling out: `Turn Right! Turn Right!`. Turning right meant going northwards, parallel to the Fence, towards the sector where it has not yet been built up and where crossing is possible. Soldiers were rushing, to head off the new line of march. Behind, Palestinian medics were taking an unconscious young man to a waiting ambulance.
`Quick, quick!` A gap has appeared in the soldiers` skirmish line, and dozens sprinted across the ugly scar in the earth and to the other side of where the Fence is due to rise. At the apex of the group which made it into the olive grove on the other side were three youths bearing green Hamas flags, one with the red DFLP emblem and an Israeli holding aloft a Gush Shalom sign with the flags of Israel and Palestine intertwined - all panting from exertion and smiling at each other, partners in a single enterprise.
Behind, there was a crescendo of shouting and chanting, as soldiers pounced on the activists nearer to them, kicking and beating and throwing them roughly on the ground: `Refuse, refuse, refuse!` and `The IDF is a terrorist organization!` and `The wall will fall, the wall will fall!`. Then, a rhythmic chanting, continually shifting from Hebrew to Arabic and back: `Lo, lo, La`Gader! La, la, Le`Jidar!` The same semitic words, though pronounced differently, meaning the same in both languages: `No, no, to the Fence!`
About a hundred demonstrators eventually broke through. Some of the soldiers were quite brutal (one had taken anarchist Yonathan Pollack by the throat, choking him for what seemed long minutes). However, once the breakthrough was achieved, the soldiers just followed on the edges, seeming to do little more than swell the crowd.
So, today`s march succeeded in what the army firmly denied (why, in fact?) on several previous Fridays: to hold an exultant rally at the `Bil`in Outpost` or `Center for Joint Struggle` - the small building erected in a single night by the villagers and their allies, at the very edge of the settlement extension named `Mattityahu Mizrah.`
The singing of Palestinian national songs reverberated among the half-completed five-storey apartment buildings of the settler construction company. In recent weeks construction work had been halted by order of the Supreme Court, where it was shown that more than half the buildings did not have anything resembling a valid permit. Which gave participants some cautious hope also about the court session due on February 1, where the route of the Fence itself will go under the judges` scrutiny.
Photos on the Gush Shalom site not yet, but soon
For the ISM report (with photos!):