On April the 17th, like any Fridas afternoon for the last four years, the small village of Bil’in, north of Ramallah, was preparing for the usual demonstration against Israel’s annexation wall (some people call it apartheid wall or separation wall. The Israeli government refers to it as the security fence).
The village of Bil’in has, since the mid-eighties, lost more than 60 per cent of its land for the purpose of new Israeli settlements and the construction of the wall. The inhabitants of the village used to live mainly from agriculture and olive trees plantations but more and more the community of Bil’in has been foreced to rely on the work of its women to survive. Embroidery has become one of the main resources of the place, located a few kilometres away from Tel Aviv. (On a nice day, you can see the “inaccessible”-for the Palestinians- beach from the rooftops of Bil’in).
In January 2005, a village committee (led by Mohamed Khatib, Iyad Burnat and Abdullah Abu Rahme) was created and a month later non-violent demonstrations started, first taking part every day, then once a week, on Yum Al Juma’a (Friday, the day of prayer).
The village won a huge battle in August 2008 (1) when the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the new route of the barrier wall in Bil’in was in violation of the Court ruling released on September 2007 (2) (which held that the Wall path was prejudicial to Bil’in and must be altered) and ordered the State to present within 45 days a new route, which would adhere to the principles of the ruling.
On Friday the 17th of April 2009, the Wall still had not moved one inch and while the inhabitants of the village were praying at the village mosque, many internationals (coming from all around the world), a strong Israeli contingent (including people from the Alternative Information Centre (3) and Anarchists Against the Wall (4) were looking for some shade from the baking sun and chatting about the day’s events. As soon as prayer was over with, the demonstration started to move forward in direction of the Wall, a few kilometres away.
You can be sure that Bassem (aka Phil) was right at the front of the march. He always was. I had met Bassem a few times while visiting Bil’in. He was a strong looking man, singing the loudest, joking all the time, jumping around and leading the way, accompanied by the rest of the village committee and the Israeli contingent.
As typically happens, as soon as the marchers reached the corner where the Israeli soldiers can be seen, the tear gas started. A few brave ones, always continue anyway and reach the beginning of the Wall, after a few minutes. Bassem, as usual, was one of those. The Israelis present at the front of the demonstration started talking with the nearby soldiers in Hebrew. Bassem screamed, “We are in a non violent protest, there are kids and internationals…”. He was shot in the chest and never managed to finished his sentence. He fell on the ground, moved a little bit, fell again, and died. (http://www.bilin-village.org/english/articles/testimonies/Basem-Abu-Rahme-killed-in-Bilin-weekly-protest. Scroll down for stills and videos)
Bassem was shot by a new kind of Tear Gas shell, called “the rocket”. The soldier who shot him was a mere 40 meters away. This is the same type of tear gas cannister that critically injured US citizen Tristan Anderson a few weeks ago. Those tear gas rockets are as fast and lethal as live ammunition and very hard to get away from. Normally, tear gas canisters fly in the air for a long time, then fall and bounce a few times. But the new ones fly like a bullet and go straight, not in an arc.
Once more, Israel is using the West Bank as its testing ground, the Palestinians as guinea pigs.
The soldier who fired, knew what he was doing and who he was targeting. The shame is that he probably knew Bassem. Bassem was always at the front of the march, and had been for a few years now. The soldiers often come back more than once in Bil’in and start to get to know the demonstrators facing them. Bassem did not get a chance to say hi or bye.
On April 17th, the people of Bil’in and Palestine lost one of their heroes.
What is going to happen next?
Israel has claimed that it will investigate the killing (out of every single investigation into such crimes, only 6 per cent of the soldiers are ever prosecuted, often let off with a few weeks suspension), but before it did, the government started the usual propaganda, saying that the protest had been violent and that the soldiers had to react. (The video of the demonstration clearly shows otherwise). We might even hear in a few days that it was actually the Palestinians who fired the tear gas and killed their beloved friend.
The Palestinian Authority, instead of issuing a strong denunciation against this act of brutality and halting once-and-for-all the negotiations with the Israeli government and joining the demonstrators every Friday to be hand-in-hand with its people, said next to nothing, and is, instead, looking forward to the forthcoming White House meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Obama, which is being planned as I write.
The media hardly reported on the killing. The Palestinians do not count. This is even more shocking when a video of the shooting is available to all and could have been used to great effect.
The international community refuses to mention this “incident” (it is for them) and continue issuing calls for the Palestinians to renounce violence and resist peacefully while saying nothing about Israel’s killings (since the start of the second intifada, 87 percent of the dead have been Palestinians), violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinians.
It is therefore up to us, the citizens of this world, to act, join solidarity groups, write articles, make films and talk, constantly, about the plight of the Palestinian people. Palestine has to become the number one issue.
This is a must.
For Bassem, his family, Bil’in and Palestine.
The village of Bil’in is organizing its fourth conference from the 22nd till the 24th of April. For more info click here: http://www.bilin-village.org/english/conferences/conference2009/Fourth-Bilin-conference-on-grassroots-popular-resistance-in-April