I went to a meeting today with this rather discouraging title, half-expecting a wild-eyed and disorganised presentation, even though friends had told me that it would be much better than that. (I can’t be the only one who felt that way, though; we have had two people sign off our mailing lists simply because the meeting was advertised on them.)
In fact, it was very good, with two speakers–one Israeli, one Palestinian– PowerPoint presentations, and a couple of films. I was only there part of the time and didn’t see the films, though we now have them on DVD. The presentation on the wall itself is now sadly routine, but what was new to me was a first-hand description of the non-violent demonstrations that have been regularly taking place at Bil’in (I’ve known about them for some time because of effective publicity from Gush Shalom). Like many villages along the route of the wall, Bil’in will be cut off from much (60%) of its farming land. The demonstrations there are important for several reasons: they are a continuing focus of resistance to the most visible symbol of the occupation; they show how effective non-violence can be, even against a state prepared to use extreme violence at any time; and they provide an opportunity and a practical example of Israelis and Palestinians organising and working together. As the Israeli speaker, Sarah Assouline, said “You can’t tell us that there is no partner for peace!”
About the violence: Sarah described how terrifying it is to face the police and the army at these demonstrations (adding that it was too terrifying for her!) People have been seriously injured at Bil’in and, in other places, have been killed in non-violent demonstrations against the wall. All the dead were Palestinians–the army doesn’t use live ammunition when Israelis are among the demonstrators, so that is one very important role that they can fulfil. But I still wouldn’t care to face the teargas, rubber bullets, and experimental riot control weapons that the army tries out at Bil’in.
When I talked to Sarah outside the meeting, she emphasised that she is a woman on a mission. The demonstrators are facing huge legal bills, even though they have an advocate who has been working for them for very little pay. They aren’t terribly good at advertising themselves–unlike Gush Shalom (see links) who they work with on the demonstrations. I don’t suppose the associations of their name can help much. But after seeing the presentation, I thought that what they are doing is important, and we should support them. How about doing a benefit for them–we could raise some money, show the films and tell people about Bil’in, and have a good time too?