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Bil'in - 10 years of persistent joint struggle
mashriq / arabia / iraq | community struggles | feature Friday February 27, 2015 13:34 by Ilan Shalif - Anarchists Against the Wall; A-Infos; Ahdut ilan.shalif at gmail dot com Tel Aviv
The villagers of the Palestinian vilage of Bil'in have been struggling now for 10 years against the construction of the separation barrier and consequent expropriation of their lands. This struggle has been a non-violent one, carried out together with Jewish activists from Israel and international activists and has inspired dozens of other similar struggles in villages throughout the West Bank. Here, Israeli anarchist Ilan Shalif explains the significance of Bil'in and recounts his experiences there.The struggle in Bil'in is only one part of the fabric of struggle of more than 120 years between the indigenous people of Palestine and the Zionist settler colonialist and transfer project. The struggle in Bil'in is also the culmination of the joint popular struggle of Palestinians and young Jewish community members who "betray" their local Jewish community, which is harnessed to the Zionist project of settlement building and transfer. As partners second in importance only to the local activists, between us we have forged an unusual alliance, one that has hardly ever been seen during the half millennium of struggle between European colonialism and the other inhabitants of the world.
Bil'in - 10 years of persistent joint struggle
The struggle in Bil'in is only one part of the fabric of struggle of more than 120 years between the indigenous people of Palestine and the Zionist settler colonialist and transfer project. The struggle in Bil'in is also the culmination of the joint popular struggle of Palestinians and young Jewish community members who "betray" their local Jewish community, which is harnessed to the Zionist project of settlement building and transfer. As partners second in importance only to the local activists, between us we have forged an unusual alliance, one that has hardly ever been seen during the half millennium of struggle between European colonialism and the other inhabitants of the world.
Few know that the roots of the alliance in Bil'in are actually in Chiapas, Mexico.
The second EZLN encounter in Spain 1997, in solidarity with the struggle in Chiapas, gave birth to the People's Global Action (PGA) initiative for global struggle against neo-liberal globalization.
About a dozen Israeli activists from this initiative participated in Leiden, Netherlands, in 2002 in a conference of the European section of the PGA. At the conference there was a Palestinian-Israeli Workshop and the idea of a joint camp was contemplated.
It took about half a year and the start of the struggle against the separation fence designed to annex territory in the West Bank occupied in 1967 - mainly intended to annex part of the lands of Palestinian villages along the 1948 borders - for the idea of a joint camp to materialize on the lands of the village of Mas'ha.
It took a few more months for the common struggle to break the border of the mainstream media. It happened when, during an organized joint demonstration, activists cut a few dozen metres of the newly-built separation fence near the village of Zbuba. Not long afterwards, a participant in the initiative at a joint action at the village Mas'ha was shot in the leg with live ammunition, an act which flooded the media, causing a big scandal.
The event was covered intensively in all the channels of the media and the scandal was of such an extent that the highest commander of the Israeli army was forced to came to the hospital where Gil N. was being treated for his wounds and apologize. The rules for opening fire at demonstrators in the occupied West Bank were changed - it became forbidden to fire live ammunition at protests where there was the possibility that there were (Jewish) Iraelis among the participants.
Among the participants of the initiative - which used a different label for each action - were members of the social struggle anarchist organization, "One Struggle", unorganized anarchists and other direct action activists. The action at the Mas'ha demo that got so much publicity was labeled "Anarchists Against Fences/Walls" so the initiative adopted it as a permanent name... despite the fact that activists who considered themselves anarchists were sometimes a minority.
After a while, the joint camp in Mas'ha was dismantled. Joint struggles against the separation fence occurred in various villages along the route, with half-hearted efforts by the radical left to participate (often blocked on the way to the designated activity).
In no village did the struggle continue so consistently week after week, month after month and year after year as the struggle that started in Bil'in.
The struggle in Bil'in began a year later - after the building of the separation fence had started on the lands of Bil'in. The participation of the Anarchists Against the Fence with the activists of the villages of the region in actions against the separation fence led to the participation of the AAtW in the first demonstration in Bil'in in late summer 2004 and to the demonstration on Friday, 20 February 2005 - the first in the neverending chain of Friday demonstrations in Bil'in.
Because of intense activity in A-Infos including managing our own server (and also reporting on the joint struggle), I could not regularly participate in the
struggle of the AAtW against the separation fence or the struggle in Bil'in till the beginning of May 2005 (when the A-Infos server died). The first time I took part in the Bil'in Friday demonstration was in March 2005. In May, after being released from some of the responsibilities of A-Infos, I started to participate regularly in the activities of the AAtW in Bil'in and elsewhere.
A photo of the struggle in Bil'inAfter failed attempts over many months to prevent the Israelis from attending the Friday demonstration, a kind of routine was developed. After we had evaded the the Israeli armed forces' efforts to block us on the way to Bil'in, and after the noon prayers at the mosque ended, we walked towards the route of the fence. Not far from there, Israeli armed forces were deployed, physically blocking our progress. Often, before the soldiers took more severe measures, a pushing confrontation would develop. One Friday, I suddenly realized that in Bil'in, Palestinians could push Israeli armed forces and all that happened was that they pushed back.
Another thing that was repeated many times was the participation of delegations and activists from various regions of the West Bank in the Friday actions and demonstration in Bil'in. In some cases, it was "only" a solidarity visit, but at times, it was participation in a "lesson" that led to the start of the struggle in other villages.
