ONE THOUSAND people demonstrated on 19 February, in the Palestinian village Bil'in, in the occupied West Bank. It marked five years of persistent struggle and weekly protests by the village against the Israeli Separation Fence - which annexes 50% of their land (about two square kilometres) for the benefit of the adjacent large ultra-orthodox Jewish settlement, Modi'in-'ilit.
The demonstrators managed to bring down two sections of the fence, and even wave the Palestinian flag on top of a military post right behind it. The military responded with less violence than usual, due to the increased media attention, and 'sufficed' with a firing a barrage of tear gas (hitting young children). This was in addition to using rubber-coated steel bullets and deploying the 'Skunk'-stench liquid (a special Israeli police invention, which sticks on clothes and skin for days).
The Socialist Struggle Movement has participated in previous protests against the fence in Bil'in, as well as at other areas in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and inside Israel.
In the recent demo, we organised a bloc within the march towards the fence holding placards with slogans in the Arabic and Hebrew languages - such as, "Solidarity will defeat occupation, oppression and poverty" and "Dismantle the wall, checkpoints, and settlements - End the occupation". We also shouted slogans in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
We received warm responses from other demonstrators, and attracted some Palestinian and Israeli demonstrators, who marched along with us.
Bil'in has become an international symbol for the wider popular struggle against the fence/wall, bringing together not only international activists for solidarity support, but also an exceptional number of Israeli-Jewish people who participate in the weekly demonstrations.
This is despite the regular attempts by the Israeli police to block Israeli demonstrators from reaching Bil'in, and parallel efforts by the state to deport international activists. Participation of Israeli demonstrators has been promoted from the inception of the struggle, as a strategic principle by the popular committee of the village.
In the face of growing military repression of the struggle in Bil'in, and generally in the West Bank, which would justify the residents democratically organising their own self-defence, the villagers insist on waging a "non-violent struggle" to defend themselves, but nevertheless they are heavily repressed.
Any resistance to the fence is usually dispersed with brutal violence by 'the only democracy in the Middle East', under various pretexts, such as the 'illegality' of protests (following a declaration of a 'closed military zone'), or 'stone throwing' by the village youth during clashes with the military (sometimes initiated by military undercover infiltrators), or the damaging of the fence by the protesters.
Last April, the military killed one of the villagers, Bassem "Phil" Abu-Rahme. Bassem joined the lengthening list of such fighters from other villages who have died in the wider struggle against the wall since its beginning in 2002.
Since June 2009, the Israeli military and the Shabak (General Security Service - the Israeli secret police), have conducted waves of arrests in Bil'in and the neighbouring village Ni'lin. About 40 of the 1,800 Bil'in residents, including several leaders of the struggle and some teenagers, were arrested during night raids by Magav ('Border Guard', military wing of the Israeli police). Some of them are still held in an Israeli military prison.
But Bil'in can also be proud of some partial achievements, so far. In September 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court, which explicitly supports the construction of the wall, ordered the military to plan a new route, as it did previously to soften the resistance in a few other areas where a serious struggle has developed.
The court could not ignore the fact that the current route not only surrounds an existing settlement, but also a vast stolen territory of future real-estate assets for the settlement.
Last week, official measurers arrived to prepare for the relocating of the route. Yet, even the new route will restore only one-third of the land stolen from the village, and of course, the fence will remain.
The anniversary demonstration began with a series of speeches by the visiting mayor of Geneva and by Palestinian politicians, including Prime Minister Salam Fayad (a neo-liberal former World Bank and IMF official) and the leftist liberal Mustafa Barghouti.
Bil'in is a traditional stronghold of Fatah, and yet the scene showed the gloomy political vacuum facing Palestinian working people and the poor.
What is the connection of these leaders to the popular Palestinian struggle? Fayad may speak in support of the struggle against the wall, but, at the same time, he urges the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to re-engage in negotiations with the current right-wing, warmongering and oppressive Israeli government of Netanyahu.
With the background of the understandable strong mood for Palestinian unity, it is hard to tell the differences of agenda between the secular political parties (Islamic Hamas was not visible at the protest), as these forces hardly put forward any distinct programme.
Unfortunately, the organisations to the left of Fatah remain a reduced shadow of the Palestinian left-wing organisations of 20 years ago, during the first intifada and up until the fall of the USSR and the period of the Oslo Agreement, which pushed those mass organisations into complete political bankruptcy. To see where this process ends up, anecdotally, some youth demonstrators from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) claimed they were promised payment by their organisation for participating in the event.
This struggle is far from being over. The gigantic fence/wall, which is presented by the Israeli ruling class demagogically as a "security fence", is one of the heavy mechanisms of the occupation. Its origins are to be found during the Oslo Agreements. The then Israeli Prime Minister, Rabin (later assassinated) stated: "We have to decide on separation as a philosophy. There has to be a clear border."
The wall serves to deepen national division and to complicate further the conflict. It also serves the Israeli ruling class by annexing land, with the aim of imposing future borders.
Behind the wall, a cantonised and military-controlled giant prison is developing, on a model similar to the Gaza Strip, except that it is far more dissected.
It includes elitist enclaves of Jewish settlements, with separate infrastructure, and, in some cases, with nests of Israeli fascist-Kahanists, terrorising the Palestinian population daily.
The impossible conditions forced on West Bank Palestinians, who are left 'outside' the Wall, are, in fact, a means to coerce them to relocate 'inside' the wall, which benefits Israeli ruling class demographic ambitions.
A third Intifada is eventually inevitable. This is clear to growing sections of the Israeli ruling class, and to some international imperialist leaders, who try to promote once more a neo-colonial 'peace' arrangement, under the mask of a new, semi-puppet, Palestinian state, as an exit strategy, to 'defuse' the conflict.
As the tragic example of Gaza indicates - particularly after last year's Israeli army intervention massacre, even if the Israeli ruling class, at some point (and this is unlikely, at the present stage) decides to make the concession of pulling out West Bank settlements and military bases, and withdrawing from a formal presence in the area surrounded by the wall - it can still unleash hell upon the population.
And even if the Palestinian Authority in the future should be defined, on paper, as a 'state', the conflict will not be resolved. It cannot be ended on a capitalist basis because the Israeli capitalist regime and its imperialist backers will not allow a genuinely independent Palestinian state in Israel's 'backyard'.
Only a return to mass popular struggle offers a way out for the Palestinians, to gain concessions and eventually to topple down the occupation and to end national oppression. But without far sighted left political leadership for the Palestinian working class and poor farmers, any such uprising will not meet the objective of freeing Palestinians from oppression.
There is an urgent need for genuine leftwing forces, unions, and popular committees to join together to form a new broad political party in the occupied Palestinian territories, as an alternative to the rightwing, dead-end of Fatah and Hamas.
This should be based on a socialist programme, with a class approach, aiming to link the struggles of the Palestinian and Israeli working class, while demanding genuine equal national rights.
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