Bil’in, My Village
It was mid December 2004 when the bulldozers first showed up in my village Bil’in. Without my knowing it, this was the opening salvo for what would become one of the longest and most influential grassroots campaigns against the Wall that Israel is building in the occupied West Bank.
In the five years since, my village Bil’in has paid a heavy price for our resistance, despite the fact that we chose unarmed civic resistance. Our village has become the target of regular military night raids; our people have been arrested by Israeli security forces and thrown into military jails; our sons have suffered injuries from tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and even, at times, live ammunition. One of us, my friend Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed when a soldier shot a tear gas projectile directly at his chest in one of the calmest, most peaceful demonstrations I have ever taken part in. He was shot while saying the Hebrew words ‘Wait a minute, hold on.’ Bassem has become a symbol for the disproportionate response of the Israeli security forces to our demonstrations and our struggle, mainly because of the kind of person that he was. He lived the way he believed life should be lived, and he died that way too — demanding his freedom, protesting against what he knew was wrong and doing so alongside Palestinian, Israeli and international friends.
But our story, the story of our struggle, is not only the story of repression. It is rather the story of an amazing awakening of our spirits in realising that when we choose to resist, we are free people — more free than our jailers and enforcers. For its sacrifices and its victories, it is the story of our quest for freedom and equality. Before the bulldozers arrived, some of us were aware of similar things happening in other villages like Budrus and Biddu. Some were even involved in civil disobedience efforts during the First and Second Intifadas. But we did not know what it meant to have it all happening in our own backyards. We did not plan to become a symbol, we did not decide to be famous. We simply needed to stop the bulldozers, save our village, and in so doing achieve freedom from occupation.
In September 2007, after almost three long years of struggle, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the Wall on our land was illegal, and ordered its rerouting. We successfully proved that the route of the Wall allowed the expansion of the Jewish-only settlement — not to include existing structures but to leave space for future building — in a way that is illegal even under Israeli law. The court had no option other than to order the rerouting of the Wall, returning to us about half of our sequestered lands — a partial but important victory.
The court’s decision meant not only the return of our lands, but also that the planned construction of 1,500 new residential units for settlers would not be built on my village’s land. Today, nearly three years after the court decision, the path of the Wall has still not been moved, and our struggle continues. Bassem was killed in a demonstration long after the Court ruling was served, when the Wall that he was up against should no longer have stood there.
We are often asked about our movement’s achievements and the fact that the construction of the Wall continues. We have had many victories through the years, but maybe the most important one is the building of a Palestinian grassroots movement. What our struggle is creating, not only in Bil’in, but across the Occupied Territories, is a civic space for resistance by ordinary people, and it is gaining momentum. Since Israel first began construction on the Wall in 2003, popular committees have sprouted up in villages across the West Bank. Each village has its own struggle. Galvanised by a common belief in the power of the popular struggle to end Israel’s occupation, we have recently formed a multi-regional coordination committee between the different towns and villages in order to strengthen the grassroots Palestinian resistance and accommodate its needs.
Fatah and Hamas, as most people know, cannot find many things on which they agree. But at the latest International Conference on Popular Resistance held in Bil’in last month, senior members of both rival parties, and in fact all Palestinian factions, publicly endorsed the popular struggle as a key strategy for our liberation.
The popular struggle is not in anyone’s hands — it belongs to everyone and needs everyone: men, women, children and the elderly, from left to right across the political spectrum. It is a little known fact that when the Second Intifada began in October of the year 2000, it was largely a grassroots effort with marches and demonstrations fuelled by frustration with political stagnation and lack of progress during the years of the so-called peace negotiations. This grassroots effort of popular resistance was shot down by Israel, in the most literal way. According to the Israeli army’s own numbers, more than one million Israeli bullets were shot in October 2000. Most of them were shot at unarmed demonstrators. Today, as our movement grows, Israel steps up the repression once more.
Denied our freedom Palestinians will always resist the Occupation, in one way or another. This is only natural, it is something we share with oppressed people around the world and throughout history. We are committed to our approach. We are willing to pay the price. What is our alternative?
Mohammed Khatib is a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee. He was born and raised in Bil’in.