ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Biddu’s struggle
Tanya Reinhart

Biddu is a beautiful Palestinian village, surrounded with vines and fruit orchards, a few miles to the east of the Israeli border of 1967. In the last couple of months, this village, which has lived in peace with its Israeli neighbors even during the present intifada, has become yet another symbol in the history of Israel/Palestine.

The misfortune of Biddu is that its lands border the ‘Jerusalem corridor’ – a sequence of Israeli neighborhoods to the north of Jerusalem. Israeli control would enable territorial continuity ‘clean of Palestinians’ from this corridor to the settlement of Givat Zeev, built deep inside the occupied West Bank, close to Ramallah. In the massive annexation project of Sharon and the Israeli army, this is the kind of land one ‘does not give up.’ For this reason, Israel is imprisoning the villagers inside a wall, and is grabbing their land. Biddu, and the 10 villages around it, are allowed only one option – to sit quietly and watch as the fruit orchards that they have nourished from one generation to another, turn into the real estate reserves of the Jerusalem corridor.

But rather than obeying, the village of Biddu united with neighboring villages to defend their land. In the new model of popular resistance that has developed along the line of the wall in the West Bank, the whole village – men, women, and children – are going out to put their bodies between the bulldozers and their land.

A basic principle in this form of struggle is that of nonviolence. Use of arms is strictly forbidden, and there is also visible effort to restrain the youth from throwing stones. A second principle of the resistance is that it is a joint struggle of Palestinians and Israelis. The people of Biddu have called on Israelis to join them: “Raise the voice of reason, the voice of logic, above the sound of the bullets and the sound of the oppression,” they wrote in an open letter to the settlements and Israeli neighborhoods around them.

Indeed, Israelis have answered the call – from the young activists against the wall, to residents of the Mevaseret Tzion neighborhood in the Jerusalem Corridor. Thirty of the latter have also joined an appeal that the villages submitted to the supreme court of Israel, against the appropriation of their land. But in the eyes of the army, this new Palestinian-Israeli model is the most dangerous. In Biddu, the army has already positioned snipers on the roofs, used live ammunition, and killed five Palestinians. Dozens of others have been wounded. Following the media coverage and the protest, the army’s use of live fire has decreased, but its violence has not. On April 17, Rabbi Arik Asherman was arrested in Biddu, when he tried to protect a Palestinian child strapped on to the hood of a military jeep.

In response to the violence of the army, the women of Biddu called for a quiet and small protest demonstration of women only, on a Sunday in April. About 30 Israeli women answered the call – women of diverse ages and from a wide array of occupations. In Biddu, we met with Palestinian women, and with women from the international organizations active in the occupied territories. A quiet protest walk started – less then 100 women, carrying posters. There was no man in sight, nor children, who could potentially throw stones. We constituted no threat whatsoever.

But for the army, this does not matter.

“We will not allow this demonstration,” a voice in uniform announced.

Tear gas and stun grenades directly followed. Paralyzed where I stood, I watched a hallucinatory scene. In the midst of the fog of smoke and tear gas, there were still a few women standing, silently lifting their posters in front of the soldiers. But then, out of the fog burst warriors on horses who charged into the women holding the posters. I have seen cops on horses before, but this was a different sight. It was dead clear that their batons were meant for breaking bones. Molly Malekar, the director of the Bat-Shalom organization, ended her quiet protest against the army’s violence with a broken shoulder, and a severe blow to her head.

The army blocks any route of protest. It is no longer permissible even to stand silently with posters. And this does not hold only for Palestinians. From the army’s perspective, we Israelis are also given only one option – sit silently and watch as our country loses its human face. But since Israel is still, officially, a democracy, it is not permissible for the army to be the body that determines the limits of the freedom to protest. It is necessary to form an independent committee of inquiry into the army’s violence in Biddu, and to bring those responsible to justice.

Tanya Reinhart is a professor at Tel Aviv University