Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bil'in Belies the Future

Bil'in is infamous. It is the site of weekly demonstrations against the separation barrier. Bil'in is a traditional Palestinian village where Israeli, international, and Arab demonstrators come to protest the everyday excesses of occupation. Typically, a handful of protesters end up with wounds resulting from tear gas canisters or rubber bullets, and both sides get to go home after a few hours of premeditated theatricks.

Hundreds of participants (whose participation level ranges from media onlookers to agitators to aggressors) converged upon Bil'in this Friday just as they have essentially every Friday for the past two years. This day was a bit more turbocharged, however, for it was the 2nd anniversary of the 1st Bil'in protest.

The tripartite mix of protesters is a perfect combination for effecting a positive outcome on the wall erection and d-rection process. However, there are a number of obstacles that stunt the growth of this transnational protest brigade. The biggest failure of the weekly protests is the typical devolution of the clases into rock-slinging fests in which the IDF responds with tear gas and rubber bullets. The inability to control the Palestinian youths cannot be underestimated. In my estimation, this is the biggest obstable towards creating a venerable and longlasting protest movement. The intifadas wrought nothing but havoc upon the Israeli civilian population and Palestinian national ambitions. Likewise, the perennial fallback on rock-slinging results in this consistently inevitable reversion to dirty tactics. Rocks (plentiful all across the hilly, olive-tree laden terrain of biblical Judea and Samaria) are primitive weapons that, while calling attention to the resistance, fail to gain leverage in the struggle.

Rocks justify the IDF's counterattacks. They merit the soldiers' advance into the Palestinian territory on the other side of the separation barrier. While it is possible that the IDF would not be content just lying in wait on the "Israeli" side of the barrier (which is indeed within the Green Line, consistent with Israeli government policy ultimately designed to annex no less than 10% of West Bank land), there is no chance that the soldiers will stand down once the rocks are a-flying.

The Bil'in theater is an exercise in tit-for-tat antics that aim to convey a certain impression for the media folks who capture the spectacular game from within. The IDF generally behaves relatively responsibly in Bil'in, given the rock-slinging. However, the IDF's stature would be miraculously eroded if the rocks were dropped to the ground at the 9.8 meters per second squared. The PR battle for the world's sympathy drags on, and the underdog still fails to truly act as a noble victim. The conscientious act of the struggle's continuation can only work in Israel's favor, although clearly not much has truly worked in Israel's favor, given the horribly low popularity rank that Israel suffers on the world stage.

Bil'in is a microcosm for the struggle as a whole. The Israeli High Court of Justice would likely be more than willing to roll back the wall close to the borders of the nearest Jewish settlement (Modi'in Illit) if the Palestinians (and the Israelis, internationals who've joined them in solidarity) showed that they are interested in voicing their collective dissent in a rock-free environment. The demonstrators are furious that Israel is using the notion of security as a pretext for a land grab in the West Bank, which translates into the capacity to cut off Palestinians from their olive groves. Israel also typically erects the separation barrier at relatively low altitudes so that they can maintain military control over the high ground above. Regardless, the fact that Israel stubbornly refuses to adjust the placement of the separation barrier next to Bil'in is reflective of the power that private developers enjoy in forcing Israel to overextend itself, leaving itself vulnerable to highly accurate criticisms that highlight the reality of land seizure.

I don't blame Israel at all for its desire to claim high relief lands in the Occupied Territories (in the West Bank as well as in the Golan Heights). Long term peace will only arise when Israeli security fears subside. The so-called existential threat is grounded in historical realities. However, the Palestinians can disable this rhetorical weapon if they engage cleverly in peaceful, civil disobedience. They can reclaim their right to olive groves around Bil'in by nonviolent means. Rock-slinging only reaffirms the Israeli security position, which asserts that the separation barrier is necessary to restrain an inherently dangerous and vengeful Palestinian populace. I'm rooting for the Israeli courts to push the wall back a few hundred meters towards Modi'in Illit, but such an action won't be possible until the ornery minority of feisty demonstrators drop their rocks. Thoreau should be mandatory 2007 summer reading for the youths of Palestine.

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