Rattling the Cage: The lesson of Bil'in

Israel cannot expropriate Arab land to build the fence on a route meant only to enlarge settlements.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
The last four years of Friday afternoon protests at the West Bank village of Bil'in have shown the Israeli occupation at its most robotically stupid, violent and unjust. The Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday in favor of Bil'in and against the state showed Israel's justice system at its fairest, wisest, bravest and most inspiring. The security barrier's route through Bil'in wasn't designed to separate settlers from potential Palestinian terrorists; it was designed to make Modi'in Illit, the giant haredi settlement next to Bil'in, bigger by about 2,000 dunams. Two thousand dunams of farmland owned by Bil'in villagers. Two thousand dunams that patriotic Israeli real estate companies like Heftziba, owned by swindler-of-the-year Boaz Yona, wanted for the construction of new housing projects. That's what IDF soldiers were defending on Friday afternoons for four years when they would face off against scores or hundreds of Bil'in villagers, other Palestinians, hardcore Israeli leftists and "internationals." After protests in which Israeli soldiers killed at least 10 Palestinians, seriously wounded probably hundreds more, as well as badly injuring several Israelis and foreigners, the Supreme Court has declared that the protesters were right. The State of Israel, the IDF, the settler movement and the real estate industry in Judea and Samaria, according to the court's view, were wrong. This is a stunning decision. And an utterly fair one. The decision says Israel can expropriate Palestinian land to build the security fence on a route that protects settlement blocs from terror - but it cannot expropriate Palestinian land to build the fence on a route meant only to make those settlement blocs bigger. This is not a landmark ruling; in the lawsuits against the security fence brought in recent years by dozens of Palestinian villages, the court has ruled several times in favor of the villages. In every one of those decisions the court ordered the army to reroute the fence and give the Palestinians back at least part of the land taken from them. But the Bil'in ruling is a much more resounding rebuke to Israel's settlement enterprise because that village was Ground Zero in the anti-fence campaign. THE WEEKLY protests received no attention from the Israeli public, which assumed this was just another front in the intifada with Palestinian terrorists and their collaborators trying to kill our soldiers. Every Friday the Israeli news Web sites would print a few paragraphs about the "clashes" in which five, 10, 15 protesters were injured. No one cared. But the truth is that these protests were a complete departure from the intifada. While they weren't totally non-violent, and were certainly provocative and "looking for trouble," they were all but harmless to the health of the soldiers facing them. There was a lot of rugby-style straining against phalanxes of IDF troops, and a lot of rocks fired by slingshot from far distances that, according to a military source, caused a total of one serious injury. In response, the soldiers commonly used billy clubs, tear-gas canisters fired at close range, and rubber bullets. In March of last year, at a relatively uneventful Bil'in protest, I saw a Palestinian taken away by ambulance after a soldier shot him in the hand from a short distance with one of those tear-gas canisters. All the protesters were doing was lining up for their futile scrums with the soldiers, refusing to disperse, and screaming and playing up for the foreign TV cameras. Toward the end, a few Palestinian youngsters launched rocks at the soldiers from 100 and more meters away. Although the rocks posed no threat, falling far away from their targets, a few troops took aim and fired rubber bullets at the Palestinian slingshot corps. On this day, none of the rubber bullets reached their targets, either. BUT ON FOOTAGE taken at other anti-fence protests by Anarchists Against the Wall, I saw a soldier fire his Uzi at a demonstrator standing far away, wounding him badly. IDF troops fired tear-gas at a gathering of Palestinians in wheelchairs setting out for the Bil'in fence. I met Matan Cohen, a 17-year-old from Tel Aviv whose discolored, out-of-focus left eye was the result of a rubber bullet fired by an enraged Border policemen from about 25 meters away. "We were telling them, 'Don't shoot, nobody is threatening you.' Then one of them raised his rifle and shot me," said Cohen. Jonathan Pollak, one of the anarchist leaders, recalled some of what he'd seen Israeli troops do at these anti-fence protests. "I was standing 10 meters from a man when he got shot in the forehead and killed. I saw limp bodies with blood all over them being carried away," he said. Pollak himself suffered two brain hemorrhages after being hit in the temple by a tear-gas canister fired from 20 meters away. B'tselem listed the names of nine Palestinians killed by the IDF in the anti-fence protests, with Pollak adding one more to make 10, as of March 2006. "It's all lies," claimed an IDF commander with a lot of experience at those protests. "They make this all up to besmirch the army." He said he knew of no one, Palestinian, Israeli or foreign, who'd been killed or even seriously injured by Israeli soldiers. As for the serious injuries to IDF soldiers at those confrontations, the officer cited one soldier who suffered severe eye damage from a rock, and another who suffered two broken fingers when a protester bit him while being carried off. THE TRUTH is that these were not "clashes," as the Israeli media typically called them; these were protesters' provocations that were met by IDF overkill. The soldiers shouldn't have been there in the first place. The security fence shouldn't have been there in the first place. The Supreme Court's decision comes four years too late; but better late than never. Israel still hasn't learned well enough the difference between security and land-grabbing, and it hasn't learned the difference between an angry Palestinian and a life-threatening Palestinian at all. The Bil'in protests were an effectively non-violent campaign against some of the worst excesses of the occupation, and it won the victory in Israel's highest court. So maybe there's hope, after all.