Rory McCarthy

A result of joint, non-violent action between Israelis and Palestinians.

From the front door of his single-storey stone house Waheed Suleiman Yassin has an enviable view over the surrounding hills and a compelling vantage point in front of one of Israel’s most controversial projects in the occupied West Bank.

Just 20 metres from his door and running down two sides of his house stands the wide metal system of fences and patrol roads that make up this stretch of the 720 km West Bank barrier.

On Tuesday, in a rare victory for the barrier’s critics, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the government to re-route the barrier away from Bil’in, which should eventually allow villagers like Mr. Yassin to reclaim some of the large slice of their farmland that has been cut off from them for nearly three years.

Mr Yassin, 43, who sells limestone from a nearby quarry, has lived in this house with his family for 25 years. On a hilltop overlooking the rest of Bil’in and nearby villages, it was once much admired. “People envied us for having such beautiful scene,” he said, sitting outside his house. “Three years ago it was a heaven, then the wall came.” Like many in the village, Mr. Yassin suddenly found most of his farmland, with its rows of olive and fig trees, out of bounds.

Although not the first such decision by the court, the ruling stands out for its tough language and the fact that Bil’in, has mounted over the past two-and-a-half years a successful campaign of peaceful resistance to the barrier.

“Weapons were forbidden from the start,” Mr. Yassin said. “People decided we should take a prominent role with a peaceful movement because we knew that with an armed struggle we were not capable of taking back one inch of land. If we had fired one bullet, the Israeli army would have found an excuse to kill the whole village.”

“Because of our protests the world knew about us and that’s why we won,” said Abdul Latif Yassin, 50, a school teacher.

“But we still have more land beyond the barrier than has been given back to us today.” One of the protest organisers, Nasir Samarra, 27, stood in the crowd wearing a T-shirt that read: Free Palestine.

“Our struggle has only just started,” he said. “Now we want Israel to implement this decision, not simply to pass judgment.”

Among the demonstrators there have always been foreigners and Israeli activists, so the protests have become one of the highest-profile instances of joint, non-violent action between Israelis and Palestinians.

“This is a great and very important victory for the popular struggle against the wall and the occupation,” said Jonathan Pollack, one of the leading Israeli activists at Bil’in. He said the court decision was at least in part due to the weekly protests. “The decision highlighted the question that we raised in the appeal: the fact that the wall is being planned to accommodate settlement expansion or land grab and not as an instrument of security.” — ©Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2007