MeetingsIn the early years of the struggle in Bil'in, regular meetings were held during the week to plan the weekly "show". In these years, as part of the efforts to enhance the visibility of the struggle, it included creative performance - unique to every demonstration. The documentation of these performances - such as photos and recorded videos - found their way into the Israeli and foreign media.
Media coverageOften, at the end of the demonstration photographers produced a short video clip that we brought on our way home to the offices of television company. It was not a rare thing for it to be partly aired the same evening or included in the weekend programs.
"All Quiet on the Western Front"In the early years, the public and commercial media covered the Friday demonstrations and often during the following hours too, and it became a weekly routine. The reports were frequently far from the truth, but as it is so often with media exposure, its contribution was regardless of the truth value. One Friday I could not believe the content of the news I heard: "This week, there were no confrontations during the weekly demonstration in Bil'in".
The media coverage of Bil'in and thus its contribution to the struggle was a persistent work of the activists involved. Promoting the struggle involved a yearly international conference (the local Bil'in committee insisted that at each of them there would be a speaker from the AAtW). Individuals and delegations from all over the world came and saw, and told the stories when they returned home.
The "PR" of Bil'in included tours by Bil'in activists and also by Anarchists Against the Wall to many countries of the world.
The joint struggle of the AAtW with the village activists was also "rewarded" by a recognition. The Carl von Ossietzky Medal awarded was awarded by the International League for Human Rights in 2008 to AAtW and the Bil'in Popular Committee.
Present pictureFor years now, Bil'in has no longer been the only place where Israelis participate in weekly activities. These regular activities are not restricted any more to the struggle against the separation fence or the struggles in which AAtW activists participate. Nor are they restricted to those that Israelis participate in. But, one of the main contributions of the Anarchists Against the Wall cannot be overlooked: the change in the rules of engagement with demonstrators in the occupied territories of West Bank. The regulation of shooting to kill leading activists in the demonstrations of Palestinians has been abolished. Even in
demonstrations that Israelis are not involved in it is not implemented any more. Although over the years, several protesters have been shot dead (even in joint demonstrations), the routine of live fire to disperse demonstrators - with intentional killing - has not returned.
SteadfastnessThe separation fence at the edge of the occupied territories has been completed. Tens of thousands of authorized Palestinians (mainly workers) and a similar number of illegals cross the separation fence. Even the various ways the tens of thousands of "illegal" Palestinian workers use to overcome the obstacle of the separation fence has become a routine and the ban on their crossing is not enforced. The number of Palestinian and Israeli activists participating regularly in the common struggle is diminishing. Activists of both types have either stopped completely or else channel their efforts elsewhere. But, there are also quite a few of us who have not let go. Some of the Palestinian activists suffering from restrictions or who have served terms of imprisonment and have suffered from physical violence are not deterred. Some Israeli activists cling to the joint struggle even when the glamour in the media and among the radical left is no longer there to see or hear. There are still new people who join us, and we still get moral support from former activists.
Fish don't know they're in waterThe contribution of the joint struggle in Bil'in against the occupation and dispossession is not in doubt, but how much is it significant? Just less than half the land pillaged from the village of Bil'in was returned, but there is no chance of getting back any more. Even the spread of the struggle is very limited and does not show any signs of significant achievements other than slowing down the process of transfer in "hot" locations.
But, the struggle in Bil'in is part of a firm global struggle. And even if we cannot put our fingers on it and quantify the gains, there are some glimmers of light. The number of links referring to Bil'in in the media have long since passed the million mark. Two documentaries on the struggle in Bil'in have won global coverage and one almost even won an Oscar. Also the disappointment that the popular struggle was not going to abolish the occupation has been replaced by the amazing contribution of the struggle to the worldwide Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (B.D.S.) campaign against the Israeli occupation. Many thousands of international activists who were with us (including anarchists from all over the world) for short time, have moved the battles around the world to the extent that real fear is holding the leaders of the Israel.
ContributionThe story of the potential relationship between the moving wings of the butterfly at the foot of the Himalayas and a cyclone storm halfway around the world, just focuses our understanding that we are part of a global system and the ability of so-called marginal events to shake up the whole system. So the movement of the PGA is no more with us - in the world at large or in Israel. But the "relay race" has not stopped and the torch continues to be passed on. The spirit of Chiapas (on the outskirts of Mexico) is flourishing in Rojava - the centre of a titanic struggle in the region to the east of the Mediterranean. The Anarchists Against the Wall received the torch from the local groups of the PGA of Israel and globally it helped to ignite the many torches of the
international struggle of B.D.S.
In Israel, and even all over the world, when the media want to incite against activists or just defame them, they call them "anarchists", as "communists" are not significant any more.
And the non-hierarchical manner of organizing social struggles has long since ceased to be the odd mode of Quakers and esoteric anarchists and is becoming common to all social struggles.
Final thoughtsThe joint struggle of the Anarchists Against the Wall and the village popular struggle activists, helped to focus the opinion of anarchists all over the world to see in the struggle of indigenous people against settlers and other suppressive regimes not just a "national liberation" and "self-determination" of a capitalist ruling elite which wants the privilege to rule and exploit its own people, but one of the intersectional struggles that anarchists should join in order to contribute to the education of working people and increase the prestige of anarchism.
Anarchici Contro Il Muro