Sunday, April 25, 2010

War and Peace. Just another Friday at Bil'in

YOUNG Palestinians bear peace flag, perhaps with hope, in spite of everything, or with a sense of bitter irony? Soon after,Imad Rizka, from Jaffa, is shot in the head with tear gas canister. Attack on Bil'in demonstrators came week after they honoured memory of Bassam Abu Rahma, killed with a canister fired into his back at highvelocity, on April 16, 2009.

PALESTINIAN Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - the man appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas, that is, though not yet ratified by the Palestinian Legislative Council, - delayed a working trip abroad in order to open the fifth Bil'in International Conference on the Popular Struggle that took place from April 21-23. He brought with him representatives of 23 foreign consulates and diplomatic missions.

They sat in a giant tent set up in the schoolyard of this village near Ramallah which has been the focal point of non-violent resistance to Israel's annexation fence, joining activists from Bil'in and other villages, as well as children who had come along with their parents and were wandering around with cooked beans and za'atar, women who sat behind tables laden with embroidered handicrafts for sale, a handful of Israelis and dozens of activists from abroad.

On one side stood a row of white chairs bearing the photographs of 15 men - a representative sample of the dozens of popular struggle activists from the Palestinian villages who had been jailed or are still serving time in Israeli prisons. Opposite them and behind the dais was a picture of Bassem Abu Rahma, who was killed in a demonstration on April 17, 2009 by a tear-gas grenade fired directly at him at a high velocity by an Israel Defense Forces soldier.

Besides speeches, the conference included tours of various local sites and participation in the weekly demonstration against the separation fence, which cuts into Bil'in's hills and fields. Among those taking part was Mustafa Barghouti, who hails from the Ramallah area, and was a founder of Palestinian medical aid committees. Mustafa Barghouti came second to Abbas in 2005 presidential elections. His brother Marwan remains in an Israeli jail. Also present was Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini, a member of Rifondazione Communist, who visited both Bil'in and Gaza while vice president of the European Parliament.

In other respects it was another Friday for Bil'in. People gathered at the local mosque, as they had done for the past six years, and set off in procession to the wall still under construction on their lands. They were met by Israeli soldiers who fired stun grenades and smoke bombs. The soldiers shot straight in the face of protesters, and also tried to arrest journalists.

Several serious injuries were sustained. Imad Rizka, 37 years old , from Jaffa, was shot in the forehead with a tear gas canister. He was taken away immediately to Ramallah Hospital by ambulance. Rizka is well-known in Bilin, as he comes to the village every Friday to demonstrate. >He was transferred to the Hadassa Ein Karem hospital after being x-rayed and diagnosed as suffering a broken skull.

Soldiers fired a great deal of tear gas from both sides of the fence. Demonstrators were forced to retreat, but among those who remained, several were arrested. Soldiers crossed the fence and advanced well into village and detained five people among them one local journalist.

Additional injuries are as follows:

One demonstrator from Italy, struck in the back by a tear gas canister; an Italian demonstrator who was shot in the arm with a new type of weapon; an Israeli activist; Um Samarra, 45, from Bilin, who was hit in the leg by a tear gas canister; Haitham al-Khatib, cameraman, who was slightly injured; a Palestinian woman from Bethlehem who sustained a leg injury; and a Palestinian journalist named Abbas al-Momni.

For the popular committees, the conference had been a time for careful balance. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who has lived in Ramallah and Gaza and is a trusted friend, explains:

"Activists of the popular committees who lead the struggle against the separation fence and the settlements are well aware of the criticism that the 'embrace' they are receiving from the Palestinian Authority is too strong and too tight. They are aware of the suspicious remarks to the effect that the PA is interested in regulating and adjusting the popular struggle, and that it exploits its well-publicized support for it to thwart public criticism of its policies. The activists' solution to this problem is to maintain their political and partisan independence, to distance themselves from the schismatic arguments that characterize the political arena, to continue to plan popular activities, and to put pressure on Hamas and Fatah so that they will reconcile.

"In any case, the Israeli security forces make sure that the activists will not turn into the 'spoiled children' of the PA and ensure that the popular struggle will continue to spread".



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