Since June, armed forces have been entering the village of Bil'in at night and arresting residents. The soldiers arrive at the village, which lies west of Ramallah, with Israel Security Agency agents holding lists of persons suspected of involvement in the weekly demonstrations held in the village against the construction of the Separation Barrier.
According to testimonies given to B'Tselem, in some of the cases, the soldiers and ISA agents cuffed and blindfolded the detainees and took them out of the village, where they were questioned. Only later were they taken to detention facilities. Some of the detainees stated that soldiers had beaten them.
Soldiers shoot tear-gas at demonstrators protesting against the Separation Barrier in Bil'in. Photo: Activestills.org, 24 July '09.
Muhammad Wajih Bernat, 21, told B'Tselem:
On 17 July, around 1:00 A.M., masked soldiers came to our house and took me out of it. A soldier asked for my ID card and told me to stand aside. Two minutes later, a soldier cuffed my hands, blindfolded me, and made me stand behind the house. The soldiers began to search the house.
About three minutes later, some villagers and foreign activists came there and tried to prevent the soldiers from detaining me, but they failed. Two soldiers dragged me by my hands to a place between the groves. I bumped into bushes, thorns, and rocks on the way. Soldiers walked behind me hitting me with their hands and their rifle butts in the legs, stomach, and head. The whole way, I felt the cuffs digging into my wrists. They dragged me about 500 meters, until we got to the separation fence.
From there, they took me by army jeep to a place I don't know. I was in pain from the beating. They didn't give me food or water and left me sitting with my hands cuffed and my eyes blindfolded until noon. Then they took me to the Ofer army base. The next day, the second day of my detention, I was interrogated. One of the interrogators asked me about my activity in the Popular Committee against the Wall. He said he had confessions from other persons about stone throwing and hurling back tear-gas canisters that the army throws but don't explode. I didn't admit to the things they charged me with. On my fifth day of detention, they took me to a court, and the judge ordered my release. I still had marks from the beating and the handcuffs and scratches on my legs.
Rasha Ayub Yassin, who is 21 years old and has a daughter, gave B'Tselem a testimony about the detention of her brother-in-law:
On Monday, 3 August, at 4:00 A.M., I woke up from the sound of soldiers shouting. I saw about fifty masked soldiers come into our house and go up the outside steps to the roof. This was the third time they came looking for my husband's brother, 'Abdallah Ahmad 'Issa Yassin, who is eighteen years old.
I climbed up to the roof and saw the soldiers cuffing 'Abdallah's hands in front of him. He said to me, "Look what happened to my eye." I saw that his right eye was bleeding badly. He asked me to help him put on his shoes, because his hands were tied. I did as he asked. They didn't let him get dressed and took him away wearing only shorts and an undershirt.
B'Tselem knows of 26 residents of the village who have been detained, some of them on suspicion of throwing stones and organizing the demonstrations. As of 26 August, 14 are still being held. Indictments have been filed against some of the detainees, most of them for stone throwing and damaging the Barrier.
Two of the detainees, Adib Abu Rahma and Muhammad Khatib, are heads of the Bil'in Popular Committee. They were arrested after two 16-year-old minors told interrogators that members of the Bil'in Popular Committee organize the weekly demonstrations held in the village. Indictments were filed against Abu Rahma and Khatib for incitement and soliciting young people in the village to throw stones, among other charges. The indictments did not contain evidence against Abu Rahma and Khatib and alleged they had committed the offenses based solely on their membership in the Committee.
At a court hearing, the judge ordered that Abu Rahma be released. However, the state appealed and the judge of the appeals court accepted its arguments, ordering that Abu Rahma remain in detention until the end of the proceedings. Only afterwards was the indictment against him amended and the count on solicitation, the more serious charge, deleted.
Muhammad Khatib was charged, among others, with throwing stones. This charge was refuted when his attorneys proved that on the day the photo on which the prosecution bases its case was taken, Khatib was abroad.
The indictment further alleges that members of the Bil'in Popular Committee give demonstrators "T-shirts and pieces of iron for deflecting the tear-gas canisters that the IDF fires to disperse the demonstrations." These "pieces of iron" are tin shields that the demonstrators have begun to carry to protect themselves from the tear-gas canisters that soldiers fire against them in violation of the Open-Fire Regulations. They have done this since a resident of the village, Bassem (Phil) Abu Rahma, was killed by a canister that a soldier fired at him during a demonstration in April. As the videos of the incident and B'Tselem's investigation show, Abu Rahma was not throwing stones or endangering soldiers in any way.
The military court judge released Khatib, noting that there was no precedent for holding a person charged with incitement in detention until the end of the court proceedings. The judge further stated in his decision that Khatib's attorney had submitted evidence indicating that members of the Popular Committee "are acting to reduce the violence arising from the processions." However, he imposed unprecedented restrictions on Khatib's release, including restraining him from being ten kilometers from Bil'in on Fridays, during the time that the demonstrations are taking place in the village.
More than two years ago, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the route of the Separation Barrier built on Bil'in land was illegal, finding that it was set to enable expansion of the Modi'in Ilit settlement. The High Court rejected the state's contention that the route was set for security purposes and ordered it to propose an alternative route. In December 2008, the High Court rejected the amended proposed route, as it did not meet the criteria specified in the Court's decision. The judges ordered the state to pay court expenses to the petitioners. The third route also did not meet some of the criteria, and the village objected to the requisition orders issued pursuant to the proposed route. The state has not yet filed a response to the objection, and the Barrier has not yet been moved.
The recent wave of detentions raises grave concern that the army intends to suppress any kind of protest against the Barrier's route in Bil'in. It appears that to the army, any kind of protest against building the Barrier along the route that has been ruled illegal, even if nonviolent and non-threatening to security forces, is illegal and warrants arrest.