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Nonviolence and Reflections on the Journey So Far

Saturday, November 3, Bil’in
Is Non-Violent Resistance Still Alive In the West Bank?

Many members of our delegation have had a long-standing interest in non-violent conflict resolution and wondered what we would find during our trip to Israel and the West Bank. Some of us had heard previously from Palestinians that although community organizing of non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation had been prominent during the first intifada, the opportunity had been lost after the second intifada. We also heard that the current circumstances of the occupation, with restricted travel, communication, and public gatherings, are so harsh that organization required for non-violent direct actions is extremely difficult.

During the first week of our trip, we heard about the many less visible forms that non-violent resistance has taken, including refusing to emigrate, promoting education, community support, public relations, economic independence, and promotion of creative activities. While recognizing how valuable all these activities are for strengthening the Palestinian community, we wondered how Palestinians could continue to tolerate the severe injustices of the Separation Barrier, economic degradation, and loss of basic human rights without becoming violent.

On November 3, we traveled to the Palestinian village of Bil’in. Reaching Bil’in now requires a circuitous route. This visit sparked our sagging hope for non-violent direct action. There we saw an independent Palestinian community organization energized to confront the Separation Barrier with bold, creative action.

Bil’in is a small agricultural village, not far from the large Israeli urban settlement of Modi’in and surrounding settlements. To provide “protection” for one of these nearby settlements, Israeli government planners decided to extend the Separation Barrier within a half-mile of the village, cutting off access to many acres of historically Palestinian olive groves and other valuable farm lands, threatening the economy of the village, and blocking connecting transportation. In response, the villagers organized a resistance movement to impede completion of this barrier.

Bil’in residents started weekly non-violent protests at the nearest site of closure of access. They combined remarkably creative theatrical ways to attract attention, videotaped the protestors’ actions and the soldiers’ response, and publicized all this widely on the internet and by other means. As a result, many concerned Israeli’s and other international supporters have found their way to Bil’in to join the effort and spread the word as to what is happening. Other surrounding villages have joined in the effort and initiated similar actions elsewhere.

Actions have included wearing humorous costumes of grazing animals; attempting to establish their own Palestinian “settlement” houses on village lands which now lie on the other side of the barrier; chaining themselves to olive trees or inside of iron beams; carrying a long giant cloth snake symbolizing the “snake-like” barrier; and many more tactics. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has responded with force, including firing tear gas, clubbing the protestors, firing upon them with rubber coated bullets, and burning olive trees on the village side of the wall. The IDF also has attempted to intimidate the villagers directly by coming into their homes, establishing restrictive curfews, and arresting organizers.

A few days before our visit, the IDF came during the night, ransacked a home of one of the organizers, and arrested a visiting foreign supporter. However, the protests go on every Friday. With help of prominent lawyers, the village has simultaneously pursued legal action to defend their property rights, and the Israeli Supreme Court has decreed that the barrier should be moved back to provide access of the villagers to their land. So far the IDF has not followed the Court’s ruling (which is not unusual), and the protests are continuing, because it keeps the Bil’in villagers’ hope alive.

Our delegation was hosted by a gracious family, who invited us into their home, showed us a DVD describing what they have done, and provided us with a most delicious lunch. We were inspired by the young, determined leaders of the movement and the eager support that holds their families together. We are eager to help spread the word about their actions and continue our enthusiasm for the power of non-violent resistance to unjust oppression.

For more information, check these websites:
The Bil’in Friends of Justice and Freedom Society: www.Ffj-bilin.org
The Bil’in popular Committee: www.bilin-village.org/english/

--Doug Kerr

To See for Myself

I am visiting this small part of the Middle East to see for myself how the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is affecting both peoples and to experience once again their warm hospitality. Each day our program is intense. It is challenging to absorb all the information and impressions and then to describe them to others. So I will mention briefly several selected people and organizations which have particularly impressed me in our first week here.

It is encouraging to see that Palestinians and Israelis are working together for peace. On Saturday (November 3) we met representatives of two associations whose narratives brought tears to our eyes. Bassim Aramin had been a guerilla fighter who spent 7 years in Israeli prisons. There he learned Hebrew and began to rethink his attitude towards Israel and violent action. He founded the organization Combatants for Peace to bring Palestinians and Israelis together.

That evening two representatives from the Bereaved Parents Circle spoke to us: an Israeli whose daughter was killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers and a Palestinian whose brother was killed by Israelis. They have become close friends. The members of the Circle are drawn to each other by their common pain. Their goal is to help break the cycle of violence and walk together down the long road of reconciliation.

Another highlight for me was the visit to the Palestine Fair Trade Association, which organizes small farmers and helps them with production and marketing. It is engaged also in encouraging organic farming. Once I am back home I hope to help sell their olive oil. My relatives should be prepared that they will be receiving Palestinian olive oil for Christmas!

My home stay in the village of Anin with a Palestinian family was lovely. We were welcomed warmly by the mother of the family (whose name was “Palestine”!), the father Mahmoud, five children and their nephew who spoke English. The following morning we went to their olive grove, not far from the Wall the Israelis are building around and in the Palestinian West Bank.

It was fun to pick olives with the family but it was especially nice to harvest with four delightful women who joined us. I took lots of photos of them and their children. When I started up a ladder to harvest near the top of the tree, the women were very worried about me and told me not to climb the ladder. I did so any way and they were quite happy and amused to watch me . They were eager to know my age, after seeing photos taken when I visited the region in 1960! When we were leaving they all kissed me and thanked us for coming to help with the harvest. I felt very sad to leave them, but satisfied that we had shown solidarity with them in a concrete way.

It’s very difficult to see all the Israeli settlements in the occupied areas, encroaching on and sometimes surrounding Palestinian villages. This is illegal under international law. One settlement, Mod’in, is growing fast and will become the largest city in Israel/Palestine, reaching the limits of Tel Aviv. I learned that a wealthy American is spending millions of his own dollars to help the illegal settlements expand. He cannot be stopped until US and Israeli policy changes.

I learned also that US aid to Egypt (and most other countries) must be spent according to US guidelines and restrictions but that US aid to Israeli can be spent in any way Israel chooses and frees up budgetary resources for the Wall, to promote settlement expansion, etc.

To my family and friends I say I am well and happy to be here. The weather is sunny but not too hot. The food (hummus, yogurt, couscous, pita bread, cucumber and tomato and delectable spices) is delicious. I am gaining weight.

I would like to end by offering a challenge to US Congressmen and other officials. Come visit the West Bank to learn the facts. Don’t be afraid, it is not dangerous. If a little old lady like me can do it, so can you!

--Nancy Benson



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