Bil’in was a small village with roots back to the Ottoman Empire located in what is today the West Bank. But in the past few years it has become a giant symbol of how Palestinians can stand up to Israel.
When the Jewish state first began construction of the wall – a combination of concrete slabs in locations near populations, and barbed wire fencing in areas away from populations – the government claimed it was to provide security for Israelis and settlers in the West Bank.
But some areas of the barrier were built on private Palestinian land, with sections of the route snaking not along the 1967 line, but deep into the territories.
The idea of the wall began during Oslo as a part of the concept of “separation,” keeping Palestinians and Israelis apart to minimize the violence. It first began being constructed near Tulkarm. In 2002, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon began a serious effort to build the barrier, which Israelis call the “separation fence.”
Bil’in might never have been anything more than a small village had it
not been for the fence, which cut right through its olive-tree covered
But Bil’in villagers did not stand idly by, and took the issue to the
High Court and international courts. They have become a symbol of the
weapons of principle, civil rights and the rule of law.
In July 2004, the International Court of Justice referred to the
760-kilometer planned structure as “the Wall,” and declared it “a
violation of international law.”
Plans went ahead anyway, including near Bil’in soon after.
The structure quickly sliced away at farmlands owned by Palestinians in
the village. Remember, despite the fact that Palestinians own land under
pre-state laws, during the Ottoman and Jordanian occupations, Israel
often claims that some lands are not registered under Israeli law.
Months later, leaders of the small village hired Israeli civil rights
lawyer Michael Sfard. Sfard argued that rather than being premised on
security concerns, the fence near Bil’in was designed to allow for more
available lands for the expansion of Modi’in Illit. The villagers have
been waging weekly Friday protests against the fence, with much media
It took almost two years of expenses and fighting in the courts, but
Sfard won a ruling from the High Court that the route of the fence near
Bil’in was improper, and the IDF was ordered to re-route it. That was in
This week, after years of delay, the army began dismantling the fence and restoring some land to the villagers.
We’re talking almost seven years since Israel put up the fence in the
first place. Whether the rest of the disputed land will also be restored
remains to be seen.
Now, some might point out accurately that the decision is not just at
all. Why was only some of the land returned? Palestinians have been
forced time and time again to surrender some of their rights.
But peaceful legal protests have worked more than anything else, and the
situation in Bil’in is far from over. The Palestinians have
successfully turned the tables on Israel.
What was once a little village is today a pillar that rises above the injustices that continue to take place under occupation.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com
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