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The Israel Defense Forces decision to declare the Palestinian villages Bil'in and Na'alin closed military zones on Fridays for the next six months is a serious anti-democratic move. The order issued by the GOC Central Command implementing this restriction is an act against the freedom to demonstrate.

The fact that the army issued such a sweeping order, and that it is supposed to be in effect for such a long period, requires an immediate petition to the High Court of Justice asking it to block this dangerous and damaging move, which lacks any justification. The freedom to demonstrate is a basic right and an extension of freedom of expression.

In recent years, the two villages have come to symbolize the struggle against the separation fence that separates the villagers from their lands. The struggle is legitimate. It contributed substantially to the High Court order to alter the route of the fence near Bil'in, a decision that the IDF has yet to implement - which is also a blatant anti-democratic failing.

The residents of the villages and their supporters - Jews, Arabs and foreign activists - must be given the right to protest and fight for their rights.

During the years of demonstrations in the two villages, 23 demonstrators have been killed, half of them minors; no Israeli soldiers have been killed.

The demonstrations themselves have mostly been non-violent, and it was the IDF and Border Police that often exercised excessive and unnecessary force. In spite of the inconvenience, the IDF must permit this protest. The alternative could be terrorism.

The IDF decision is grave from another perspective as well: There has never been such a radical move against rightist demonstrations or settlers in the territories. While settlers run amok, burning fields and uprooting trees, damaging property and spreading terror as part of their criminal "price tag" policy, the IDF and the police stand idly by. When the left wants to protest and demonstrate, the IDF declares the area to be a closed military zone.

In this the IDF harms not only one of the basic values of democratic rule, the freedom to demonstrate, but also discriminates in its policy, granting excessive liberty to lawless settlers while being heavy-handed with leftist protesters.

The IDF order is therefore a revolting and ridiculous act, and the defense minister, who commands the IDF, must take immediate action to void it.