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Peaceful protest and Israel’s unjust Wall
By Ray Hanania –– 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 standup to the powerful Israeli Machine of Injustice.
When Israel first began construction of the Wall, a combination of concrete slabs 28 feet tall in locations near populations and barbed wire fencing in areas away from populations, the Government claimed it was to provide security for Israelis and residents of the illegal settlements in the West Bank.
But in the end, the Wall became an Israeli government land grab, with the route snaking not along the 1967 Green Line dividing Israel and Palestine but deep in to the Palestinian territories around wells, fertile lands and areas that Israel planned to annex to expand the illegal settlements.
The idea of the Wall began during the Oslao Peace Process as a part of the concept of “separation,” keeping Palestinians and Israelis apart to minimize the violence that occurred on both sides, although the Israeli concern was only about violence by Palestinians. The first Wall was erected near Tulkarim.
In 2002, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began a serious effort to build the Wall, which Israeli spin-meisters have softened by calling it the “separation fence.” The Wall is mostly barbed wire fencing, but when it is near populations, it transforms into the ominous looking concrete slabs and watchtowers near checkpoints.
Bil’in might never have been anything more than a small village had it not been for the Wall. And maybe because the village looked weak the Israelis decided to route the wall not around Bil’in but right through the village’s olive covered lands.
But Bil’in villagers have shown how Palestinians can standup to Israeli injustice and violations of human rights by taking the issue to the Israeli and the International courts. They have become a symbol of how Israel can be beat not with violence but by embracing the very weapons that can defeat Israel, weapons of principle, civil rights and the Rule of Law.
In July 2004, the International Court of Justice specifically referred to the 760 kilometer planned structure as “the Wall,” and declared it “a violation of International law.” That declaration didn’t seem to phase the Israeli Government and the Wall went up around Bil’in soon after anyway.
The Wall quickly sliced away about 200 acres of 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 side stepped those ownership rights by claiming that the Palestinians have no registrations under Israeli law.
Months later, leaders of the small village hired Israeli civil rights lawyer Michael Sfard and Sfard filed a lawsuit against the Wall. Sfard argued that rather than be premised on security concerns, the Wall around Bil’in was designed to separate the Palestinians from their land and give the land instead of illegal settlers living in the settlement of Modi’in Illit, which was initiated during the failed Oslo Accords in 1994. (Oh yes. More settlement expansion occurred during the peace process than after its collapse.)
The villagers, mostly farmers and small business people, began weekly protests against the Wall.
Now, Justice is blind but it is also very slow.
It took almost two years of expenses and fighting in the courts, but Sfard won a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court declaring that the route of the Wall near Bil’in, adjacent to the Green Line and 7 miles from Ramallah, was improper and the government was ordered to re-route it. That was in Sept. 2007.
One day later, the same Israeli Supreme Court recognized another illegal Israeli settlement and authorized the confiscation of nearby land from Bil’in’s, reminding Palestinians that for every “victory” against Israeli injustice, there is a steep price to be paid.
Many people have been killed and injured during the protests, including Palestinians, Israeli soldiers and observers.
But this week, after years of delays, Israel’s government began dismantling the Wall and restoring about 150 of those acres to the village. Nearly 50 more acres remain under Israeli control. We’re talking almost seven years since the Israel’s initiated the land grab.
Now, some might point out accurately that the decision is not justice at all. The Israelis always grab everything and return some. Palestinians have been forced by this strategic Israeli planning to always surrender some of their rights and they wonder, does peaceful protest really work?
It might not seem like it but peaceful legal protests do work because the fight over Bil’in is not yet over. The Palestinians have turned the tables on Israel at this small little intersection where justice and settlers have clashed.
What was once a small little village today is a pillar that rises above the injustices that continue to take place in the occupation.
The battle between Bil’in and Israel is truly a David and Goliath example where the Palestinians are clearly the David and the Israelis, once again, have been exposed as Goliath.
It’s one of the many ironies that one day Palestinians will be able to use to restore their rights.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and media consultant. You can reach him at www.TheMediaOasis.com)
This post has already been read 3021 times!
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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