Bil?in Grassroots Nonviolent Resistance Movement:


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate

A Light of Hope that Deserves International Support

It is difficult to sustain a grassroots non-violent movement.   The sceptics argue nonviolence doesn’t work, the militants argue only violence gets results, and many just sit on the sidelines to see which way the wind will blow.   In Bil’in every Friday the wind blows, and it blows across the olive groves and into the homes of Bil’in villagers and lungs of young children playing in their gardens.   On this wind is the tear gas from the metal gas cylinders fired by the Israeli military at the Palestinian villagers, the Israeli peace activists, politicians and International activists who have walked to the wall to protest its annexing of yet more of the Bil’in villagers’ land.  I wonder to myself, as I watch the children, what this weekly inhalation of gas is doing to their young lungs, equally I wonder to myself what it is doing to their minds as they listen to the ambulances rushing up the road to assist the people injured with the gas, plastic bullets, and tragically sometimes, most recently, live bullets.

It’s the women and children who are suffering so much in this situation.  During my stay in a Palestinian home, where I was treated with such unbelievable kindness, I was saddened as I watched the Palestinian mother, who suffers from migraine headaches, no doubt brought on by stress, struggle to bring up her family in the midst of violence, real hardship of unemployment, and little hope that things will ever get better.   One of her young sons, Mohammad, showed me his tin of plastic bullets, CS canisters, and bullet shots, one of which was actually collected inside his own home and which hit his mother in the face narrowly missing her eye.   Mohammad pointed to his mother’s scar on her face and then to the plastic bullet, which had been fired into their home by Israeli soldiers.   The question for me is ‘what is this kind of military repression upon the Palestinians doing to the mental and physical health of the Palestinians?  Also what is this violence doing to the Israeli soldiers and the Israeli people, who in their heart of hearts know that injustice is injustice and the occupation is wrong?  Also what it is doing to the minds of the wider Palestinian society, many of whom know that the ‘armed struggle’ suicide bombings, Qassam rockets into Sderot, and other such acts of violence, is wrong.’ I found a lack of hope amongst many Palestinians/Israelis and people asking what can be done to break this mad cycle of violence and counter-violence?  

For me, that is why the grassroots non-violent movement of the people of Bil’in (and in other areas of Palestine) together with the Israeli peace movement, is so important.    It is a courageous movement of people, both in Israel and Palestine, who recognize there will be no military or paramilitary solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.  They recognize that this can only be solved by the civil community, together with all inclusive, unconditional dialogue and negotiations, by all political leaders willing to take risks for peace.   Such a movement deserves our help, and that is why for the past two years I have gone to attend the Bil’in Nonviolence Conference and Peace Walk, to join in solidarity with the Bil’in villagers, and Palestinian/Israeli/International grassroots activists to protest the Wall.  (The International Court of Justice has declared this wall illegal).

For over 3 years now, every Friday, the villagers of Bil’in (outside Ramallah in the occupied terrorities of Palestine) have gathered in their mosque to pray, and afterwards walk down the road to the fence that marks the route of the wall at the end of their village.   They are non-violently resisting the continuing building of the wall both by weekly protests and also through the Israeli courts.  In 2007 the villagers of Bil’in won an Israeli high court of Justice decision to remove the Israeli wall that separates the village from its land; however, the Israeli army refused to comply with the order for ‘security reasons’.  The court ruling also forbids the settlers from expanding the settlement of Mitetyaho Mizrah, which is built on the village land. However on 26th May 2008, Israeli settlers installed six mobile homes on the villagers land sending out a clear sign that they are going to expand their illegal settlement.  The villagers tried to stop the installation of the mobile homes but the Israeli soldiers prevented them and protected the settlers as they erected the mobile homes.

The Third Bil’in Conference held June 4-6th, 2008 addressed many issues, including the extension of the settlement and building of the mobile homes.  The Villagers Lawyer updated them on developments but pointed out that the installation of the mobile homes changes facts on the grounds and this could well change the original Israeli court decision against the villagers.   Attending the Conference was Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the representative of President Abbas, members of the PLO Executive Committee, members of the Palestinian National Council and representatives of various political parties and civil society groups.   

It was a very successful three-day conference with several hundred people participating, many coming from l2 different countries, and including Louise Morgantini, Deputy Speaker of the EU Parliament. On the second day, the participants split up into groups to visit surrounding areas of occupied Palestine, such as Bethlehem, Hebron.   For those people visiting first time they were shocked by the heavy militarization, and growing apartheid system within the occupied terrorities.  To see the continuing building of the wall and further Israeli settlements, particularly around Jerusalem, and fresh rubble of demolished Palestinian homes, is truly a shock to the system.  Even after many visits to Israel/Palestine it was still for myself a profound feeling of unbelief and shock that such injustice upon the Palestinian people can go unchallenged by the International Governments, as the Israeli occupation and military apparatus, continues to be financed by the American Government.  Talk of Peace Process by the Israeli Government sound hallow in light of the facts on the ground where they continue to ignore USA and UN resolutions and build settlements, etc., (The siege of Gaza and collective punishment to the point of hunger and starvation of the people of Gaza, by the Israeli Government, is both illegal and inhumane, and the siege must end, and ceasefires recalled by Hamas and Israeli military.  The British Government and the EU, must act to help the people of Gaza, and challenge Israel that as it calls for ‘security’ it is in fact doing much to undermine ‘security’ with its ongoing repressive policies.)

The Conference stated as one of its goals the unification of the Palestinian people, in order to apply pressure on Israel for the implementation of the July 9th, 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice, and UN resolutions which have largely been ignored, and take a firm stand regarding the Israeli defacto annexation of Jerusalem, the apartheid wall, and the continuing enlargement of settlements.  

The conference also asked the Palestinian people to boycott all Israeli good and channel all its efforts in the struggle against the occupation towards peaceful popular resistance that has been proven to be the most strategic and successful in opposition to the wall, and thereby increasing the peaceful resistance that has its roots in the Palestinian struggle as exemplified in the first intifada.

The conference also asked International and European supporters to put pressure on their EU leaders to stop the proposed upgrade in their relationship with Israel in light of their violations of international laws.  Many other actions such as boycott, disinvestment in Israel, etc., were proposed as methods International supporters can use to highlight continuing illegal occupation.  (See for updates).

At the conclusion of the Conference the participants went to watch a soccer match between the Internationals and the local Palestinians.  Minutes into the match the Israeli Occupation Forces shot tear gas into the makeshift football field and we all suffered from the effects of tear gas and had to leave the area.

Later we all walked to the Wall for a non-violent protest.  Again the Israeli Soldiers fired tear gas and plastic bullets into the crowd.  Many of us, including village women, Minister Mustafa Barghouti, Deputy Speaker EU Parliament Louise Morgantina, suffered gas inhalation, and an Italian Judge, was hit with a gas canister and hospitalized.  (Last year as well, at the same place, I was hit with steel tipped plastic bullet and overcome with tear gas.  I subsequently received an apology from the Israeli Government).

I believe this violent repressive treatment by the Israeli military, of the nonviolent peace movement is counter-productive as it feeds the anger and strengthens Palestinian military resistance, just at a time when many Palestinians are turning to support the nonviolence resistance.  After a long drawn out military resistance it is hard for many Palestinian militants to accept the military struggle is coming to an end.   Consequently, those brave people who have taken up the non-violent struggle now, are doing so with a passion and an absolute commitment to stay with nonviolence no matter what the cost, no matter for how long.  They passionately believe the solution is there and peace will come.   

However, they need help.  They need the help of International Governments to convince the Israeli Government that they have Palestinian partners for dialogue and negotiations and to grasp this opportunity now.  The Palestinians also need to see change on the ground, and that change is within the power of the Israeli government to deliver.   Upholding the Israeli Court ruling to remove the wall that separates the Bil’in villagers from their lands would give hope that nonviolence works and strengthen those villagers who have put their lives on the line to say NO to violence, Yes to nonviolence as the way forward for the Palestinian people and their Israeli brothers and sisters.

I have great hope for the future of Palestine/Israel, and my hope comes from people such as the courageous villagers of Bil’in, and the Israeli Peace activists.   I believe by standing together to reject the bomb, the bullet, and all the techniques of violence, and saying ‘yes’ to building justice and peace for themselves and their neighbours, they bring closer the day of peace for Palestinians and Israelis.

Salaam, Shalom
Bil’in, Palestine, June 2008


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Sep 2008.

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