Cecilia Underfeldt-Wort reports from the West Bank

Every now and then, 19-year-old Doa’s hand touches her fiancés, gently. There is a cautious anticipation in their eyes. They have been engaged for four years, but are still waiting for the day when they can unite in marriage and when her father will be let out of jail, when he will return to Bi’lin, the small village on the West Bank, which itself has come to symbolize the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli security wall.  A year has passed since her father was arrested; but Doa and her eight siblings have yet to receive a court verdict. The time has stopped in a vacuum.

“It is so unfair,” says Doa, upset. “They have no right to take my father away from me like this.” She looks down, through her half empty tea glass into a red velvet couch.Doa’s father is not the only one who has been put in jail in Bi’lin. Nowadays many people in the village sleep with their clothes on, in fearful expectancy of the Israeli night raids.

It was in 2005 that the construction of the wall began in Bi’lin, a small agricultural village on the West Bank which since the 1980s has slowly been losing approximately 60 percent of its land. The remaining land no longer consists of sliver-green olive trees and buzzing beehives; the space which is left is now densely inhabited.

The loss of land has struck the Bi’lin economy hard. Much of the confiscated land was the most fertile and had the best access to water resources. Families who once up on a time used to grow olives and own livestock were forced to look for alternative income resources. Some have bought land in neighboring villages, others have sought for work in the nearby cities. On parts of the confiscated land, three settlements have been built, where of one, Kiryat Sefer, 42,000 has inhabitants. In relation to the population in Bi’lin, the village is now a David, by Goliaths foot, with mere 1,800 inhabitants.

In April 2004 the Isreali Village Council for the Israeli government declared that they would be intending to build the separation wall in Bi’lin. It was as a reaction to this announcement that the protest organization Popular Committee Against the Wall and its Settlements (PCAWS) was created by the citizens of Bi’lin. The committee collaborates with legal advisors to help represent citizens in Bi’lin who’s land has been seized or lost due to the separation wall. They also started to instantiate demonstrations, which has led to the arrests of many members such as Adeeb Abu Rahma, Doa’s father, the taxi driver and protest leader, who was detained on the 10th of July 2009. He was accused of having entered the secured military zone, having encouraged violence and brought disorder. The wall is situated 5 kilometers east of the green line, the cease fire line of the Arab-Israeli war 1948, the line which was meant to separate the Israeli territories from the Palestinians. The wall in Bi’lin has therefore been announced as a violation of International Law by the International Tribunal in Hague.

“Bi’lin has become a symbol for many villages on the West Banks struggle against the apartheid wall.” Says PCAWS member Iyad Burnat who has given talks all over Europe about the wall. He describes the wall’s influence on the village as ‘choking.’

Burnat believes that the presence of internationals in Bi’lin is important.  “We need ambassadors to help us represent our struggle, when we Palestinians cannot represent ourselves, when we are either put in jail or prohibited from travelling abroad, they can speak for us,” he says.

Looking out over the emergin wall, the ceased olive growths, and the settlements across the hill, is the international house It was built to allow internationals to come to Bi’lin, giving them a place to stay. Internationals who come can participate in the demonstrations and act as night watchers. Many act as reporters during the sometimes frequent Israeli military night raids.  Sometimes big tourist groups come to participate in the demonstrations – an issue which has brought up many discussions about conflict tourism. Burnat emphasizes, though, that every international’s presence is valuable.

Looking out over an early morning raid in Bi'lin, Palestine Photo: Hamde Abu Rahma

Demonstrations are held once a week. After Friday prayers, the volunteers will assemble for a debriefing in Abdullah Abu Rahmas house across from the street from the village mosque. Abdullah is not at home though. He was arrested, just like Doa’s father, on the 10th of December 2009 (International Human Rights day) for allegedly have participated in demonstrations against the wall and walked the streets of his village after the enforced curfew.

An Israeli activist gives the debriefing for the first time demonstrators, including information on what to do if they are arrested, where to walk, and how to avoid teargas canisters. He has many worried eyes set upon him and many arms are raised, questions in anticipation of what is being expected.

“Teargas is not dangerous per say, it will just make you think that you can’t breath,” he reassures the crowd. “What is dangerous is getting a teargas canister to your head.”

A short while later, the group march down the hill, through the olive growths, and towards the soldiers and the tall fence.

“Although the presence of internationals in Palestinian villages such as Bil’in is a positive stance of support, I think there is a thin line between solidarity and colonialist tendencies,” Said Jody McIntyre, a British student who lived in Bi’lin for half a year. “Of course, internationals arrive in Palestine with good intentions, but this form of international support is based on the notion that a Westerner being tear-gassed will cause more of an outcry, and essentially, any popular and effective uprising against the occupation will come from the Palestinians themselves. We must recognise that the suffering of the Palestinians is only one piece of a jigsaw of global imperialism.”

Despite the International Tribunal’s decision against the construction of the wall, more layers of cement are still being put on. The Israeli army has been told to shot those Palestinian demonstrators who throw stones. The presence of international demonstrators  means that the army hesitates from using live ammunition, report members of the PCAWS.

“We must be positive, bestow belief in the future, even though things feel heavy sometimes, we must have faith, that we will get our land back, our lives and our children’s future back.” says Burnat.

It is this brutal belief in the future that keeps Doa smiling, despite the fact that she does not know when her father will return and when she finally can marry her fiancée.

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