The small town of Bil’in near Ramallah in occupied Palestine is well known for one thing: resistance.
In 2005 the locals began a weekly protest that continues to this day against the expansion of the West Bank Wall and illegal Israeli settlement building on their land. The protest is repeated every Friday without fail and attracts Israeli human rights activists as well as protesters from around the world. Bil’in has become a centre for those who sympathise with the plight of Palestinians and wish to express this through non-violent means.
Last Friday was like many others. Hamdi, the local protest photographer, rallied some Norwegian tourists together who had yet to decide if they had come to observe or participate. Young children stayed behind making peace signs as we walked towards the separation wall and the group of armed Israeli soldiers waiting. This time round the protesters got very close and a heated dialogue ensued along with pointed guns and tear gas.
There was a sense of reassuring familiar confidence mixed with something unknown. It would not be forgotten that two unarmed protesters, Bassem Abu Rahmeh and Jawaher Abu Rahmeh were killed at a Bil’in protest in 2009 and 2010 respectively. In memory of both, a small garden exists made up of grenade shells converted to flower pots. A severely disabled man wearing a gas mask manoeuvred himself around the scene in his wheelchair taking pictures. He later explained how he was shot in the neck during the second Intifada leaving him almost totally paralised. Along with the grenade garden, his was a powerful reminder of how relentless this struggle has become.
A patchwork of old farm buildings and concrete houses lay behind us and before us loomed the ultra Orthodox settlements of Modi’in Illit. Some of the young Shabab(youth) had tied bandannas around their faces hiding their identities. As we got closer, we were reminded by one of the elders that this was to be a peaceful protest and to stick together. Contrary to anyone’s initial reaction, he advised that the closer we were to the Israeli soldiers the safer we would be. “They are hardly going to gas themselves,” he said.
One protester in his late 60’s dramatically lifted his shirt exposing his bare stomach to the soldiers’ pointed guns. His action was a bid to highlight how unjustified their arms were. The image later appeared online with the words, “Who is the terrorist?”
A female Israeli soldier took pictures of protestors for official records. The opposition jokingly responded by asking her to tag them on Facebook! Occasionally the soldiers cocked their guns menacingly to remind the protesters, but perhaps even more so themselves, that their weapons were not for show.
Before long tear gas framed the scene everywhere you looked and the protest was over without victory or defeat. Guns pointing at backs, the soldiers marched everyone back into Bil’in. Back to normality or whatever elements of normality still exist there.