We had been invited to Bil’in, a village just North of Ramallah, to make a show. Bil’in is famous for the weekly protest held there against The Wall (actually here a fence with loads of barbed wire) which separates the village from more than half of its land. On land previously used for grazing and olive trees sits an Israeli settlement. For more details on the situation in Bil’in there are a few videos available.
Our show was the day before the 2nd anniversary of weekly non-violent protests against The Wall in Bil’in. While we were setting up in the local show the tension in the air was palpable, however in the end it was one of our best shows with loads of crowd heckling and participation. I like to think that we helped to release some of the tension through fun and laughter.
We had decided to attend the protest (as individuals not as a circus) the following day. I did so as an act of solidarity for the people of Bil’in and the rest of Palestine, and to show the Israeli authorities that the International community was concerned about their breaking of international law.
Protest day started with the setting up of a photo gallery of previous protests; we also played circus skills with some of the village children. Slowly more and more Palestinians, Israeli and international protesters filled the village. The march started directly after the main friday prayers. We walked through the village and out towards The Wall. At one point it was possible to see across the valley towards the head of the march; it was a high turnout with approximately as many protesters as people in the village (1,800), comprising men, women and children. At the gate the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had a reasonable presence – they stated that we were in a military controlled zone (despite being in Palestinian territory).
The protesters stood their side of the gate across the road and sung and chanted. A few men climbed the gate and waved the Palestinian flag. Down the hill a number of people started cutting away at the barbed wire in front of the fence. Suddenly, triggered by one event or another, stones started flying and things went bad. The IDF let off sound bombs and started firing teargas. Most people scattered across the terraced hill and between olive trees. From the cover of the trees youths used sling shots to pelt the IDF with stones. A number of soldiers moved down the road to the brow of a hill and continued to fire rubber bullets and teargas at the stone throwers.
Back at the gate the non violent protest continued and a number of protesters held a sit-in infront of the gate. This continued with a number of flash points causing injuries by water cannon or teargas cans and some people getting arrested. Eventually, with the promise that those arrested would be released, the protest returned to the village.
The protest was covered by Al Jazeera, Reuters and Associated Press(click the links to read the stories) – so in terms of publicity the protest was a success. It is unfortunate that it resorted to stone throwing by the youth and the subsequent retaliation by the IDF. But it was encouraging to see the community leaders continue to use the non violent means to publicise the wrongs they suffer.