At LA Times Bilin Stone-Throwing is Nonviolent

Today’s Column One, front-page story at the Los Angeles Times features “Palestinians who see nonviolence as their weapon,” as the headline puts it. The subhead reads: “Mohammed Khatib and his West Bank supporters hope to rally others to a peaceful campaign for statehood. But fellow Palestinians seem largely indifferent, and Israel’s army is not amused.” The article, by correspondent Richard Boudreaux, goes on to describe the weekly protests at the West Bank town of Bilin, involving Palestinians, international activist, and Israelis, as follows:

Every Friday, Mohammed Khatib’s forces assemble for battle with the Israeli army and gather their weapons: a bullhorn, banners B and a fierce belief that peaceful protest can bring about a Palestinian state.

A few hundred strong, they march to the Israeli barrier that separates the tiny farming community of Bilin from much of its land. They chant and shout. A few teenagers throw stones.

How exactly is stone-throwing, which has led to the injury of more than 100 soldiers and border policemen in the first half of 2009, “peaceful” and “nonviolent,” adjectives repeatedly applied to the Bilin events? And is it true that stone-throwing is limited to a few teenagers?

Soldiers Injured by Bilin Stone-Throwers

In his article about the allegedly peaceful Bilin demonstrations, Boudreaux completely ignored the fact that some 200 Israeli soldiers and border policemen have been injured. How exactly did Khatib’s “nonviolence initiatives,” as Boudreaux calls them, lead to so many injuries? (Pictures of stone-throwers in Bilin can be seen here.)

* On July 11, 2009, the Jerusalem Post reported: “Since the beginning of the year, more than 100 soldiers and border policemen have been wounded, some of them seriously, during the anti-fence demonstrations” in Bilin and neighboring Na’alin.

* The Los Angeles Times itself earlier reported that an Israeli soldier had been injured in a Bilin protest: “Earlier, a demonstration against the barrier by about 200 people in the village of Bilin, about four miles north of Beit Lakia, ended with an Israeli soldier and border police officer slightly injured by hurled stones, an Israeli army spokeswoman said” (“Palestinian Killed by Guard at Fence,” Henry Chu, July 9, 2005)

* reported April 5, 2006: “Since the start of the year, dozens of members of the security forces were injured in protests near the fence by Bi’lin, and in one particularly violent rally one soldier even lost his eye.”

* Agence France Presse reported on Sept. 16, 2005: 

Four Israeli soldiers and five Palestinians were injured Friday when troops clashed with Palestinian youths at a weekly protest against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier, the army and media said . . .

“Between 15 and 20 Palestinian youths began hurling rocks at the soldiers, four soldiers were wounded lights and IDF (army) used non-lethal means of dispersal,” an army spokeswoman said. (“Four Israelis, five Palestinians injured in barrier protest”)

In a similar though somewhat more balanced article about the Bilin protests a few months ago, the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner did not accept the Palestinians’ “nonviolent” characterization of the Bilin rally as fact. In contrast to Boudreaux, Bronner described the “nonviolent” label as disputed:

Like every element of the conflict here, there is no agreement over the nature of what goes on here every Friday. Palestinians hail the protest as nonviolent, and it was cited recently by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as a key step forward in the struggle for a Palestinian state. Recently, one of the leaders here, Mohammed Khatib, set up a committee of a dozen villages to share his strategies.

But the Israelis complain that, along with protests at the nearby village of Nilin, things are more violent here than the Palestinians and their supporters acknowledge.

“Rioters hurl rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires at defense forces and the security fence,” the military said in a statement when asked why it had taken to arresting village leaders in the middle of the night. “Since the beginning of 2008, about 170 members of the defense forces have been injured in these villages,” it added, including three soldiers who were so badly hurt they could no longer serve in the army.

* Also, on Sept. 2, 2005 an AFP photographer reported that at a demonstration of some 100 people at Bilin “two people were injured, including a soldier and a photographer.”

Mohammed Khatib fancies himself “a modern-day Gandhi” who also admires Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, but none of these human rights leaders condoned the use of stone-throwing to advance their causes. If the stone-throwers always in the midst of Khatib’s demonstrations are really just a “few [wayward] teenagers,” why doesn’t Khatib denounce them and prevent them from interfering?

International Solidarity Movement Ignored

Boudreaux notes that Khatib, the star of his article, “recruited Israeli and international activists to march every Friday with Bilin residents up to the fence.” He ignores the fact, however, that many of these international activists are members of the International Solidarity Movement, whose organization has little to do with peace and whose founder has spoken out in violence. As detailed in CAMERA’s earlier report regarding Bilin, the group claims not to participate directly in violence, but notes in its mission statement that it “recognize[s] the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle.” A cofounder of the extremist group, Huwaida Arraf, even more explicitly spoke in favor of “noble” suicide bombings and other anti-Israeli violence, saying:

Nonviolent resistance is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation. … The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characterist ics CC both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement …

Boudreaux Dismisses Damage to Barrier

Boudreaux ignores earlier news articles which cover the extent of damage the protesters caused the security barrier. He suggests that the June arrest of Mohammed Khatib and his colleagues is completely unfounded, writing:

Khatib and 27 other protest leaders and participants were arrested in their homes during the midnight raids that began in June. Seventeen are still being held. Khatib faces charges of inciting violence.

Asked to explain the crackdown, a battalion commander said protesters causing damage to the fence had been photographed and singled out for arrest. But after a week of requests, the army did not detail any damage claims.

On a recent Friday, the villagers had one visible impact on the fence, a Palestinian flag left hanging from barbed wire. After the marchers had gone home, a soldier tore it down, wiped his hands with it and stuffed it into a pocket.

But if the army was not forthcoming with information, as it frequently is not, Boudreaux could have easily pulled information from other news articles (and certainly he must have consulted Bronner’s New York Times report). That August 2009 report noted the Israeli military issued a statement that “also said that at Bilin itself, some $60,000 worth of damage had been done to the barrier in the past year and a half.” Likewise, the aforementioned 2006 Ynet report noted: “the damage to the West Bank security fence is only increasing, standing today at NIS 1 million (USD 223,000).”

Also, in 2005, Steven Erlanger of the New York Times witnessed damage to the fence, and reported: “a protester suceeded in knocking the top off one of the metal posts of the fence” (“Dance of protest in West Bank,” International Herald Tribune, Oct. 8, 2005)

Where Stone-Throwing Is Violent

It is worth noting that the Los Angeles Times has deemed stone-throwing to be violent in other conflicts.

For instance, on May 3, 2009, the Los Angeles Times described May Day riots in Berlin as follows:

The police force had 5,800 officers on hand to try to keep a lid on the violence that has become a yearly ritual in Berlin. They used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons as some of the estimated 5,000 leftist demonstrators, marching under the motto “Capitalism is war and crisis,” threw stones and bottles.

In the last month, strone-throwing attacks have injured police in South Africa, Jerusalem, Afghanistan, and India. Whether in Berlin or Bilin, Johannesberg or Jerusalem, stone-throwing causes bodily harm, and is therefore neither peaceful nor nonviolent. This essential fact, ignored by the Los Angeles Times, explains why the army is hardly amused by Khatib’s intiatives.

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