Local, Israeli and international peace activists in Bil’in said that a victory for the Palestinian villagers of Bil’in was achieved after the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday, in its 143/06 ruling, that while the Court is considering the legality of the Matityahu East settlement being constructed on Bil’in land, the ban on new construction and new settlers moving in must remain in effect.
This decision, by fully enforcing the ban, solidifies the remarkable status of Bil’in activists, who have now successfully prevented the planned settlement construction for 7 months in the occupied West Bank.
Also, the Court ruled that demolition of settlement constructions can proceed in certain enclaves of Matityahu East in an attempt to return the land to its pre-settlement, vegetated state.
Peace activists in Bil’in consider this ruling as significant since it resembles their success in halting settlement construction, and managed to force Israel to demolish structures in recognition of the fact that the land on which the settlement is built, was illegally annexed from its rightful owners.
Also, the activists said that this victory comes as a result of several years of dedicated non-violent struggle on the part of the villagers of Bil’in and their international and Israeli supporters.
The nonviolent struggle against the Israeli annexation of the orchards of Bil’in began in 1991 when Israel annexed around 1100 durums (275 acres) of Bil’in farmers’ land.
At the time, the annexation was “justified” by reference to an old Ottoman-era law allowing the annexation of “unused land”.
In order to demonstrate that the lands were “unused”, Israel made use of photos of seasonal crop farm land taken when the crops were not yet in season. More than a decade after the confiscation, settlements began to be built, following a typical pattern of settlement expansion.
Israel at first declared Palestinian orchards as “state property” and then made use of it for settlement construction and expansion. As a consequence, weekly non-violent protests in Bil’in started to take place.
These protests, in existence weekly since January 2005, garnered international attention and support, and challenged the illegal settlement activities and the construction of the Israeli Annexation Wall.
Peace activists said that this decision does not end the struggle for justice in Bil’in, and every Palestinian area threatened by settlement construction and expansion, or by the annexation Wall.