Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bullets answer peaceful protest at Bil'in

THE man on the right of this picture is Bassam Abu Rahme, a resident of the village of Bil'in in the Palestinian West Bank. The tee shirt he is wearing, showing joined Israeli and Palestinian flags, represents the Israeli Peace Bloc, Gush Shalom. A symbol of optimism, perhaps.

But Bassam Abu Rahme, 29, is dead. He was hit in the chest by a high-velocity gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier during the protest at Bil'in on Friday. For the past four years there have been weekly demonstrations at Bil'in against the Israeli separation barrier, which cuts the village off from a large slice of its farmland.Abu Rahmeh was taken to hospital in Ramallah but died of his injuries. The Israeli military said it was looking into the incident.

But what is there to "look into"?

The people at Bil'in have been demonstrating for four years. They have been joined by iother Palestinians, by Israelis and by international supporters. They even obtained a ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court that the fence seperating them from their land was illegal. The army and so-called Border Police have answered with brute force. They have used rubber-clad metal bullets and tear gas.

These supposedly "non-lethal" weapons can cause serious injury, especially when fired at people at close range. This has happened. A month ago American peace activist Tristan Anderson suffered severe head wounding. Now we have the killing of Bassam Abu Rahme. Gush Shalom believes there is a deliberate escalation in military brutality, reflecting political developments at the top in Israel.

"This escalation was not caused by the demonstrators' behaviour, in which there had been no change, but to new instructions given to the military forces on the ground. Whether by explicit instructions or by a tacit nod and a new 'spirit of the commander', the finger on the trigger was loosed and authorization given for the tear gas containers as lethal missiles.

"This is the harsh heritage of the Gaza War and the mass killings which it entailed. To this is added the odious spirit of the new government, which confronts the entire world and places a racist provocateur in charge of its foreign affairs - not to speak of the new-old Defence Minster Ehud Barak, who is responsible for a lot of bloodshed".

We can add that it is not only the Israeli government that is encouraging the army to think it can get away with murder. It might have been thought that the presence of internationals would inhibit the military. But four years after the Bil'in protests began, the media still seem to have difficulty finding their way to the village. Jewish peace activists from Britain thought they would make things easier by calling a press conference in Jerusalem to talk about what they had experienced in Bil'in. But still nobody came. When Nobel prizewinner Mairead Corrigan was injured at Bil'in it did not make headlines in Britain or Ireland.

The recent findings of a BBC inquiry into 'bias' by veteran Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen did not amount to much. But they delighted the Jewish Chronicle and the Zionist Federation, whose spokesperson claimed Bowen's position was now "untenable". Many of us may have felt that Bowen's sensitive report from Gaza went some way towards making up for the BBC's disgraceful refusal to broadcast a humanitarian aid appeal. In the Independent Robert Fisk has accused the Corporation of cowardice, while Tony Lerman says it will be a sad day if Bowen's voice is curtailed.

While the Beeb keeps trying anxiously to placate the Zionist lobby, the people in Bil'in keep having to face escalating Israeli military violence, and supposedly wise men safe here from the smell of gas or range of rubber bullets periodically suggest helpfully that the Palestinians need a Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King (forgetting both of them were assassinated?). We may feel thankful that more young Palestinians, seeing that you can get killed after wearing a peace camp tee shirt, don't conclude that you may as well don the suicide bombers' belt of terror.

Men like Bassam Abu Rahme, or Bassam Aramin of Combattants for Peace, whose daughter was gunned down by Israeli Border Police outside her school, represent hope for a better future in Israel/Palestine. Don't let the IDF's brutality be assisted by the acquiescence of politicians and craven cowardice of the media, in suppressing and destroying such voices.

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