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Bil’in and Palestinian Nonviolence
By John Eby

Bil’in (pronounced bil-AYN) is a small Palestinian town of 1,500 people inside the West Bank.  The people are primarily farmers, harvesting olives, raising chickens, selling eggs.  Women, such as Qamar, embroider exquisitely detailed and colorful dresses and purses as well as run the household.  Her husband, Bassem, tends chickens at her father’s chicken farm for less than $25 per day.  With their four young boys, they hosted seven of us in their small, clean house.

There is a deeper peace to this place than bucolic simplicity, however.  Though they have official deeds to the land they have owned for centuries, the people here have lost over 60% of their property to the “security fence” and an expanding nearby Israeli settlement.  Soldiers, searching for his brother, have frequently burst into Bassem’s house at two in the morning, breaking furniture and other things, and even pointing a gun into the face of five year old Muhammad, who could not speak for two days as a result.  Bassem himself has been to prison for four months in the hot desert of the Negev.

The crime of Bassem, his brother Abdullah, and so many others here in Bil’in is protesting the confiscation of their land.  With limited legal capacity to take the issue to court, because they are not considered citizens of the place where they and their ancestors have lived for generations, they resort to nonviolent demonstrations to resist.  For the last seven years they have marched weekly, creatively challenging the soldiers who respond with tear gas aimed at heads, rubber bullets fired at close range, and knee-bashing batons. 

You can find many examples of video footage of these demonstrations on YouTube but not on the nightly news (search for “Bil’in” or “Bil’in demonstrations,” even “Bil’in Avatar”).  Many have been injured, often they are arrested and detained, two of them were killed.

Iyad, one of the leaders of the Bil’in resistance, speaks eloquently about nonviolence and lives it daily.  Nonviolence is not just a tactic du jour; it is a way of life and of looking at the world.  It should be reflected not only in political actions but also in the way that one interacts with neighbors, treats women, and engages with children.  It is easy to see from the way that he and his family look and speak to each other that their nonviolence is a lived reality.  So it is in the house of Bassem and Qamar and other villagers as well.

Bil’in is not alone.  Villages and towns all over the West Bank are losing land to Israeli settlement expansions and the incursions of the Wall.  At least fifteen towns and villages have adopted the nonviolent resistance of Bil’in.  That is only the formal number.  In fact, the examples are far more plentiful. 

In the USA we hear about every occasional rocket that Hamas shoots hopelessly out of their Gaza imprisonment, but we do not hear about the literally countless examples of nonviolent resistance.  Daher tends to his vineyard daily, refusing to leave despite exorbitant monetary offers, threats of violence, and crippling blockades of his access roads.  Walid insists on harvesting his olives, almonds, and cherries despite ongoing risks to himself and to his family.  For Menem, a human rights advocate who resists the pressure to force him to leave this land, going to the grocery store is a political act.  Murad, who lives in a destitute refugee camp outside of Bethlehem and has not been able to find work for years, refuses to use violence against the regular indignity he and his family suffer and instead responds by volunteering at a municipal center and speaking to visiting groups. 

The abuse of power for the exploitation of land and people is characteristic of this uneven struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.  But the real strength lies within the vast numbers of people and communities who refuse to give up and refuse to respond in kind. 

As with Gandhi and MLK, we can find in the Palestinians an eloquent education in the ethical life.  It is up to us to seek out the voice and listen with humility.


Snapshot From Bil’in
By Sandra and Brad Gerrish

The Israeli occupation confiscated 60% of Bil'in farm land & destroyed olive trees. Peaceful demonstrations are held here along the Wall every Friday since 2004 by villagers along with Israeli and international human rights advocates. Bil'in residents succeeded by court order in getting the Wall moved back 500 meters.  The victory is relative since any wall is illegal and 6000 acres of olive groves are still lost.  

The Wall means "kill the peace.”  In a photo posted with our delegation’s slideshow (go to the last picture), we are standing near our home-stay house where we had spent the night with a Palestinian family. 

Note the Israeli soldier on the wall and the expanding illegal Israeli settlement (just above our heads in photo). This is all Palestinian land being relentlessly confiscated.  


“There's Nothing To See There"  
By Wayne Arnason

After three eye-opening, heart-rending, and life changing days in the West Bank, we returned to Israel yesterday through the Kafka-esque Qalandia Checkpoint. In addition to the experiences of Palestinian hospitality in villages, we had seen vital and exciting Ramallah and beautiful scenery.

So it felt particularly insulting to be welcomed back to Israel by the young guard who checked those of us riding through the checkpoint on the bus. He looked at our passports silently and without a greeting or question said:  "Why would you go there? There's nothing to see there!"

It was a mildly abusive insult compared to what Palestinians at this checkpoint endure every day, but it stung. It reminded us what it feels like to have your culture, your land, your home dismissed and discounted as unimportant.


The Power of Pain  
By Kathleen Rolenz

Imagine sitting in a room with a Palestinian woman whose brother was killed by heart damage inflicted by an Israeli bullet.  Then imagine hearing the story of an Israeli Jew whose 14 year old daughter was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in an urban square in Jerusalem, killing her and three other children. Imagine them sitting together as friends, knowing each other's families, their children’s friends.  That was the experience we had Monday night, hearing the stories of Aisha, a Palestinian Muslim, and Rami, an Israeli Jew.

Both are members of Parents Circle and Families Forum, a group that has unfortunately grown in number which is comprised of women and men who have lost a loved one to this conflict. Both Rami and Aisha spoke so compellingly about how they were, at first, so angry that both had thought about either suicide or revenge. Neither one believed that she or he would find themselves in a room with "the other," hearing and bearing witness to their pain.

One quote about the power of pain really stood out for me as Rami spoke. He said, "like nuclear energy you can use this enormous power to bring about destruction, or you can use it to bring light and heat, warmth or hope."  Aeisha then jumped in and said: "Rami's blood is the same color as my blood.  His tears are wet like mine.  We, who have paid the highest price in this war, are willing to continue to work for peace."

In that moment, it was as if the hideous, ugly, and menacing wall that we have seen all throughout our travels in the West Bank had crumbled.  I thought about how pain can isolate us from one another — separating us into our own private, emotional ghettos; or of how when we share that pain with others, with the intent to heal and not wound, then powerful new possibilities emerge.

This encounter was one that we will remember for the rest of our lives.  It will serve as one chink in the wall that we hope, one day soon, will be removed, allowing Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.



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