Only two nights after last week’s installment the jaesh invaded the village again, but this time we had prepared, mobilising in a way the army couldn’t have imagined possible. Within minutes scores of activists (one of whom, from America, was arrested for standing in the way of soldiers as they tried to raid a family’s home, and is still in Ramle immigration detention centre today) swarmed the scene, getting in the faces of the clearly freaked out soldiers. One responded to my questioning by rolling a sound grenade under my wheelchair so it exploded up in my face, but I suppose that just shows his lack of logical argument. The army came for nine boys that night, but only managed to snatch one. But one thing was confirmed in my mind – I had to stay in Bi’lin.
In previous articles I have described Bi’lin as a “symbol of the Palestinian resistance”, but only after staying in the village day in day out did I come to appreciate the true sense of those words. Living with Mohammed Talel and his family in a house looking over not only the village, but also the blight of the Apartheid Wall, was the first time I felt like I had found a home in Palestine. From seeing Abdulla’s (a teenager under constant threat of arrest) beaming smiles every day, to Samer’s completely non-sensical text messages, to de-arresting Haitham while he films the army violating human rights, to hearing Iyad’s son call me “zaim” (Arabic for “leader”) Bi’lin already has a special place in my heart.
It was Saturday evening, sitting amongst the clouds of aguila smoke, when I casually mentioned that it was my mum’s birthday the day before. Within seconds, everyone had burst into a flurry of activity.
“Get a cake from Ramallah!”
“Call Haitham to bring his video camera…”
Half an hour later, we were composing a video, complete with both English and Arabic versions of “Happy Birthday”, to send home to my mother via youtube. Only in Bi’lin would that happen!
The day before had provided us with the most recent episode in the five year history of Bi’lin’s weekly demonstrations against the Apartheid Wall, declared illegal not only under international law, but also according to an Israeli Supreme Court order! The generous helpings of tear gas are by now completely expected (perhaps even enjoyed?) but this week the brutal and racist Israeli Occupation Forces had an extra surprise in store for us…
As the truck drove towards the Wall, most people started running. I naively thought it was a water cannon, and then it started spraying us with chemically-enhanced sewage water. As I turned around, two things stopped me from making a quick escape. One was that the wheelchair kind of got stuck in the gravel, but also I thought no! I refuse to run from the army, to be a victim of this oppression, to stand by and watch the injustice…
I hadn’t calculated how long it would take to get that f***ing smell out.