- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2007

BIL’IN, West Bank — Palestinians in this rustic village are extolling weekly demonstrations against Israel’s separation barrier as a model for future protests in the wake of an order by Israel’s Supreme Court to rip down part of the fence separating villagers from their land.

Every Friday for the past three years, Bil’in residents, along with international and Israeli peace activists, have faced off against Israeli soldiers and bulldozers — using tactics of civil disobedience in an effort to stop construction of a barrier that Israel deems necessary to stop bombings in its cities.

After Israel’s high court ruled Tuesday that the fence route around the outskirts of Bil’in unnecessarily burdens residents without offering any security advantage, the village’s celebrity status intensified.

Leaders from the town of 1,800 were even invited to the residence of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. News of the decision was on the front page of all Palestinian dailies and celebrated in editorials.

“It’s not easy for the Supreme Court to return land. This is a historic step,” said Iyad Burnat, a resident of the village who has led the protests. “The steadfast peaceful resistance of the villagers of Bil’in resulted in the decision to partially remove the wall in the village.”

The Supreme Court decision means that a mile-long stretch of the security barrier will be moved to the west, away from the outskirts of the village and closer to Matityahu East, one of the newest neighborhoods of the Jewish settlement of Modi’in Ilit.

Village leaders argued that the fence severs the town from 60 percent of its land.

Looking out to the fence, Mr. Burnat recalled protesters forming human blockades in the way of bulldozers and chaining themselves to trees to resist the fence construction.

The protests did turn violent at times, with soldiers beating protesters and one Israeli soldier losing an eye after getting hit by rocks thrown during a demonstration.

But when Mr. Burnat explained the philosophy of protest tactics, it sounded like a Palestinian version of the writings of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi.

“The belief in one’s rights is more important than anything else. If I am confident about my rights, nothing will make me despair,” he said. “When you resist an Israeli soldier by peaceful means, their weapons become irrelevant.”

Press coverage of villagers’ demonstrations was intensified because of Bil’in’s cooperation with international human rights activists and Israeli peace activists.

Protest leaders say they think the army restrained its crackdown on the demonstrations because of the constant videotaping of the confrontations.

Former Palestinian Authority Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said the tactics of the Bil’in should be replicated throughout the West Bank in protesting the construction of the security barrier.

“This decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice proves the effectiveness of the strategy based on mixing peaceful popular resistance and international solidarity, and that what is needed today more than ever from all Palestinian parties.”