Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Creating a culture of resistance: Bil‘in International Conference

Juicebox Gallery

By Leona Vicario - October 07, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [In Pictures]
Tags: [Bil’in] [Popular Struggle Coordination Committee ]

 Photos by Eugene Peress.

Last week, the small village of Bil'in hosted the 8th annual Bil'in International Conference on the Palestinian popular struggle. The three-day conference, which coincided with International Peace Day, was held from Wednesday October 2 – 4, 2013.

According to the Palestinian Popular Struggle Committee, the main goal of the conference was "to strengthen and improve the coordination tools between the different implicated actors in the protection of Human Rights Defenders in Palestine just as general media, policy makers, and the Palestinian, Israeli and International civil society" within the strategy of non violent resistance.

With this aim, Palestinians, international activists, politicians and members of the Palestinian Government gathered under the slogan, "Towards a popular mobilization to adopt a common strategy for popular struggle in Palestine." The conference aimed at developing grassroots-oriented strategies of community-level non-violent resistance, coordinated by local popular committees.

In their words, they present "a unique form of community based organizing and resistance in the tradition of the first Palestinian Intifada," when the Palestinian society implemented similar tactics, such as demonstrations, strikes, political and economic disobedience (such as Beit Sahour’s tax resistance) among others to combat Israel’s occupation This period "was a reflection of the real implementation of popular resistance," Mustafa Barghouti, the leader of the Palestinian National Initiative (Al-Mubadara), put forward during the event. 

Throughout the years, this form of resistance has consolidated itself not just as "a tool, [or] a reaction" to the occupation and its consequences (the Wall, interrupted life, the stealing of the land, resources and water, etc.), but "as a way to create another culture, totally opposed to the culture of the occupation," Luisa Morgantini, an activist and member of the European Parliament explained to Palestine Monitor.

 "Also they discovered, little by little, how courageous [it] is to use non-violence: they use the gun and either Palestinians or internationals face the soldiers, and you need a lot of courage for that," Morgantini stated. 

The head of Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, Abdallah Abu Rahma of Bil’in, opened the first round of the conference, pointing out the idea that gave rise to the meeting: "We (Palestinians) insist to continue existing (...) and the reaction to the occupation legitimates the resistance," Rahma explained in front of the public.

One of the key elements highlighted during the conference was the need for the implementation of a structured, planned and constant strategy amongst all actors involved in the popular struggle, regardless of political affiliations and unified by a common interest: ending the occupation. According to the participants, this goal could be easier to achieve through coordination with the international community, either with solidarity movements or international institutions and organizations, whose participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement could help place greater pressure on Israel to make it more accountable.  

"Negotiations are not enough, we need an alternative strategy," Barghouti declared to the Palestine Monitor.  "We do realize that the impatience with the Israeli policies is growing and that is why we appreciate so much the most recent statement of the European Union because it was the first official serious act of punishment against settlements by separating settlements and Jerusalem from any agreement in the future with Israel.” 

In his opinion, "a combination of non-violent popular resistance on the ground and a strong international solidarity boycott and disinvestment will change the situation as it happened in South Africa. Israel’s policy is getting more and more isolated." 

Fighting the occupation by creating facts on the ground

The second-day’s session moved outside the village of Bil'in in an effort "to bring the facts to the ground," a tactic upon which the attendees had agreed the day before. 

Participants were launched from different parts of West Bank to take part in "special events," kept secret up until moments before taking place. 

In a cleanly executed action, which lasted all of about 15 minutes, a permanent gate that barred access to the home of Omar Shananir in Al-Walaja (Bethlehem) was removed. The action was symbolic though. Despite the removal of the barrier, Omar’s house will soon be placed on the other (Israeli) side of the Wall, separated from the rest of the village. Soon, the only way through which he will be able to communicate and see the rest of his village, and the West Bank for that matter, will be through a tunnel already built under the Wall’s route. 

This gate was one of the more than 500 obstacles preventing Palestinian freedom movement every day throughout West Bank. "We are against this Apartheid gate that Israel is building and we want to tell them that we refuse this Apartheid system by separating and isolating this house where around ten people are living and that by this gate will be completely isolated," explained one of the Popular Struggle Committee leaders. 

"We want to evidence that Israel is a fake state. We just need to take the initiative and get rid of the occupation. Israel built this stereotype of a powerful state but if you come closer you realise that is not like this."

After the movement, the retinue set off to one of the checkpoints located on the road between Ramallah and Bethlehem. On the way to the action in al-Walaja, three of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee’s main leaders—Abdullah Abu Rahma, Mohamad Khatib and Naji Tamimi—were detained for no stated reason. They were kept for hours in what is informally know as "The Container," a trailer type box that sits on the side of the road for just such detentions. Such treatment is just "another example of the new wave of repression against the non violent Popular Struggle," argued one of the popular committee members. 

Due to the intervention of activists and politicians, as well as the presence of several media outlets, the detainees were eventually released.

Around the same time, popular struggle activists drilled three separate holes in the in Separation Wall near Abu Dis, in an action designed to affirm the right of all Palestinians to enter all of East Jerusalem. Abu Dis, a village on the eastern side of the Jerusalem municipality, was de-facto placed within the West Bank after the construction of the Wall. The attempt to enter through the Wall was put to a halt as Israeli armed forces arrived, using stun grenades to disperse the crowd. 

The third and last day of the international conference was celebrated close to Israel's Wall, which runs through the village of Bil’in. The Wall’s route was modified in 2011 after a two-years-struggle by the community against its presence. Not only has the Wall been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice (2004), the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the section in Bil’in to be re-routed in 2007 after a successful legal petition on behalf of the village. Despite its completed relocation, the Wall still bars access to about 25% of the village’s land. 

Like every Friday, dozens of Palestinians, Israelis and international peace activists marched through the village towards the Wall, waving flags and singing chants calling for the end of the occupation and the release of Palestinian prisoners. 

Israeli soldiers crossed through the Wall in military jeeps and chased protesters meanwhile firing tear gas canisters, rubber covered bullets and sound bombs in order to break up the demonstration, where two injures were reported.  

Although the village of Bil'in achieved the milestone of rerouting The Apartheid Wall in 2007, the community has never halted its weekly struggle on Fridays against the Israeli occupation as well as several villages in all West Bank, moved by the idea of facing the occupation respecting the guidelines of the non violence. "Despite the suffering generated by our resistance, the Popular Committees will continue our struggle," the organisers stated, cause "it is our right to resist the occupation."

 

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