IDF to complete new Bilin barrier in coming weeks

Concrete wall will be constructed in place of fence at scene of weekly demonstrations.

The IDF plans to complete the construction of a new security barrier near the West Bank Palestinian town of Bilin in the coming weeks. Bilin has been the scene of weekly anti-fence demonstrations in recent years.
The new barrier will comprise a tall concrete wall, and security cameras will be placed near the haredi settlement of Kiryat Sefer.
About 650 dunams of agricultural land will be given back to Bilin. Nonetheless, according to attorneys representing the village, roughly 1,300 dunams of private farmland will remain on the Israeli side. It was decided a concrete wall would be constructed in place of a fence, since this replacement barrier will skirt a new neighborhood in Kiryat Sefer, known as Matityahu East. If left as a simple fence, the Israeli residents might be at risk.
“A concrete wall means better protection, and at the same time, means we do not have to repair the barrier like we‘ve had to do almost weekly following the demonstrations at Bilin – because currently, it is just a fence,” said a senior officer on Wednesday.
According to this officer involved with the project, the level of violence at the demonstrations has decreased dramatically in recent months. In the past, the Friday protests near the fence resulted in a number of wounded protesters, and occasionally, IDF soldiers as well. Lately, there have been about 60 demonstrators on a weekly basis, more than half, left-wing Israeli and foreign activists.
The IDF has recently arrested some of the key activists who organize the demonstrations. One of them, Abdullah Abu Rahma, was sentenced last week to a year in jail.
An additional factor which led to the drop in violence was a decision by the IDF Central Command to remove the Border Police units deployed every Friday to protect the fence from vandalism.
While effective in protecting the fence, Border Policemen are sometimes said to be more aggressive in riot control operations.
In their stead, regular IDF units are currently stationed at the demonstrations.
These units undergo special training in crowd and riot control at the Central Command’s Lahish Training Base near Kiryat Gat.
IDF officers said that overall the level of violence has decreased, but that senior officials from the Palestinian Authority are apparently involved in trying to keep the demonstrations alive by providing financial support to the local Bilin groups organizing the weekly protests.