Palestinian ‘Gandhi’ arrested as his Bil’in movement scores huge success

by Yaniv Reich on January 28, 2010

Its a news day full of tension and contradictions. First, the good—and most important—news. The Israeli army is preparing to move the route of the segregation wall in Bil’in village, where it had annexed Palestinian land and sparked weekly, mostly nonviolent protests against the land grab, according to an IDF officer’s pledge disclosed to the Forward (a Jewish magazine).

A nonviolent victory in the making

Make no mistake about it. If implemented, this change will reflect a stunning and potentially game-changing achievement on the part of the popular resistance committees that are protesting against the wall’s attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their land. It will provide a tangible result that strengthens nonviolent voices. It will amplify the already considerable motivation of Palestinians to withstand the violent repression of their civil and political rights to organize and demonstrate. And, most importantly, it will motivate newcomers in nonviolent resistance to the benefits of “smart resistance” toward their irrefutable, persistent claims to peace and justice.

The IDF officer that spoke to the Forward went to great lengths to argue that the decision to re-route the wall was not taken because of the demonstrations. He argued the decision was made because of “ongoing legal proceedings [in Israel’s High Court], the continuing dialog with the [court] petitioners, and the planning process.”

This is a debatable point. While the court’s decision on the wall (two and half years ago) was important, it must be acknowledged that the popular resistance committees have been an integral part of this process. Their strategy has never been only to demonstrate, but to also challenge the blatant theft of their land through legal channels as well. Thus, the High Court decision must be seen as an integral component of the overall resistance strategy, which must be credited with the change (again, if implemented).

Moreover, Palestinians have won many times High Court cases, with little or no change later on the ground. The fact the High Court decided so long ago, and the army is only now getting around to implementing it, begs for an explanation. Credulity would strained if someone attempted to argue that the growing awareness of the nonviolent resistance, and criticism of Israel’s violent repression of it, which is occurring almost daily by organizations and governments around the world, was divorced from the timing of the decision.

No matter how Israeli hasbara-weavers try to spin this, it is a powerful manifestation and symbol of success.

Another nonviolent leader arrested

That was the good news; now for the bad.

Last night shortly before 2am, Israeli forces entered the house of Mohammed Khatib, a coordinator of the West Bank Popular Resistance Committee, and arrested him without warrant nor charge. In the process, the army confiscated many documents related to Bil’in’s ongoing case in the High Court, the petition to which I just referred. For a detailed explanation and photos of the arrest, I recommend this PULSE article. It is unclear how this arrest relates to the recent announcement of the army, but it is an ominous signal. One can only wonder what the Israeli captors are saying to Khatib now.

Who is Khatib? The Los Angeles Times ran a fascinating article about him last November. In an article titled “Palestinians who see nonviolence as their weapon”, the author wrote:

Every Friday, Mohammed Khatib’s forces assemble for battle with the Israeli army and gather their weapons: a bullhorn, banners — and a fierce belief that peaceful protest can bring about a Palestinian state.

Khatib helped launch the weekly ritual five years ago in an attempt to “re-brand” a Palestinian struggle often associated with rocket attacks and suicide bombers.

“Nonviolence is our most powerful weapon,” says the media-savvy secretary of the Bilin village council. “If they cannot accuse us of terrorism, they cannot stop us. The world will support us.”

His message is a hard sell: Khatib, 35, is a modern-day Gandhi in a culture that enshrines the language of the gun (Editor’s note: LA Times apparently couldn’t avoid this bit of typical prejudice even in an article about nonviolence), even if most Palestinians have never used one. And the risks of his activism are enormous.

The Israeli army has targeted him. He was arrested, severely beaten and threatened with death during a series of midnight raids on the village this summer. He was freed on condition that he report to an Israeli police station each Friday at the hour of the weekly protest.

Although the village has persisted with its marches and become a widely acclaimed symbol of civil disobedience, his vision of the “Bilin model” being replicated on a large scale across the West Bank has not materialized.

But its growing rapidly. And the recent announcement by the army about re-routing the wall makes it all the more likely.

The biggest irony of Khatib’s arrest is that just yesterday, the Israeli press reported his resounding statement that “2010 will see us beat the occupation. We see it in the fact that the Israeli military is nervous about the fact that it can’t curb (the protest).”

How very correct he is—on both counts.

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