Bil’in: 12 years of struggle

Residents from the village of Bil’in were joined by hundreds of Palestinians from other areas, as well as Israelis and internationals on Friday the 17th of February 2017 to commemorate twelve years of the popular movement in the village.

In this time, Israeli occupation soldiers have injured and arrested scores of non-violent demonstrators, killing two Bil’in residents. In April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed after he was shot in the chest directly with a tear-gas canister. Jawaher Abu Rahmah, Bassem’s sister, died as a result of tear gas inhalation in 2010.

The apartheid wall was erected in Bil’in in 2005 to separate it from the illegal Israeli settlement Mod’in Illit. 1,300 dunums (320 acres) of land was stolen from Bil’in residents.

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Demonstrators march from the centre of the village to the apartheid wall
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Palestinians climbing the wall
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Cutting the wire fence at the top of the wall, the illegal settlement can be seen in the background

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Palestinians attempt to pry open a steel gate in the wall
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Palestinians attempt to pry open a steel gate in the wall
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The gate is successfully opened
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With many of the demonstrators having already left, Israeli occupation soldiers arrived, threw tear gas and shot a rubber bullet
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A drone hovered over demonstrators to record faces, which can be used against Palestinians in particular in order to arrest them
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Palestinian youth throw stones at Israeli occupation soldiers
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Israeli occupation soldiers came through the gate
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Israeli occupation soldiers removed stone barriers from the track
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After walking through the area, chasing a Palestinian who fell and broke his leg, and a long-stand off with mainly children, soldiers returned to the other side of the wall

What it’s like to be tear gassed

The village of Kufr Qaddum is home to approximately 4,000 Palestinians. It has been heavily affected by the nearby illegal settlement of Qedumim. As well as land stolen for the settlement, almost half of the village lands are located in Area C (under Israeli control) and are thus completely inaccessible to the residents of Kufr Qaddum. During the Second Intifada in 2003, the village’s main road was closed by the Israeli army and remains closed to this day. This has increased travel times substantially, making what used to be a 1.5 km journey to a local town almost 15km.

In yesterday’s weekly demonstration, we were confronted by about 6 Israeli border police (renowned for being the most aggressive) who blocked our habitual march along the road. They then fired strong tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets at us for about two hours,  with another army vehicle and more soldiers arriving too.

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Shebab (youth) prepare stones as their only form of resistance

 

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This was the first time that I was badly affected by tear gas, and while I have had training on it and been given advice on a number of occasions about the best practice to overcome it, I completely panicked – the worst thing to do as you need to focus on your breathing. My eyes and nose were streaming, my face was stinging and I was finding it very difficult to draw a breath. I ripped off the scarf that was covering my face, the mask that was over my mouth and nose, and the sunglasses from my eyes as I was feeling suffocated. My friend passed me an alcohol wipe to put under my nose to reduce irritation. I was hiding down an alley with other demonstrators but the tear gas had been fired from both sides so there was nowhere to run to get fresh air. I was pacing around desperately. It was horrible. Luckily, the effects of tear gas usually passes after a couple of minutes and I could carry on recording and taking photos.

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At one point, we were ushered into a house to take cover. When we got inside, a mother and her three children were sitting on the steps all suffering from tear gas inhalation inside their house. For residents of this village, young and old alike, tear gas is a weekly occurance and cancer rates there are abnormally high.

 

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A rubber bullet

 

 

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Tear gas bomb

 

 

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Tear gas canisters

 

 

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A donkey, caught up in the 2 hour attack, walked up to the army vehicles as they were leaving

 

 

Salah Khawaja

free-salahSalah Khawaja, the Secretary of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) and a leader of the Stop the Wall campaign, was kidnapped from his home on the 26th of October by Israeli occupation military forces. Since then, Israeli intelligence have conducted 27 rounds of practically non-stop interrogation with Khawaja, not allowing him to see his lawyer.

On Tuesday night at around 2am, Israeli occupation forces stormed Ramallah (Area A*), fired sound bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets and raided the offices of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute (HDIP), where Khawaja worked part-time.  The army left Ramallah at around 4:30am. Two men were arrested and two were injured on the streets during the incursion. 

I participated in a standing demonstration against his arrest yesterday in Ramallah alongside other prominent palestinian BDS activists.

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Khawaja’s wife speaking to a film crew at the protest

Following the protest, myself and two other IWPS volunteers went to the HDIP office to record the damage done by the army and conduct interviews with other employees. The office had been well and truly ransacked. They took two servers, a security camera and Khawaja’s harddrive from his computer. Two other computers were destroyed, doors were smashed and broken, holes had been punched into walls and documents were strewn everywhere. The employees seemed very shaken by what had happened and the incursion has completely stalled their organisation for the near future, but somebody also told us “this is Palestine, it happens all the time”.

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The army forced open this door and smashed the windows of many doors inside

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Khawaja’s office
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One of the destroyed laptops

Khawaja was ordered to an additional eight days of interrogation at a hearing at the Israeli military court in Petah Tikva yesterday, where he was kept blindfolded throughout the hearing. Many people believe that the office raid was a ploy to prolong the interrogation under the premise of checking evidence.

*The Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B and C. Area A (mainly cities) is exclusively administered by the Palestinian Authority, Area B (mainly villages) is administered by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and Area C, which contains the Israeli settlements, is administered by Israel.