America Features in One West Bank Village’s Day of Rage

28.02.11 – 11:58 Ramallah – PNN – Palestinian boys gather in a coffee shop on a Friday in Bil’in, a village in the central West Bank that would be largely unknown but for its often-violent weekly protests against the Israeli wall. Wi’am Burnat and his cousin Hamza are practicing their English with a group of Swiss solidarity activists, while a friend hits replay on a nearby computer and American rapper Pitbull’s “Hotel Motel” begins from the top.

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A protester in Bil’in near the proposed site of the wall (Staff Photographer, PNN).

“There is the bigger protest in Hebron today,” says Wi’am. “Maybe a thousand people. But you stay here, okay?”

The Swiss activists nod dutifully. The Palestinian Authority declared Friday, February 25 a “day of rage” against illegal Israeli settlements and the controversial American veto of a United Nations Security Council condemning them, echoing the days of rage in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen that have brought hundreds of thousands of Arabs to the streets to protest authoritarianism and military rule. Large demonstrations were reported in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron over the weekend—but on Friday in Bil’in, Wi’am points out there might not be more than a hundred people, most of them locals.

“If there are foreigners and journalists, the army doesn’t shoot,” he explains. “If there aren’t foreigners and journalists, they try to exploit the lack of media to prevent the world from seeing the true picture of their crimes.”

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Palestinians burn an American flag labeled “VETO” (Staff Photographer, PNN).

Wi’am looks over at Hamza, who Israeli soldiers shot last week twice with live ammunition, in his leg and back. Using live ammunition against protesters is prohibited by international law conventions. Hamza spent three days in a Ramallah hospital and now walks around Bil’in with a single crutch.

Asked if his leg is alright, he merely says, “Ilhamdulillah.” Praise be to God.

During the demonstration, the presence of media and internationals is strong and no one is injured. Three American flags bearing the word “veto” are burned, but organizer Farhan Burnat is quick to tell photographers, “The American people are good. But the American government is with Israel 100%, with the terrorism, with the killing, with its criminal government.”

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An Israeli soldier holds his rifle and tear gas canister (Staff Photographer, PNN).

At one point, guns are drawn during a scuffle by the construction site of the Israeli wall, rocks land near the soldiers, and an Israeli truck begins spraying raw sewage at the protesters. Nobody on the Palestinian side has kind words for the American president—one boy simply says, “Obama is a motherfucker”—while one Israeli soldier, behind a fence, lowers his gun briefly and volunteers that he speaks English.

“I live in America,” he says. “East Park Avenue.” He has no comment on Obama.

The Obama Administration has invested much money and political capital in portraying itself as a reliable mediator in the stalled Middle East peace talks, but the 14 to 1 Security Council vote on the settlements resolution has made it appear isolated and out of step with the world. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared the vote “a real victory” for Palestinian diplomacy. In the wake of the veto fallout, the American consulate in Jerusalem instructed its staff not to venture out into some areas of the West Bank, a measure described by one anonymous consular official as a “precaution to avoid attacks against staffers.”

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Near the end of the protest, a Palestinian hurls a rock at Israeli troops (Staff Photgrapher, PNN).

Long after the clouds of American-manufactured tear gas dissipate, Palestinians in blue jeans are back in the coffee shop, now listening to ‘80s American power ballads. They are happy to receive Americans in the shop, they say, as “ambassadors.”

“America? I hate America,” says one boy. “I love Americans.”

PNN – Palestine News Network – America Features in One West Bank Village’s Day of Rage.

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