The wall surrounds the village on its Eastern side, running along and across a series of small hills. Unlike in places like Bethlehem and Jerusalem where the wall is made of 20 ft high concrete slabs and sniper towers, the wall in Bi’lin is made up of two parallel electrified fences with razor wire at their crest. At the top of the hill is a 40 metre high red and white metal tower with an enormous camera on top that can supposedly watch events happening up to three km away. There is no way to tell whether the camera is recording at any one point in time and this Orwellian method of surveillance is clearly intended to instill a climate of constant fear amongst the residents of Bi’lin. In between the two fences is a road that is regularly patrolled by IDF jeeps and in the middle of the hill is a gate by which the jeeps can pass into the village. It is through this gate and others similar that the occupation forces have been entering the village in the early hours of the night to arrest the members of the popular committee and those who attend the non-violent weekly demonstrations.
For five years now, the villagers of Bi’lin have been holding weekly demonstrations against the construction of the wall on their land. The Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements adheres to a strict policy of non-violence whilst refusing to condemn the tactics used by others in the struggle against the occupation. The weekly demonstrations are met with brutal force from the Israeli army who regularly use tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and sound bombs against the non-violent demonstrators. Scores of people have been injured attending the demonstrations and earlier this year, Bassem was murdered by a soldier who shot him from 20 yards in the stomach with a rubber-coated steel bullet.
The villagers of Bi’lin have been particularly keen on inviting international activists to travel to the village and support their struggle and have an acute understanding of the concept of international privilege. The demonstrations are often well attended by international and Israeli anti-occupation activists and there have been delegations of politicians from around the world. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) maintains a permanent presence of internationals in the village and earlier this week we spent four nights working with them.
The ISM, Israeli Anarchists against the Wall, local Palestinians and other non-aligned activists have been staying up through the night, sitting on rooftops and patrolling the village in order to be an early warning system in the event of an army incursion or house raid. Over the last three months, the army have been conducting targeted raids at the homes of those attending and organising the demonstrations. So far over 40 people have been arrested and 26 people remain inside Israeli prisons having had no trial and having no means of recourse. International activists are working hard to attend every army incursion in an attempt to interfere wherever possible and document the raids. There is no discernable pattern to the behaviour of the army and it is impossible to judge when and from where the jeeps will arrive so the activists spend every night on the rooftops. The Israelis have issued a wanted list with 105 names of villagers on, including the entire Popular Committee.
The night raids are having a very visible effect on the village. Many people are not sleeping at night out of a fear that they will be arrested if they do so meaning that the village is much sleepier during the day. The demonstration we attended on Friday was attended by many more international activists than Palestinians. It seems that a fear of being added to the wanted list is encouraging people to not attend.
Every IDF commander that takes over control of the Bi’lin area vows to stop the demonstrations; they have tried brute force, using crazy new weapons including a water spray called “skunk” which makes you stink for days and they have even tried murder. It seems that the night raids are the tactic of a new commander intent on trying to crush the spirit of resistance in the village. They appear to believe that if they arrest the leadership of the movement its support will melt away. They have arrested many people in recent months and put a lot of people’s children in prison cells but the spirit of resistance in the village has not been crushed. Instead the villagers are burning barricades and chasing the soldiers around at 3am.