He walked in from the blazing sun and quickly wiped his brow as sweat continued to trickle down the side of his face. I asked him if he would like to join me in the kitchen as I was just finishing breakfast. We sat down and as I continued to eat I asked why he had not joined us last night, he looked at me, paused and said, “While you guys were having fun at Zan last night I was busy dealing with the [Israeli] army.” I stopped eating and looked up at him – my eyes filled with anticipation, curiosity and a definite dose of fear as to what would come next.
My friend, Shadi, is from the village of Bi’lin. Bi’lin is a small village west of Ramallah that, like Ni’lin, is well known for its weekly demonstrations. Every week without fail demonstrators come from all over the world to protest the wall and the occupation and so in response, Israeli forces have stepped up their resistance efforts to the protests. For the past few months soldiers have consistently rolled into Bi’lin around 2 AM and gone door to door looking for people (mostly men) that are on their list to arrest for their participation in the demonstrations. Ma’an Agency, a local newspaper, recently reported that Israeli soldiers are notorious for arresting people in the early AM hours in Bi’lin without giving their families any information about where they are being taken or even who they can contact to follow up. When Shadi spoke of an arrest that took place only a few weeks ago, he referred to it as a “kidnapping” – which given that no information is given to the families and that the men are literally taken from their beds, seems like an appropriate term to use.
Shadi goes home to Bi’lin every weekend to participate as an active member of the Bi’lin Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements and to help stand guard for when the army inevitably arrives. His committee helps to organize and collect money for those that are arrested since many of their families cannot afford the high cost of bail (typically around $250 – $1000).
There is a strong movement inside of Bi’lin that is supported by Palestinians, internationals and even some Israelis. These demonstrators continue to gather every week despite the army shooting multiple canisters of tear gas at them (at times up to 36 canisters consecutively) and hosing them with waster water (which triggers ones gag reflex upon contact). I was privy to one of these demonstrations on a recent trip I took to Bi’lin last Friday. While I decided to stay back as the crowd marched down the hill and toward what I refer to as the “front line,” I was able to see and hear them chanting “One, two, three, four – occupation no more!” After only a few moments we began hearing the sound of the tear gas canisters being shot and saw them landing a safe distance away. What I couldn’t figure out though, was why the tear gas was being shot off to our right when the crowd was directly in front of us? We quickly came to learn that a few boys that were standing far out in the field were throwing stones and to address this, the army decided to shoot tear gas directly at them. The boys were somewhere between 10-13 years old.
Soon after the tear gas landed, even though it was quite a distance away from us, people around me quickly began covering their noses and mouths because the wind was slowly carrying the heavy smell towards us. As I started up the hill my nose began to sting as though I had just inhaled a chili pepper and if this was the sensation that diluted tear gas caused, I shuddered to think what the tear gas must be like when it lands only a few feet away. I continued up the hill and paused to turn for a brief moment only to see the soldiers unleash the bright turquoise colored waste water on the crowd. The stench of this waste water, which as I mentioned more or less causes one to gag upon contact, sticks to your skin for at least three days after you have been sprayed and your clothes even longer. The waste water dissolved the crowd quite effectively as most people cannot breath, stand or even think after they have been sprayed because the stench is so horrible.
And as horrific as such treatment sounds, it was not even the worst part. The most heart breaking part about such treatment is the effects it has on the people living in Bi’lin. There is no way to protect their homes, and consequently their families, from inhaling the toxic chemicals every week. The wind can blow the tear gas from the wall all the way up to the village and with temperatures being so high in the summer, shutting windows is not an ideal option either.
The demonstrations will likely continue so long as the wall continues to be built and the occupation continues to exist. The demonstrations are one way that the people of Bi’lin, and those in the international community that stand in solidarity with them, can speak out against what is happening and attempt to make a difference.
Posted By Rangineh Azimzadeh
Posted Aug 3rd, 2009