Five times over the past week, a march has been held after noon prayers in the West Bank village of Dir Kadis. Village leaders have led the marches, demanding the "return" of land from the nearby settlement of Nili. The settlement was founded in 1981, across the 1967 border from the Modi'in area and just a few hundred meters of sloping land from Dir Kadis.
Nili's residents are secular; among them is Yisrael Beiteinu MK Fania Kirshenbaum. All of the land on which the settlement was built was defined as state land, and construction was recently undertaken - with the necessary government approval - to expand the community.
Residents of Dir Kadis claim the land was theirs. They say the area was declared state land in the 1980s, despite the fact that they have documents which allegedly prove the land belonged to them.
At the time, the government declared large swaths of rocky ground as state land. In a case recently filed by the villagers to the High Court of Justice over the dispute, the court refused to issue an interim order stopping construction work at the settlement. Meanwhile, work on an access road to the settlement has begun near Dir Kadis.
To press their case, village residents have adopted the nonviolent tactic of daily marches to Nili. One village resident, Nuar Katusa, commented: "The Israeli government likes to speak about peace and about settlement expansion. That's exactly what's happening now, while [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas is being asked not to go to the United Nations in September [to seek recognition of a Palestinian state], so that matters can be settled through negotiations. On the other hand, however, they're not stopping building on our land for a moment."
Last Thursday, a group of youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers in the area, breaking one soldier's leg. An IDF officer responded with live fire, moderately injuring two villagers. On Sunday this week, the villagers managed to reach a house under construction in Nili and planted a Palestinian flag there. The incident was filmed and the pictures distributed among Palestinian villages in an effort to encourage other Palestinians to emulate the Dir Kadis protests.
Since Sunday's incident, the Israel Defense Forces have stationed jeeps in the area to keep the villagers out of the settlement.
In keeping with orders from the IDF Central Command, soldiers in the area have exercised a great deal of restraint in dealing with marchers from the village. Private security guards protecting the construction site, however, have not hesitated to open fire when the marchers approach. Palestinians say this has been the case, even in the presence of soldiers.
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