On the night between 14 and 15 March, dozens of soldiers entered the villages of Bil'in and Ni'lin in Ramallah District and posted a closed military area order signed by OC Central Command Avi Mizrahi. According to the order, all the lands lying between the built-up area of each village and the Separation Barrier will be a closed military area every Friday, from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. The order was issued on 18 February and is valid for a period of six months, through August.
The order forbids any civilian to enter the area defined and demarcated on the attached maps, except persons holding permits for this purpose, and empowers the security forces to remove any person who breaches the order or the terms of the permit. Since its enactment, an Israeli civilian and a Palestinian photographer, a resident of Bil'in, have been arrested at demonstrations in Bil'in. The Israeli civilian was questioned by police, released, and given an order requiring him not to enter the Bil'in-Ni'lin area for 15 days. The Palestinian photographer was released without any restrictive conditions.
The new order replaces short-term closed military area orders that have been issued weekly in recent years. The order is very sweeping, not only in terms of its period of validity, but also in terms of the area covered: it applies to all the lands stretching from the built-up areas of Bil'in and Ni'lin to the Separation Barrier, as opposed to the previous orders, which applied only to areas adjacent to the barrier.
Attorney Gaby Lasky, who represents participants in the demonstrations in these villages, wrote to the legal advisor for the West Bank demanding that the order be cancelled on the grounds that the military commander exceeded his authority. She further argued that the order disproportionately infringes the rights of the villagers and their supporters to demonstrate and to move freely.
In reply, Major Eyal Elad, head of the Operations and Human Rights Branch in the office of the legal advisor of the West Bank, stated that the demonstrations held in Bil'in and Ni'lin are “violent and serious public disturbances” during which severe violence is used against the soldiers. Major Elad further claimed in his letter that the scope of the closed area is reasonable and that the period of time specified in the order is “limited and fixed.”
Some of the participants in the weekly demonstrations in Bil'in and Ni'lin indeed throw stones at security forces. However, stone throwing is not sufficient to turn the demonstrations into “violent and serious public disturbances.” This sweeping definition raises the suspicion that closing the open space of the villages, thereby making all the participants in the demonstrations lawbreakers, is intended to prevent the demonstrations themselves and not only unlawful acts committed during them.
B'Tselem urges OC Central Command to cancel the sweeping order absolutely prohibiting demonstrations in the villages of Bil'in and Ni'lin.