Late in the evening, the Freedom Bus arrived to Bil’in where a group of tired Freedom Riders spent the night. In the morning, the group got up early and enjoyed breakfast with Rani and his wife, volunteers for the Bil’in Friends of Freedom and Justice.
Close to 60% of Bil’in’s land, including some of its best agricultural land, has been annexed for Israeli settlements and the construction of the separation wall. Bil’in, much like Nabi Saleh, has continued to resist the confiscation of their land through weekly demonstrations that have now gone on for many years. And every Friday the Israeli army responds with both physical and psychological violence. Working side-by-side with activists from all over the world, the people of Bil’in managed to achieve the recognition of the Israel High Court, which at the end of a long legal battle ruled that the route of the wall near the village was illegal and must be changed. The struggle for justice is far from over though. As an example, one of the community leaders, Abdullah Abu Rahmah, is currently under indictment for what the prosecution has called the ‘ideological crime’ of organising protests.
The first activity of the day was community work and the freedom riders split up in groups; some went painting, others did cleaning next to and the third group played with children. The painting group was lead by Hamza, a professional painter from Ramallah. The result was a colourful wall full of different figures.
After lunch there was a presentation by a representative of the Center for Freedom and Justice who talked about the history of Bil’in. He told about the continuous expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements and the resilience of the Bil’in residents towards the stealing of their lands which has been in their families for generations. The freedom riders walked to the wall to see the situation with their own eyes, not least the vast settlement just behind the wall. The whole area around the wall was full with barb wire and empty teargas canisters. The whole scenery was very surreal and hard to comprehend; the huge settlement with new, modern apartments standing on Bil’in property. The villagers are right there, on the other side, yet it is impossible to go there. Very close, but also very far away.
As an act of solidarity and resistance the freedom riders erected a large pole with the Palestinian flag on it. The pole with the flag on the hill overlooking the area where the settlers live; a nice symbol of resilience.
At the end of the afternoon it was time for the second Playback Theatre performance of this ride, hosted in Bil’in’s cultural centre. The sunt went down and this gave the performance a great background. The story which made the biggest impression was from Ahmed, who told about the daily struggle of living in Bil’in and the death of his brother killed by army soldiers. The performance of the actors moved him emotionally and because of that the audience was moved as well. This was definitely the most inspiring performance on the Freedom Ride so far.
Bil’in’s struggle is beautifully documented in the Academy Award nominated film Five Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat from Bil’in together with Guy Davidi, and in Bil’in Habibti by Israeli activist Shai Pollak.