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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2007, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
West Bank village hails victory
By Martin Asser
BBC News, Bilin

The Bilin Popular Committee meets on Wednesday night to plan the next step in a campaign that turned this Palestinian farming community into a symbol of unarmed resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Thousands of Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists have joined villagers on weekly protest marches to the controversial barrier built by Israel in the West Bank, which cuts Bilin from most of its agricultural land.

Bilin dancing men (Photo: Martin Asser)
Abu Nizar (centre) and others danced in the street after prayers
The Israeli government says the barrier is a security measure to stop suicide bombers, but critics say the structure is a calculated effort to annex occupied land.

On Tuesday the village scored a notable victory in the second part of its campaign - fighting the barrier's route through the Israeli courts.

The Supreme Court ordered the government to draw new boundaries near Bilin because the current route was "highly prejudicial" to the villagers and not justifiable on security grounds.

"The only thing Israel listens to is the Israeli courts," says Nsseir Samara, a member of the 10-man committee.

"Now we have to make sure the decision by the court is implemented and our lawyers will be asking Israel every day about that."

This is the first happy day we have had since the occupation began in 1967
Abu Nizar
"We are told we will get back between 1,000 dunums (100 hectares or 250 acres) and 1,400 dunums of land - out of more than 2,000 dunums seized - but it still depends on the army to draw the new line."

Before rejoining battle in the courts and with the marches, the village has declared a week of festivities, the first of which took place on Tuesday.

Exuberant figure

The international and Arab media poured into Bilin as soon as the surprise court decision was announced to witness the first spontaneous celebrations.

Following afternoon Muslim prayers, by which time most of the media had departed, men and women of the village and a dozen or so international supporters gathered.

WEST BANK MAP

The men of the village danced a spirited dabkeh to the triumphal music blaring from a truck-mounted sound system, while an MC hailed the heroic stand of the village.

Palestinian flags - one a huge expanse of green, white, black and red - swirled in the breeze catching the late afternoon sun.

One of the most exuberant figures was the portly and diminutive Abu Nizar, another committee member, whose dance steps seemed to defy gravity.

"This is the first happy day we have had since the occupation began in 1967," he says with a huge smile.

Soon it was time to recreate the Bilin "masira", the one-kilometre march they have taken at least once a week for the last two years to the Israeli "wall", as its called, although in reality the structure here consists of a metal fence, steel gates and razor wire.

About 200 people walk through the olive groves beside the village, a small portion of Bilin's land and source of wealth, most of which now lies beyond their reach.

The road swings to the left and then the barrier comes into view on the other side of a small valley.

Fence-side festivity

About a kilometre away, out of sight over the brow of the hill, lies the Israeli settlement of Modiin Ilit, whose expansion eastward, campaigners say, the Bilin stretch of barrier was intended to make room for, before the Supreme Court stepped in.

Three kilometres beyond that is the Green Line, the boundary between Israel and the West Bank, until the former occupied the latter in the 1967 war.

Bilin marcher with large Palestinian flag (Photo: Martin Asser)
The march passed off peacefully and villagers turned back quickly
Last year, Israeli judges ordered the military to move parts of the barrier back to the Green Line after an appeal from other villages, although many other petitions were also thrown out.

On this day both sides, marchers and Israeli troops, are keen to avoid ugly clashes at the barrier.

Many of marches have turned violent in the past, with Israeli troops firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse marchers and stone-throwers.

But today march organisers hold people back at the top of the valley, beside a 1,000-year-old olive tree, letting them go to the barrier in small groups rather than continuing in a more provocative mass.

A single Israeli armoured jeep waits on the other side of the fence and a soldier watches the villagers' 10 minutes of fence-side festivities to celebrate their legal victory before they turn back to Bilin.

It's not often Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank witness such scenes.

For the Bilin Popular Committee, it is a vindication of their approach - the legal challenges and the weekly marches which attracted supporters from over the Green Line and beyond.

"We are helped very much by the outside people's support - they are ambassadors for our struggle and do not think we could have succeeded without them," Mr Samara said.



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