Diaa Hadid
The Associated Press
July 31, 2008 - 4:00pm

A Palestinian teen tracks Israeli troops with a video camera to document abuse of demonstrators.

A community organizer tours West Bank villages with a PowerPoint presentation teaching the art of creative protest.

These are just two examples of the increasingly savvy methods Palestinians are using to fight Israel's West Bank separation barrier - a campaign whose danger was driven home this week by the death of a 10-year-old Palestinian boy.

Six years after Israel began building the barrier, Palestinian villagers march almost daily in an attempt to halt construction work that threatens to swallow up thousands more acres of West Bank land. Many protests turn into confrontations between youths hurling rocks and Israeli troops responding with tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and at times live fire.

The aim is to slow construction, draw media attention and ensure that Israeli high court judges hearing challenges to the barrier's route "will think twice before deciding such a high-profile case," said Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing Palestinian villages.

Israel's separation barrier - a mix of towering concrete walls topped with barbed wire and electronic fences - is two-thirds complete, and is expected to stretch about 500 miles when finished.

Israel says the barrier is a temporary defense against Palestinian attackers. However, at points it extends into the West Bank, incorporating Jewish settlement blocs and seizing land from Palestinian villages, prompting Palestinian claims of a land grab.

Naalin, which stands to lose thousands of acres of olive groves to the barrier, is a new focal point of protests. On Tuesday, 10-year-old Ahmed Moussa was killed there in a confrontation between Israeli soldiers and boys hurling stones at Israeli forces, witnesses said.

A Palestinian autopsy found he was shot through the head by live fire - a charge the Israeli military was investigating. The boy was buried in Naalin on Wednesday.

Protests in Naalin began three months ago when bulldozers started clearing village land for the barrier.

On July 7, Salam Kanaan trained her video camera on a group of Israeli soldiers during a protest there, capturing them as they shot a bound, blindfolded Palestinian in the foot with a battalion commander holding his arm.

The Israeli military denounced the shooting as "grave," put the officer on forced leave and launched an investigation.

Kanaan, 17, said the film's impact made her more determined to keep her camera focused on troops. "This is a weapon for villagers like us, which an army can't defeat," she said.

Veteran anti-barrier campaigners from the nearby village of Bilin are teaching others how to keep the media interested, bulldozers idle and Israeli soldiers exhausted.

They run workshops with PowerPoint presentations on different ways to protest. They also hold question-and-answer sessions for villages threatened by the barrier, and screen a documentary about Bilin's four-year struggle to push the obstacle back.

Bilin scored a victory in Israel's high court in 2007, though Israel's Defense Ministry still has not complied with the ruling.

Mahmoud Abdullah said he attended a protest workshop before launching weekly protests against the barrier in his village of Khader.

"They taught us how to tie ourselves to a tree and blind soldiers with mirrors," said Abdullah, adding he also learned to surprise soldiers by holding protests in different places to confuse them.

Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, a Bilin activist who worked with Bedouin tribesmen who complain of harassment by Jewish settlers, said he begins by discussing resistance.

"I then show them a documentary of Bilin and I pause at the different strategies we have, like stuffing ourselves in barrels and rolling in front of bulldozers," Abu Rahmeh said.

At one Naalin protest, Palestinian youths rushed down sloping olive groves, whooping as they climbed onto a bulldozer clearing land for the barrier. The startled driver was quickly chased away while other Palestinians lobbed rocks to divert the soldiers, who hurled back sound bombs and tear gas, leaving plumes of acrid smoke.

The bulldozer's work was held up for a couple of hours - a successful outcome, Palestinians said.

Although Bilin activists say they teach nonviolent forms of protest, they are reluctant to tell other Palestinians not to hurl rocks, saying it's a matter left for individual villages to decide.

Activists in other villages say throwing rocks is counterproductive. In Khader, demonstrators stick to peaceful protests, including holding Muslim prayers near the barrier construction site.

Sfard, the Israeli lawyer, said legal challenges are a key element of the campaign. The high court has ruled in three separate cases that the barrier must be moved away from Palestinian villages to reduce hardship although the Defense Ministry has complied with only one of the rulings citing budget problems.

Many Palestinians close to the planned barrier route say they're driven to protest because livelihoods are at stake.

In the village of Jayyous in the northern West Bank, where the barrier went up in 2003, putting village farmland out of reach for three-fourths of the village's farmers, said Mayor Mohammed Taher.

"People are now unemployed, their sons are leaving university because they can't afford tuition," Taher said.

In the meantime, Palestinians are honing their strategies.

"Now I tell the protesters, take a camera, take a camera," Kanaan said, holding her own.


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