By journey to Bi’lin was one that I had planned for this sabbatical. About ten years ago, this small palestinian village’s farmland was taken for the wall that surrounds 3 new settlement. When the “security” wall is constructed, it is not just a 2 foot wide piece of concrete. it includes layers of razor wire, a metal fence, roads on both sides for military use only, followed by a no-man’s land dead zone, a buffer on both sides. So it becomes a ½ mile swath of land that ribbons through the occupied territory, as opposed to the green line of the 1949 armistice. This part of the wall and part of the settlements have taken 60% of the village’s farmland.
Every Friday people from around the world come to join locals to demand their land back. The internationals gathered together and were introduced to what has happened so far with the stealing of land, what the big picture in Palestine is like and showed us what might be thrown at us. I was ok until then.
We walked towards the wall, chanting words of peace and against racism. As you see, there are soldiers peering over the top of the wall. There was no threat or provocation from us, our hands were raised. Then the teargas/smoke and sound bombs were shot at us.
Then their shooting intensified. Rubber bullets and real bullets have been used in the past, so I began to move from the wall. But the gas got to me, I breathed through my scarf, but it burned, especially where there was sweat on my face. The next step they took was opening the wall gate enough for solders to come out and try to grab protesters and arresting them. Next they opened the gate fully so more soldiers and eventually 4 army vehicles could come out, get closer to their targets. Talk about overkill.
It really was pathetic to see all this force for so little confrontation. Towards the end I saw one youth use a sling to let a rock loose over the wall and one other who threw a couple of rocks, which fell short of the wall.
Ironically, US AID contributes to 2 projects in Bi’lin, that I saw, for water and education. Yet our government fails to hold Israel accountable when telling them to end the occupation and stealing this village’s livelihood. These projects are a waste of money if the villagers can’t make a living! You can find more about this in the film Five Broken Cameras on Netflix.
I prayed before setting out and tried to see this as an act of worship; knowing that God was present, becoming part of a new community committed to love and justice, recognising that there are no enemies – only sisters and brothers who need to proclaim and hear truth, that God calls us into living a life of challenge and that God’s power through the spirit strengthens us for the task.
I shed tears from the gas, but it is nothing compared to the weeping of family members who lost loved ones this week in Gaza.