A few weeks ago, in the dead of night, dozens of Israeli soldiers with painted faces burst violently into my home. If only they had knocked, I would have opened the door. They arrested me. My wife, Lamia, was left alone with our four children. My youngest, 3-year-old Khaled, woke up to the image of Israeli soldiers with painted faces who were taking his father away. He has not stopped crying since. A few nights ago he woke up in terror, sobbing: “Daddy, why did you let the soldiers take me?” That’s the way our children sleep–in a constant state of fear.
Many Americans know that the Obama administration has been pushing the Israeli government to accept a freeze on settlement construction. What is not commonly known is that even as Israel negotiates with the United States, it has been taking steps, including my arrest, to crush the growing Palestinian nonviolent movement opposing Israel’s construction of settlements and the wall on Palestinian land in the West Bank.
For over five years the residents of Bil’in and other villages have been protesting against Israel’s separation wall, which cuts off our village’s land for the sake of Israeli settlement expansion. We have even taken the struggle to the courts. The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled in July 2004 that the wall, where it has been built inside the West Bank, is illegal under international law, as are all Israeli settlements. In September 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the wall in Bil’in, which separates us from 50 percent of our land, is illegal according to Israeli law. The wall has yet to have moved.
The Israeli army is using more-lethal weapons and greater violence against protesters, and arresting many people, including many protest organizers. In Bil’in alone, twenty-nine residents have been arrested in the past three months. Twelve of them are children. Almost all were arrested during military raids in the middle of the night. Their detention has been extended repeatedly.
But the charges against them are baseless. As one example, I have been charged with stone throwing. I was released on bail with draconian terms only after my lawyers showed the court passport stamps proving that I was abroad at the time of the alleged offense. My friend, Adeeb Abu-Rahme, 37 years old and the father of nine, has been imprisoned for more than six weeks, though the charges against him are just as absurd.
Every Friday in Bil’in, we march to the wall in peaceful protest, along with our Israeli and international partners. Once a year we hold an international conference about the popular nonviolent struggle. Together we learn and gain inspiration. We struggle together to bring down the many walls between people that the occupation is creating. We’ve repeatedly addressed the Israeli soldiers here, telling them we are not against them as people, but that we oppose their actions as an occupying military force.
Still, nineteen demonstrators have been killed by the Israeli army in these nonviolent demonstrations against the wall. Many have been injured, including Israeli and international activists protesting with us. Here in Bil’in we recently lost our friend Bassem Abu Rahme, who was fatally shot by soldiers in April while he was imploring them to stop shooting at demonstrators.
Several months ago we were warned by Israel’s occupation forces that they intended to crush the popular struggle.
Why has the Israeli government decided now to increase the suppression of demonstrations and to break the spirit of protest leaders? Maybe because they realize that the nonviolent struggle is spreading, that more and more villages have created popular committees that are organizing demonstrations. Perhaps the crackdown is a result of their concern and the growing international movement for the boycott of companies and businessmen such as Lev Leviev who are involved in Israel’s land grab. Or maybe they fear that the new American government could learn through our demonstrations that Israel’s wall is a means to annex land for the growing settlements, and that nonviolent Palestinian protests are being brutally suppressed.
Israel’s actions suggest that it is intimidated by people struggling for their rights in a nonviolent manner. The Israeli government seems to believe that Palestinians who struggle while partnering with Israeli activists endanger Israel’s occupation and that tearing down human walls is a dangerous act. Perhaps what the state of Israel fears most of all is the hope that people can live together based on justice and equality for all.
Mohammed Khatib is the secretary of Bil'in’s Village Council and a leading member of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements.