Well over a 1500 people gathered at Bil’in last Friday for a very ceremonial demonstration. Many politicians were present, most notably Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and Remy Pagany, the mayor of Geneva. Drummers from both the Palestinian Scouts and the Israeli Anarchists came together, joined by the Israeli Clown Army group. All in all, very festive. The festivities were over after the marchers reached the fence and a truly spontaneous, collective act of elation and rage ensued:
The Mystery of Toppling the Fence
This isn’t an obvious question to someone who isn’t a frequent visitor to the Bil’in demonstrations, so it’s important for me to bring it up:
How could it be that we were able to reach the fence in such numbers, discover the electricity is off and that the army isn’t at its post, take as long as we did in pulling it down, discover the gate isn’t locked, dance and wave flags on the army post, and only then have the army respond?
One of the facts that triggered the above question was that the local media was reporting damage of over 100,000 Shekels to the fence. It was strange enough as it is, that the protesters got as far as they did, before the army showed up, but why would Israel allow the wasting of so much money? Of course, the obvious answer is that 100,000 Shekels are peanuts and it all goes under the “security” tag in our taxes (“security” being 50% of our taxes). That’s why I’m assuming there’s some other value to allowing such disorderly conduct, in a situation,where merely walking in the direction of the fence got us gassed.
Channel 10 – A Massive and Violent Demonstration
At least we’re human beings… Let’s try an exercise. If I was trying to report this incident of human interest, I could start like this:
2 wounded and hundreds suffer from gas inhalation at a massive demonstration against the illegal separation fence in Bil’in village, in the Ramallah area.
Then I’d probably go on to tell of the army using all kinds of sadistic chemical weapons on unarmed civilians. Then I’d go to the topic at hand: the mystery of how easy it was to break down the fence. But Channel 10 wanted to highlight an entirely different narrative:
- The demonstration was massive.
- The demonstration was violent and was disturbing the peace in the village.
- The “Palestinian Prime Minister” (completely ignoring the problematic stature of Palestinian government) took part in a violent demonstration.
- The demonstrators threw stones.
- From the words and lack of footage of demonstrators shaking the fence, it is to be understood that the damage to the fence was done by stone throwing.
- Large forces were needed.
- The army retaliated (hinted at by the fact that it is first mentioned that the demonstrators threw stones) with “demonstration dispersal means” (a.k.a. chemical weapons fired from a cannon into the already choking crowd).
- After all this, we’re finally told that “the Palestinians reported” (which makes it wholly unreliable) two were wounded.
- To top it off, “the leader” is shown saying that “we’re simply exercising the right to live on our land”.
Channel 2 – Leftists and Palestinians Take Over an Army Post
Frightened yet? Wait for Channel 2! [translated transcript follows with comments in blue]
Written title: “5 Years to the Bil’in protest: Demonstrators dismantled part of the fence and temporarily took over an IDF post” [now, that sounds like a riot!]
Over a thousand left activists [we were only 300] and Palestinians [and all protests are Palestinian lead] noted, today, 5 years to the struggle in Bil’in. The demonstrators succeeded in removing parts of the separation fence and for a few moments take over an IDF post in the area. Amongst the protestors was the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, that promised that the struggle will continue. [same trick, different channel.] Our corespondent in the [occupied] territories, Ohad Chemo, was in Bil’in today.
Many eyes in the [occupied] territories and outside them [international angst is showing] were pointed here today. A small Palestinian village that turned, in the last 5 years, synonymous with the Palestinian struggle against the separation fence. A symbol.
Sound bite of Israeli demonstrators, holding up a sign “Solidarity will triumph over occupation, oppression and poverty”:
You can’t kill popular struggle!
Backed [sounds corrupt, doesn’t it?] by left activists and foreign volunteers, over a thousand protesters start their way up to the fence, preparing for the weekly face off.
Chemo interviewing one of the Palestinian dignitaries:
– Aren’t you afraid of gas grenades?
– We’re used to it. This isn’t the first time. Show him the onion. You want one?
– I brought one from home, thank you.
– This is the anti-missile weapon.
The onion- an effective means against gas grenades. [especially effective when a grenade hits you in the chest and kills you] Within minutes the demonstrators succeed in toppling a few tens of meters of fence. [see how useful that onion is?!] At some point, some of them break in [the gate was open] and enter a [abandoned] military post. This is enough for the security forces. [a.k.a “occupying army hiding in the near by field”]
Shots of soldiers shooting gas grenades, the grenade cannon, gas in the crowd, people running through fields of gas.
