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After 4 years, Bil'in says wall route being moved

June 22, 2011 6:18 P.M. (Updated: June 24, 2011 6:54 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Observers said Wednesday that the Israeli military had began dismantling a portion of the separation wall in the village of Bil'in, six years after the high court declared the route of the wall illegal.

A statement by local activist group the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, however, said the new path still partitions 435 acres of village land from its residents, keeping the fields on the far side of the wall.

"This morning army bulldozers began work to dismantle the Barrier in Bil'in," the group said in a statement.

"On the ground, nothing has changed yet. All we know is that although the Israeli court officially pronounced our claims to be just, the army continued to protect the original route shooting and arresting protesters, thereby completely ignoring the ruling.

"We will continue to struggle until all the land is returned to our people and until we see an end to the Israeli occupation," Mohammed Khatib of the village's popular committee said in a statement.

Last year, the defense ministry announced that it would begin altering the course of the barrier around Bilin in conformity with a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that it significantly impinged on the property rights of Palestinian landowners.

Israel says the barrier is designed to prevent attacks but the Palestinians view it as an "apartheid wall" that carves off key parts of their promised state.

When the 435-mile barrier is complete, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the occupied West Bank.

"The Israeli army began removing the barbed wire around the village today, four years after the ruling of the Israeli court," said Rateb Abu Rahmah, one of the organisers of the weekly protests in the village.

"The dismantlement of the wall is the fruit of the struggle by the people of the village," he added.

The Palestinians' protests against the barrier have met with a sometimes deadly response from the Israeli security forces.

In January, a woman protester, Jawaher Abu Rahmah, died after inhaling tear gas. Her brother Bassem Abu Rahmah died in April 2009 after being struck in the chest by a tear-gas canister.

In a non-binding 2004 judgement, the International Court of Justice called for the dismantling of all parts of the separation barrier built on occupied territory.

After a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last month, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos described the barrier's impact on the lives of ordinary Palestinians as "devastating".

"I witnessed first hand the impact of the barrier on Palestinian communities. I was deeply disturbed by what I saw," she said.

"I recognize Israel's concern about security but the impact of the barrier is devastating. It's clear that civilians are bearing the brunt of the continuing conflict and occupation."

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