LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
We stay in the Middle East for our next story. In the West Bank village of Bilin, Palestinian activists and their international allies have been gathering every Friday for the past five years. They're protesting Israel's West Bank barrier. Palestinians called the protest an example of nonviolent resistance and say it's a model they're trying to expand. Israelis call them riots, and the police have been arresting the movement's leaders.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a wet and windy Friday in the town of Bilin.
Unidentified Man: Free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: On this day, a few dozen demonstrators march up to Israel's West Bank barricade, but are repeatedly driven back by Israeli soldiers, who fire teargas.
(Soundbite of gunshots)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Across the field, a few young Palestinian boys throw rocks. Palestinians, Israeli activists and foreigners gathered here to demonstrate against what Israel calls a security barrier aimed at keeping out suicide bombers. Palestinians say the wall is a land grab. In this village alone, it cuts residents off from 60 percent of their fields. Palestinians and foreign dignitaries like President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu tout Bilin as a model for peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation. Two years ago, the nearby village of Nilin started similar rallies and there's now a push to have them in other places, too.
But the protests often lead to violence. Once Bilin man and five in Nilin have been killed by Israeli fire, hundreds have been wounded over the years. According to Major Peter Lerner, Israeli troops have also suffered injuries, though fewer, including three soldiers who were permanently incapacitated. He claims the protesters caused property damage and have thrown stones, firebombs and other projectiles at the IDF. Wajih Bernat is one of the Bilin organizers. He blames the Israelis for the confrontations.
Mr. WAJIH BERNAT (Bilin Organizer): (Through Translator) We do not support the throwing of the stones. But as people under occupation, we have the right to resist. The stone throwers that you saw today are children who are reacting to Israeli violence. The Israelis provoked the violence.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bernat says even when there are not stone throwers, the Israeli defense forces fire tear gas and shoot rubber bullets. It's a narrative the Israelis dispute. In a recent interview with NPR, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said the protests are illegal.
Mr. DANIEL AYALON (Deputy Foreign Minister, Israel): I don't think there is any right of resistance, certainly not the right of terrorism. If they really want to advance their cause, then I do say that the Palestinians today have legitimate needs and they have legitimate rights, but any way to advance them is only through negotiations in a civilized way.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ayalon - who like most Israelis refers to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria - even questioned the use of the term occupation to describe Israel's presence in the West Bank.
Mr. AYALON: Even the issue of occupation here is very much charged because occupation is foreign land. Samaria, Judea, Bethel, certainly Jerusalem, is not foreign land to us. Also, if you look at the area that we took in self defense in 1967, it was not Palestinian land by any stretch of the world. It was annexed by Jordan. It was Jordanian land.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The weekly protests are one of the few remaining pockets of unrest in the West Bank. Israel says the Palestinian leaders of the movement are legitimate targets.
Since June, troops have arrested at least 31 Palestinians involved in the marches. Some have been charged with stone throwing, others with incitement to violence. The latest detentions took place earlier this month. Abdullah Abu Rahma, a 38-year-old teacher and protest leader, was detained in a pre-dawn raid on his home on December 10th. Jamal Juma, another protest leader, was detained on the 16th.
Dana Butu(ph) is a Palestinian lawyer and a former advisor to the PLO.
Ms. DANA BUTU (Lawyer): Nonviolent resistance is the Achilles heel of Israel. When they see nonviolent resistance, soldiers don't know how to act.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says many Palestinian activists are now focusing on other nonviolent methods of protest that include boycotts of Israeli products.
Ms. BUTU: The nonviolent resistance movement is very much a threat to Israel, and I think that the Bilin model is very much a threat to Israel. They're also soon going to start targeting people who call for boycotts, who call for divestment, who call for sanctions on Israel.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back in Bilin, the protest is ending. The activists trudge back to the village in the rain with Israeli soldiers watching on.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
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