Donald Macintyre: Unarmed demonstrators face a difficult struggle

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Jawaher Abu Rahma's death has thrown a new spotlight on the unarmed anti-wall and anti-settlement protests that take place every week in and around eight villages in the West Bank, and the methods used by the Israeli security forces against them.

Whatever the medical factors, if any, that may have increased Ms Abu Rahma's susceptibility to the military's heavy use of tear gas on Friday, she is the 21st person to have been killed since 2004 in such protests.

At these demonstrations, clashes are routine between stone throwing demonstrators, usually boys and young men, and security forces deploying tear gas canisters, rubber bullets or – on occasions – live ammunition.

At Bil'in itself there have been long delays in the military's implementation of a court decision three years ago which ordered a change in the route of the separation barrier (all of it within the occupied West Bank rather than along the 1967 border with Israel) which would restore some 125 acres of seized land to the village.

The military has now began constructing a new path for the barrier, although only after being twice held in contempt by the High Court for not doing so earlier, and for now the barrier remains along its original route.

Because the demonstrations, locally organised and within Palestinian territory rather than in Israel itself, eschew the use of weapons, they have received assertions of support from the moderate Palestinian cabinet in Ramallah. This explains the presence of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the initial march in Bil'in on Friday.

Moreover, the force with which they are dispersed and the hundreds of arrests, often at night, have perturbed the international community. The EU's foreign affairs chief, Baroness Ashton, has protested at the one-year sentence handed down by a military court to Abdallah Abu Rahma, one of the leaders of the Bil'in protests. After serving his term, Mr Abu Rahma is still in jail awaiting a prosecution appeal against the alleged leniency of the sentence.

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