Eight Days in Palestine – Day 7

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A new feature with excerpts from a Diary by “Ted from Liverpool”.

Day 7 – in Bil’in

Saturday 7th November 2009

Ted, representing Liverpool Friends of Palestine who are twinned with Bil’’in, together with Rob a photographer, Phil who represents a Harringey organization which is twinned with Aizaria and Jon who at his own expense has volunteered to teach English in Abu Dis for 3 months, left Al Sawya by taxi. We were hoping to catch the start of the protest demonstration which begins immediately after midday prayers each Friday. Although our taxi driver stopped at the previous village, thinking we had arrived he went into the mosque and stayed for prayers, we arrived at Bil’in in time and were immediately contacted by Sareem, who was to prove so helpful.

We joined the 200 or so marchers from all over the world but primarily Europe and Israel, with the majority of the rest being boys and young men from the village. It was half mile or so to the barrier which is not yet a wall.

Bil’in turned to the courts in the autumn of 2005. In September 2007, 2 years after they initiated legal proceedings, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that due to illegal construction permits for part of the settlement Modi’in Illit, unfinished housing could not be completed and that the route of the Wall be moved several hundred metres west, returning 25% of Bil’in’s land to the village. To date, the high court ruling has been ignored – settlement construction continues and the barrier remains in place.

On 17 April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahme was shot in the chest by Israeli forces at the fence with a high-velocity teargas projectile. He subsequently died from his wounds, at a Ramallah hospital – we were later to find out much more of this incident.

On our way to the barrier fence, at the end of a rutted farm road, there is a flanking fence to the side and it was here that young village boys of 14 to 17 were hurling stones at the Israeli side, after cutting a large hole in the security fence. They were running into trees out of the path of the retaliatory tear gas being fired at them. They appeared to be very brave and this was to be the pattern for their elders who were at the gated entry through the fence at the end of our road.

Notwithstanding the repeated barrages of 7 or 8 grenades at a time Eyad, with a brother of Bassem who had been killed, was leading an attack on the barrier fence. They eventually cut through and pulled back the barbed wire and Eyad went through to the Israeli tar-macadammed road on the other side but shortly returned. Every so often 3 Israeli soldiers would come out onto this same stretch of road and return stones at the protestors – this semed to be more effective than the tear gas. We could hear and then see the grenades coming and could by and large step out of the way; the wind was blowing strongly towards the Israelis and as long as we stepped upwind most of us could avoid the tear gas most of the time. Each one of our party did get caught twice at least – tear gas is extremely effective and unpleasant in closing down one’s eyes and breathing; fortunately we got only a mild whiff but Eyad really caught a packet which put him out of action for 15 or so minutes, he then returned to the front line, calling on all to join him at the front fence.

The demonstration finished after about an hour at which time we all made the return to Bil’in. Sareem – Eyad’s second in command who had met us from the taxi and had been extremely solicitous and caring throughout, particularly for Ted’s welfare – took us to the Association’s HQ. Here Eyad was interviewing people and we were given facilities to clean up and given refreshment. We were introduced to their photo-journalist, Ashail Yusri, who began editing his video of the day’s event – for YouTube. Ted had been caught on this film three times and it is of interest to note that his daughter in Liverpool was able to see the edited version a few hours later – he only appears once on this edited version, at the end.

We later repaired to Eyad’s house where we met his family – his wife prepared lunch for the four of us. Ted handed over our contribution to the office expenses of the Association of Friends of Freedom and Justice – Bil’in and also bought some fine needlework for his colleagues in Liverpool; he understood that this had been made by Eyad’s wife and a colleague from the village. We also met the local school science teacher Al-Katib Haitham who runs the sports club, together with Eyad’s brother – all of whom made us extremely welcome.

We left at 4pm to visit a couple of homes, again led by Sareem, the first being a house which the Association lets out to visiting activists, mainly from other countries – this contains about 15 beds, complete with kitchen, living room and bathroom.

We then moved on through the village past the cemetery where Bassem had been buried , his grave being decorated with Palestinian flags and flowers which we photographed. We then moved on to the house of Bassem’s mother and family. Here we met two of his brothers and his mother, where we took mint tea. Rob our photographer recognised Bassem’s brother in his red tee-shirt; he had been prominent in the earlier demonstration. When Ted expressed some concern regarding this brother’s involvement, his mother – who did not speak English – merely lifted her thumb in a gesture of courage. We are forever being impressed by the Palestinians’ display of indominatable courage, from the teenagers and young men at the fence to their elders in the besieged towns and villages.- the Israelis will never conquer them.

Baseem’s mother and brother told us how Baseem, apparently a very big man in stature as well as in his nature, was much loved throughout the village. He was always at the forefront of the marches – which he insisted should be peaceful, with no stone throwing – and he spoke quietly to the IDF soldiers. They must have known him well and fired at him directly and deliberately.

We then returned to Eyad’s house, up the hill to get a taxi to Abu Dis. In a surprising gesture, the hawklike moustached younger brother of Baseem, who had been so prominent in his red tee-shirt, noticed Ted was walking with a little difficulty on the uneven pavement up the hill – he immediately took his arm and they walked together to Eyad’s home.

We then returned to Abu Dis to a much needed Saturday rest day. I am however typing the last 2 day’s reports here in the Friendship centre, in a now noisy atmosphere of a rehearsal. Teenage boys are rehearsing a song about the Palestinian troubles and the invasion of Gaza which they will sing in a Concert tonight – the tune is good and we hope they are successful in making it into a hit. We attended this concert, where the boys also performed the traditional ance we had seen in Asawya, which was held to mark the opening of a diabetes clinic – apparently diabetes is on the increase, thought to be as a result of stress.

Ted from Liverpool – A visit to the West Bank
1st November to 8th November 2009

Arranged by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association

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