On Wednesday morning a friend of mine called:
"I’m going to Bil’in on Friday, you want to come?"
"umm… I’m scared shitless, what do I need to bring?"
Friday morning, I get in my car and drive up to Tel-Aviv to meet my friend. This was to be a strange day, in which I’ll have a glimpse at places I just don’t usually get a chance to see. We walked through the market of south Tel Aviv. Little shops, tired people. We stopped at a park near the central bus station, where Ethiopian youth apparently spend their Friday afternoon. We thought we identified two more of our group- two white young adults with backpacks in the middle of the city. But you never know, so you sit tight and talk about the occupation.
Soon enough, our organizers, of Anarchists Against The Wall, came to pick us up. We got an informal briefing and got in the cars, where a conversation about animal rights ensued, until we reached the green line, which is completely invisible. You’d never know you passed the border- security my little, anarchist ass.
At this point, I started asking questions about technicalities of things. The settlements are huge, shiny and new, and look a bit like a monstrous cloning garden.The roads are wide and sturdy, until you get off the Jews-only road, then it becomes gravely and winding.
I’m still new to the way I view the occupation, and everyday I reexamine my reality through this new prism. As we enter the Palestinian villages, the first thing I see is their flag, rippling from a house. I’m not one for national identities, but it dawned on me that the red, green and black used to scare the shit out of me. Today, when I saw it, proudly and simply waving in the wind, it made me happy.
The streets were empty, as the villagers were all at the mosque, to pray. Meanwhile, we sat at the doorstep of one huge house (I was fascinated to find impressive houses, the bricks new, with intricate metal works baring the windows), while one of the village kids, possibly 12 or 11, sold us black coffee and Palestine-flag bracelets.
The prayer ended and the streets filled up quickly. Young men fawning over babies. Older men, quiet and austere, shake hands with the older activists. The press cars pass by- they’re all getting an early start on setting up the cameras. Internationals chattering away in 6 or 7 different languages. Kids playing soccer and riding bikes, as though they don’t have a care in the world. Fascinated by the new-comers, they come up, speak in Hebrew, ask for our names, shake hands, and high five. My friend and I exchange a knowing glance: This is "the enemy".
The march to the wall begins, and I notice a distinct difference between this march and the one I joined in Israel, 5 months ago. The people of Bil’in have been marching to the wall every Friday for four years. This is a community event. Dads carry babies on they’re shoulders, flags are waved and the young men laugh, chant and sing. One of them is disabled in a hi-tech will chair- we would later discover a sniper had shot him in the neck and the bullet came out his upper spine. Another had a gas canister graze the side of his head, a few months ago and he’s already up and about. The youth surrounded them and they all dance and chant for Bassem:
"In soul and blood we will redeem you, Bassem!"
The difference is clear- there’s life here. There’s happiness. I’ve never liked solidarity, but this one made me giddy all over.
We reach a point , where daddies and babies don’t continue. Our AATW guide stops us. "Let’s stay here for a minute. You don’t have to go in." We watched the kids, stones in their hands, reach the "security fence" and cheer on as gas canisters start flying and bullets shriek through the air. The kids don’t care. They’re 8 and older and they sneak through barbed wire and jeer the soldiers about their shitty aim. We can smell the gas. Our guide repeated that we don’t have to go in, as my friend already joined the leading pack. I felt that there was nowhere for me to go from here but forward. We took a deep breath, put our bandanas over our noses and walked in with the stream of people.
The dynamic, from here on, resembles a game, and the Bil’in men seem to take it all in good fun. We walk forward as many of them smile and laugh and yell "Go! Go! Don’t stop!" Then a batch of canisters hit the ground and everybody starts backing up (not to quickly- if you run, you breath more and inhale more gas). Then the men yell "Stop! Stop! Go back!" And we all go back, in the direction of the wall.
The first group of people come out, puffy eyed and watering, spitting up a storm. Lemons, onions and hyssop are passed around. I walk on and get that first sting in my eyes. Back up and sit where all the puffy-eyed warriors are catching their breath. Spit out whatever I can and let my eyes water out the gas. Someone passes me a lemon and I bite into it. It was the sweetest lemon I had ever tasted. Gained my eyesight back and right back in. Like this for an hour or so, and a gradual dispersion. The kids are first in- last out.
Cheerfully, our group convened at the porch of one of the houses, where lively conversation ensued. Farming, languages, communication gaps, the occupation, polish stereotypes- there’s nothing taboo. We were treated to tea, and the father of the house’s own zucchinis, olive oil and goat cheese- all prepared by his wife, daughters and daughters in law. This was to be the most significant part of our day. It wasn’t surprising, but it was necessary. It was necessary to have a pleasant time, sitting with our neighbors, on the porch and having pleasant conversation.
My friend and I agreed, we need to go back next week. There is no doubt there’s only one way to beat the occupation- break the wall.
It’s important to comment that, even though the mood was cheery, three were injured, Omar Hisham Nasser, Adeeb Aburahma, and 15 year old Ahmad Aburahma.