On the eve of the meeting intended
to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians at Annapolis,
Maryland, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that Israel will build
no new West Bank settlements, but will not "strangle" existing Israel
This means that construction in
the 149 existing Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank that are
strangling Palestinians, including the settlements on our village's land, will
continue unchecked. Olmert's cynical announcement underlines our fear that
Israel, with US support, will insist on retaining most West Bank settlements in
the upcoming negotiations, locking Palestinians into a "separate but
When United States Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice�s visited the Middle East a few weeks ago, people from
our small village of Bil'in joined neighboring villages
to send her a message. We protested peacefully against a West Bank highway near
us that is reserved for Jewish Israeli settlers, and off-limits to
Palestinians, though it was built on Palestinian land. Our banner read:
"Condi, What would Rosa Parks do?"
We know that Dr. Rice experienced
the bitter taste of discrimination growing up in the South during the US civil
rights struggle. In Bil'in, we've drawn inspiration from the US civil rights
movement as we've carried out a three-year nonviolent resistance
campaign against the discriminatory policies of Israel's military
We share Dr. Rice's admiration for
the courage of Rosa Parks who was arrested in Alabama, Rice's home state, for
refusing to give her bus seat to a white man. As Palestinians we aren't even
allowed in buses on many roads in our own country, because 200 miles of the
best West Bank roads are reserved for Israeli Jewish settlers.  The color of Palestinian license plates is different from
the licenses of Israelis. Palestinian plates are not allowed on most of the
highways crisscrossing the West Bank, many of which were built with US
government funding. Palestinians have been banned for five years now from
Highway 443 where we protested.
According to the United Nations
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are 561
physical obstacles and checkpoints inside the West Bank restricting Palestinian
movement within the West Bank , in
comparison with only eight checkpoints which separate the West Bank from Israel
proper. Nearly all the obstacles and checkpoints are located along the West
Bank roads reserved for Israelis. This makes getting to the hospital, school and
work or visiting relatives painstakingly difficult or impossible for us. This
fragmentation of the West Bank has devastated our economy.
For Palestinians, accepting a
state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on just 22 percent of our historic homeland was already a dramatic
compromise. But President Bush promised Israel in 2004 that in any negotiated
agreement with the Palestinians Israel would retain its "already existing
major population centers" in the West Bank.
However, all Israeli settlements
are illegal under international law. By annexing to Israel strategically
located clusters of settlements, or "settlement blocs", and their
highways which carve Palestinian areas into isolated enclaves, Israel will gain
permanent control of our movement, borders, water, and cut us off from
The Israeli organization Peace Now
reported a few weeks ago that the population growth rate in the settlements is
three times the growth rate within Israel. 
We're experiencing such rapid settlement construction around Bil'in and
throughout the West Bank that I can't even find an accurate map of the West
Bank for my son.
In 2001, Israeli developers began
building settlement homes on land seized from Bil'in, calling them a
neighborhood of the Modi'in Illit settlement bloc. Four years later, Israel's
segregation wall separated Bil'in from 50 percent of our agricultural land under the pretext of protecting this new
settlement. In response, we held over 200 nonviolent protests together with
Israeli and international supporters. Hundreds of us were injured and arrested.
After our protests, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the wall's route in
Bil'in must be changed to return around half of our seized land. Though we
celebrated this success, Israel continues to build on our land that wasn't
returned and plans to annex it as part of the Modi'in Illit settlement bloc.
Israel has already de facto
annexed the 10.2 percent of the West Bank that
lies between the Green Line and the segregation wall, including the major
settlement blocs and 80 percent of Israel's
450,000 settlers. The segregation wall, settlements and settlement roads carve
Palestinian areas into isolated enclaves.
We pray that our children will not
spend their lives under Israeli military occupation. We hope that the Annapolis
meeting will bring our dreams of freedom closer to fulfillment. But we are
concerned that if Israel is allowed to keep most of its settlements and the
roads that connect them, then the existing system of "separate but
unequal" will be cemented in place in a Palestinian state.
 Forbidden roads: The discriminatory West Bank
road regime, B'Tselem.
 OCHA Closure Update:
October 2007, The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
 West Bank settlements 'expanding' BBC, 7 November 2007.
 One Palestinian Village Struggles Against
Israel's Ever-Expanding "Settlements", Alternet, 26 September 2007
Mohammed Khatib is a leading member of Bilin's Popular Committee Against
the Wall and the secretary of its village council.