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The soldiers and settlers who looked on from the distance did not believe their eyes: some seventy Israeli peace activists, members of Gush Shalom and sympathisers, lighted the candles of a huge Hanukkia at the Palestinian "outpost" put up by the villagers of Bil'in on their land, only a hundred yards from the houses of the Modi'in Illit settlement.
The action took place on the eighth evening of Hanukka, the first day of 2006. Soldiers in Hummer vehicles looked on but did not intervene.
"Perhaps it seems strange that we light the candles of a Jewish holiday at this place'" Uri Avnery said, "but we are standing here on the land of the Maccabees. It is here that they were born and here they started their revolt. The rebellion of the Maccabees is not only a Jewish symbol, long ago it has become a world-wide symbol of the struggle against oppression, occupation and injustice. The people of Bil'in are the Maccabees of these days, and the occupation is Antiochus." (Antiochus Epiphanes was the Greek king of Syria, against whose tyrannical rule the Maccabees rebelled 2174 years ago.)
The Hannukia (candelabrum), more than two meters high, was constructed on the spot from irrigation pipes. Some days ago the villagers of Bil'in have set up an "outpost" on their land that lies between the "separation fence" and the settlement - a large area that has been effectively cut off from the village by the fence, in order to build there new neighborhoods of Modi'in Illit, which is already a huge settlement. The settlers, all Haredim (orthodox Jews), have been put there by real estate speculators, some of them Canadian companies, who have earned many millions by selling the stolen land. The Bil'in villagers have decided to call the place "Center of Joint Struggle".
One of the young village leaders, Muhammad Hatib, described to the Israeli activists how the outpost - a brick structure - was set up in one single night, in order to thwart the efforts of the army to prevent it . Then eight of the activists lighted the "candles" - actually large torches - each one making a short statement:
"I light this torch for the fighters against occupation and oppression, in the spirit of the Maccabees, who were the sons of this soil!"
"I light this candle against injustice and discrimination, in the spirit of the best spiritual leaders of Judaism throughout the ages!"
"I light this candle for human dignity and human rights!"
"I light this candle against the settlers who take by force possession of the land that belongs to others, contrary to the Jewish values they profess to honor!"
"I light this candle in honor of the State of Israel within the Green Line, a state of liberty and justice!"
"I light this candle against the hooligans who cut down Palestinian trees and steal the olives, and who last year destroyed 5000 Palestinian homes, who besmirch the honor of Israel."
"I light this candle for the love of human beings, wherever they are!"
"I light this candle for peace between the two peoples, sons of this country!"
photo gallery: Hanuka Candles in Bil'in