On Friday, hundreds of Palestinians came out to demonstrate against the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Ni’ilin, along with dozens of Israeli and international activists. While the joint popular struggle against the wall in Ni’ilin is nearing its’ tenth month, residents of Bil’in marked the fourth anniversary of their weekly protests, with an exceptionally large march and rally.
In Ni’ilin, around 150 people gathered after the traditional Friday prayers and began marching from the eastern part of the village towards the route on which the wall is being erected. Carrying Palestinian flags and chanting slogans of freedom and against the occupation, demonstrators advanced up the same dirt road where, just five days earlier, Israeli troops destroyed and uprooted olive trees on land belonging to village residents.
Well ahead of the march, a handful of the village’s youth got near enough to the road leading to the illegal, Jewish-only settlements nearby (Nili, Na’ale, Modi’in Ilit, Matitiyahu East and Hashmonaim) to try and reach the settlers’ cars with stones. Soldiers responded by firing teargas, driving everyone in the vicinity back onto the village’s main road. Not content with stopping the protest march, troops then entered the village itself and began firing teargas, rubber-coated steel bullets and a few rounds of live ammunition at people, while some residents fought back from the narrow streets with the use of slingshots and occasionally paintbombs.
The confrontation lasted several hours and left various houses in the village engulfed in teargas, until soldiers, some of which had taken positions on rooftops, retreated back to the fields nearby. Determined to make sure soldiers keep their distance, some of the local youth (accompanied by activists and medics) followed them into the adjoining fields, resulting in yet more teargas and rubber-coated steel bullets being fired by the Israeli troops. Before retreating for the day, the army also deployed a sniper, crouched behind the rocks and shrubbery, who tried to hit people with live ammunition. Throughout the day, four Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire and received medical treatment on the spot.
Meanwhile in Bil’in, around 500 people gathered at midday after prayers to mark four years since the birth of the joint popular struggle against the wall in the village. Residents were joined by many Israeli and international activists (as well as by prominent figures from both Israeli and Palestinian political parties) in a loud, energetic march from the main road towards the separation barrier built on the village’s lands. Demonstrators carried banners condemning violence against civilians and the construction of walls and settlements, and calling for national unity and the defense of Palestinian rights.
As the lengthy march reached the separation barrier and people began walking past the metal gate and onto the road between the two fences, they were received with teargas grenades thrown by soldiers and border police stationed on the other side. The crowd retreated and advanced several times, each time resulting in troops throwing teargas grenades or firing teargas canisters at demonstrators. Many Palestinians, joined by internationals and Israelis, attempted in vain to engage soldiers in conversation and explain to them why these demonstrations have been taking place for the past four years. Once the majority of the march retreated back to a relatively-safe distance from the wall and soldiers, young residents of the village responded to the teargas with stones, at which time soldiers began firing rubber-coated steel bullets in addition to the teargas canisters.
Clashes between stonethrowers and Israeli troops continued for several hours, with the army making use of a multiple-barreled battery capable of launching 64 canisters of tear gas simultaneously, suffocating the whole hillside in a cloud of tear gas. Overall, five demonstrators were reported to have sustained injuries from shots fired by soldiers, and dozens suffered teargas inhalation.
It should also be noted that the army, in its attempt to threaten and spread fear amongst Bil’in’s residents, has been continuously raiding the village for the last few days, mostly at night, hoping to break the people’s spirit and stop demonstrations. On the day before the village marked its fourth anniversary of weekly protests against the wall, Israeli troops invaded Bil’in twice: first in the afternoon, where they set up a checkpoint at the center of the village and stopped people from passing through, and then on the night before the protest, when soldiers fired teargas and threw concussion grenades into houses and throughout the village.