Israel started building its so-called “separation barrier” in mid-2002, at the height of the second Palestinian Intifada, amidst the most violent period of Palestinian resistance to the occupation. Despite the fact that Palestinian violence was not remotely as grave as Israeli violence, it was a rather simple task for Israel to use the smokescreen of security and the collective hysteria of the Israeli public to legitimize a structural manifestation of Israel’s policy of apartheid.
It took time to see through the smokescreen to the scope and meaning of the Wall. Over time things became clearer. By now we understand that its route, penetrating deep into the West Bank, was planned to assure Israeli control over water resources, to grab as much land as possible, to allow the expansion of Israeli settlements, to strategically divide the West Bank into five reservation-like enclaves, and to create a de facto border that would eliminate anything that could be called the State of Palestine.
While the vast majority of Israelis are highly supportive of the Wall, Palestinians immediately understood the disastrous implications. Only a few short months after construction had begun, the people of Jayyous, a small village in the Qalqilya district–men, women and children, accompanied by a few International and Israeli activists–set out to stop the bulldozers pulverizing their fertile lands. Every day for almost three months they went out to confront the army M-16s and armored vehicles with nothing but their bodies and their hearts and the stones their land could offer.
The Wall was eventually built through Jayyous, but the village’s struggle and its spirit established a model for joint-popular resistance. It took time for another village to rise up in a similar way. This happened in the village of Budrus, during the last days of 2003. Waging a truly heroic struggle, villagers managed to push the bulldozers off their lands and force the path of the wall to be rerouted.
Budrus’s often-celebrated success empowered people in dozens of villages to explode with rage in what is probably the most significant popular movement of the second Intifada. For the good part of 2004, daily demonstrations were held in numerous villages at once, extricating the issue of Israel’s Wall from the dark back rooms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bringing it to the fore.
Oppression intensified as the movement grew. To date, seventeen demonstrators have been killed by the army, ten of them children. Thousands have been jailed and imprisoned, and countless were injured. Collective punishment in the form of movement restrictions, work permit withdrawals and strict curfews were also imposed on revolting villages.
Oppression had taken its toll on the movement. Demonstrations and riots now only take part in a handful of villages, and mostly on a weekly rather than a daily basis. Notable among these villages is Bil’in, where demonstrations have been held every Friday for the past four years, with absolutely no exception. Through their struggle, they have succeeded in getting a court order that re-routes the wall and gives much of their land back.
In May last year, the village of Ni’ilin, was in the fire of an uprising that brought back the intensity of the movement’s most fierce days. Confrontations between villagers and the army occurred almost daily, and despite military violence, often ended in construction halted for the day due to damaged heavy machinery.
In March of this year, Tristan Anderson unfortunately became one of many casualties in the conflict. The brutal attempt to suppress Ni’ilin has cost the village the lives of four of its sons, one of them only ten-years-old. About ten percent of the men between 15 and 50 were at one point or another imprisoned, and hundreds were seriously injured.
If there is one thing that I’ve learned in these years, it is that though their bullets hit hard, our passion is stronger, that our people who are sent to their jails remain freer than their soldiers will ever be, and that we still rise from the pools of our blood, and shout with parched throats– FREEDOM!