As if scripted, the fence area, behind us, becomes a face off. [a face off means we’re of equal power] On one side the demonstrators that succeed in taking over an IDF post [a.k.a. “security threat”], and on the other side the security forces [/occupying army] that use a lot of demonstration dispersal means [because there’s need for a lot] and all of this in a 15 minute distance from Tel Aviv. [obviously this guy took the plane]
More footage of gas grenades flying at demonstrators with someone yelling “go back!”
Just a week ago Israel began moving the fence. 700 Dunams were returned to Bil’in, above a thousand [1500 to be exact] are still outside the fence. [note the phrasing of this context paragraph: The word “just” is used self righteously as we’re told that this the begining of a process to move the fence and the exact measurement of land to be returned. Only then, are we told that there is still land “outside the fence”, not that it won’t be returned or that it was stolen, using the fence.]
This isn’t the end of the story. The real progress will be achieved only when the building of the settlements stops. [In order to complete the effect of the context paragraph, this addition of demand to stop the settlement creates an almost instinctive reaction, in the typical zionist, of “you give them a finger, they want the whole hand”.]
And as in every Friday in the past 5 years, the only certainty here is that this sight will repeat itself next week, as well. [Oh, the senselessness of it all!]
Media and Army Collaboration?
The media in Israel is subject to military censorship, but also does the army’s political bidding, without the army needing to lift a finger. In this case, I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t military planning behind the media spectacle.
As I said, I believe the toppling of the fence was a spontaneous mass action. No one planned it, not even the Palestinians. As evidence; It’s well known to any one who demonstrates in Bil’in, that the army always mans the post and may start throwing or shooting gas and shock grenades from between the moment we reach a distance of about 100 meters from the fence, to a few minutes of chanting and speaking at the fence. That said, the army, knowing that the anniversary will bring a big crowd, took the opportunity to create images of a riot. It wasn’t an accident that we were let to walk to the first gate unharmed and then walk into the buffer zone between the two fences, which is usually the army’s imaginary red line in the sand. It wasn’t human error that the electricity was off and the second gate unlocked. It wasn’t a schedule clash that prevented the army from manning the post, and it definitely wasn’t fear for their safety, as indicated in this incredibly inaccurate Ha’aretz article:
Expecting violence to break out on Friday, the security forces took defensive positions much further away, and avoided responding when the protesters broke through the outer gate of the separation fence.
The army did as it always does; It waited until critical mass of people were trapped between fences and barriers, then it watered us with its putrid “skunk” and fired a canon of gas grenades into the disoriented crowd. The key word is “waited”. The army was waiting for us. Nothing is done in the Occupied Territories without the army allowing it. Not a quiet protest and not a mass protest toppling a fence.
A Non-Mythical Quiet Protest
Three days after the mass demonstration, I received the following report from the Bil’in Committee, about an extra-small demo:
Bil’in Village Plants 200 Trees Next to the Wall : Existence as Resistance!
22 February 2010
At 9:30am residents of Bil’in village, Palestinian political representatives, and International activists gathered in Bil’in to plant olive trees and almond seeds for 20 farmers who own land besides Israel’s Apartheid Wall. Approximately 200 trees were planted as part of the ongoing popular resistance to the Israeli apartheid wall and settlements. Bil’in has organized weekly and sometimes daily actions against the wall for the past five years, gaining international attention for the struggle and becoming a symbol for nonviolent, creative, popular struggle around the West Bank of Palestine.
An hour into the planting, an Israeli soldier appeared on the other side of the wall and gave a warning shot. He stated that planting next to the Wall is forbidden and that people were to stay 10 metres away from the wall. A jeep with four soldiers arrived and stood guard as the people continued planting slightly farther from the wall.
Two years ago the Israeli Supreme Court had deemed the path of the Wall, which cuts through Bil’in’s agricultural land to be illegal. Construction work to reroute the Wall in Bil’in began on February 11th, 2010. Israel has twice been found to be in contempt of court for not implementing the decision sooner. Residents of the village have had permission to access their land on the other side of the wall even before the courts ruling two years ago. Today, farmers planted 80 trees on the other side of the wall.
Needless to say, this demonstration got no media coverage. But thanks to our independent press and B’tselem representative, Bil’in resident, Haithem Khatib, we can see exactly why it didn’t:
More Video testimonies of the 5 year anniversary demo: