A lead headline in this week’s Maariv newspaper reads “Residents of Bil’in Defeated the IDF”.
The headline refers to the fact that a forum of three supreme court justices, headed by Israeli supreme court president Dorit Beinish, ruled that the government must change the route of the wall that is being built on the land of the Palestinian village of Bil’in, because the current route “disproportionately damages the lives and rights of the residents of Bil’in”. The judges go on to note that the route is meant to protect a neighbourhood in the West Bank settlement of Upper Modi’in, which is being built without appropriate permits, and that they were not convinced that there are sufficient security reasons to maintain the current route.
This was a clear victory for the joint Israeli-Palestinian struggle against the route of the separation wall/barrier on the lands of Bil’in. For the past three years, members of the Israeli peace movement have been following, and participating, in the weekly protests in Bil’in against the wall. The struggle was led by the local Palestinian residents of Bil’in, together with the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall. Every Friday, they gathered in Bil’in to carry out a joint, non-violent protest against the wall. And now that struggle has been crowned by victory.
Rona Even, a young Israeli MA student at the Hebrew University who was a regular activist in the protests, told me she is of course happy and relieved at the verdict, but is still concerned about where the alternative route will be built. And she adds, “the struggle will continue, since the wall violates Palestinian rights in many other areas as well.”
Just two days earlier, I had the opportunity to witness another victory of non-violent protest against the route of the wall. The Palestine-Israel Journal had the privilege of hosting Professor Johan Galtung, the father of peace research and peace journalism, at an event held at Al-Quds University in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Before he met with the faculty to talk about future options to resolve the conflict, we were taken on a tour of the campus by the deputy president of the university, Professor Hasan Dweik.
He took us up a hill overlooking the campus, and proudly described how the students had saved one third of the campus space from the wall which runs through the city of Abu Dis, one side of which is in the West Bank, and the other in the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipal district. “Our students gathered, played music, studied, and carried out all sorts of activities in the area meant for the wall. Day after day, in a totally non-violent manner. And we won, the route of the wall was moved, and the campus saved.” Galtung, who runs workshops on non-violent conflict resolution techniques throughout the world, was very impressed, and justifiably so.
There are many subtexts to this story: the clash between violent and non-violent strategies within Palestinian society over how to end the occupation, the joint Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the fact that the Jewish settlement of Upper Modi’in is a bribe by rightwing Israeli elements to provide cheap housing for ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews who are one of the poorest segments in Israeli society, and even the struggle over the role of the supreme court within Israeli society.
In Maariv, opinion page editor Ben-Dror Yamini praised the supreme court’s decision, and he wrote: “The State of Israel must decide what type of Zionism it wants: A Zionism which provides a national home and the right to self-determination for the Jewish nation in its own state, or a real estate Zionism which steals from the Palestinians.” He praised the supreme court decision as reflecting a “humanistic Zionism, which recognizes the Jewish right to self-determination, while not denying that same right to the Palestinians”.
The struggle and victory in Bil’in should be studied by all who believe in the importance and potential efficacy of non-violent protest against human rights violations and oppression. An excellent film called Bil’in Habibti (Bil’in my Beloved), made by director Shai Carmeli-Pollak, the brother of protest leader Yonatan Pollak, should get as broad a distribution as possible.
It took 28 years for the Berlin Wall to come down. This wall will come down too, in the context of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace.
This entry originally appeared in the UK Guardian’s “Comment is free” Weblog.