Hundreds attend 5th Bi'lin anniversary

Protesters tear at security fence; army responds with riot control methods.

bil'in 311 (photo credit: AP)
bil'in 311
(photo credit: AP)
Hundreds of Palestinians, Israelis and foreign activists — engulfed byclouds of tear gas fired by IDF troops — demonstrated Friday to markthe fifth anniversary of weekly protests against the West Bank securitybarrier.
Friday's demonstrations in the village of Bil’in were also a sort ofvictory celebration for the protesters: The military began to reroute abarrier segment last week to restore some of the land taken from thevillage.
In five years of weekly protests, Bil’in has become a symbol of thePalestinians' struggle against the encroachment of the barrier on landthey claim for their state. The protests have since spread to severalother villages.
On Friday, a crowd of hundreds, including Palestinian women inheadscarves, young Westerners with backpacks, the mayor of Geneva and atroupe of clowns dressed in IDF fatigues, marched from the villagecenter toward the barrier in a valley below.
A few dozen Palestinian teens at the front of the march began tearingat the fence, climbed over it and rushed to the other side. Othersthrew stones.
In response, army troops fired a barrage of tear gas and rubber-coatedsteel pellets, while a water cannon aimed foul-smelling liquid at thecrowd. Coughing and pressing tissues against their faces, manyprotesters headed back toward the village. Two people were injured, oneby a tear gas canister and the other by a rubber bullet, participantssaid.
Military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said troops initiallystood back Friday, but had to disperse the crowd when protesters begandamaging the fence.
Israel says the protests are violent riots, citing the stone throwing and injuries suffered by dozens of troops over the years.
Palestinians allege that Israeli troops often use excessive force,dispersing protesters with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coatedsteel pellets. Six protesters have been killed and dozens injured inclashes with Israeli forces in barrier protests in Bil’in and elsewhere.
The Palestinians say they're engaging in civil disobedience, andPalestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad praised the Bil’in method ofpersistent civil disobedience.
"All we are looking for here is a way to exercise our right to life onour land," Fayyad told The Associated Press after addressing the crowdin the village square. "This is huge, this is great, as a matter offact should be encouraged," said Fayyad, who did not take part in themarch.
Israel says the barrier is a defense against Palestinian terrorists.Palestinians say it's a land grab, since the barrier often juts farinto the West Bank.
In the case of Bil’in, 575 acres, or more than half of Bil’in's land,were taken by a barrier loop around the expanding Jewish settlement ofModi’in Illit. The fence cut off Bil’in villagers from their fields.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the Defense Ministry to move the Bil’in segment to reduce hardship to the Palestinians.
Only last week did the military begin laying down tracks for a newroute. Villagers said they were informed the new path would return 346acres of farmland to Bil’in and other villages.
Bil’in resident Hashem Bornat, 60, whose home overlooks the barrier,said he has lost nine acres to Modi’in Illt. He said he felt both prideand sadness on the anniversary.
He lost land, he said, but added: "I'm a little bit happy because we did something that will move the barrier."