Yalla Peace: Small Palestinian victories

Four years after Bil’in villagers won a ruling ordering the IDF to reroute the fence, the IDF this week began to dismantle the structure.

Bilin Fence 311 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Bilin Fence 311
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
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 lands.
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 attention.
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 September 2007.
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.