A duty to protest
Some 1,000 people took part in last Friday's demonstration against the separation fence in the village of Bil'in west of Ramallah, marking the fifth anniversary of weekly protests at the site.
Just as on previous Fridays, the police tried to prevent demonstrators from reaching Bil'in, either by detaining them on their way out of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem - a practice that is nothing less than scandalous - or by following them along the route, and then trying to block them from entering the village.
The conduct of the police has been deplorable, as has the recent spate of arrests by the army in Bil'in, during which many of the leaders of the popular committee behind the protests have been detained. Some of them are still in prison - and they don't belong there.
The protest in Bil'in, and in neighboring Na'alin, is an example of civic, usually nonviolent activity undertaken by Palestinians, Israelis and internationals alike, who are protesting a barrier that has severed villagers from most of their lands. Some of the lands have even been expropriated for the use of a nearby settlement.
Bil'in has become a symbol of a civic struggle devoid of terrorism. Such persistent, ongoing protest action is remarkable. It has even prompted the Supreme Court to rule that the route of the fence should be moved, and that some 170 acres of land be returned to the villagers. Astonishingly, this ruling has yet to be implemented by the state, which is thus displaying brazen contempt of court.
The fact that there are still civilians prepared to invest time and energy in nonviolent protest and popular action carried out by two peoples should be lauded, not suppressed.
Actually, last Friday's rally was relatively peaceful: The presence of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and numerous journalists made the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police behave less violently than usual.
Only when the protesters began causing damage to the barrier itself did the security forces react, but even then they used riot-control measures rather than firearms. This is how it ought to be, every Friday.
The protests in Bil'in are legitimate. They must be allowed. Protesters must be permitted unobstructed access to the site, and so should security forces, as long as they act with restraint. Shooting at demonstrators - as has happened in Bil'in all too often - is an act perpetrated by only the most nefarious regimes.
Protesting in Bil'in is not just a right. It is a duty.
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