With the fractious turmoil between Israel and Palestine, some maintain that peace through nonviolent protest is the only option.
Iyad Burnat, a Palestinian activist for peace and leader of the Popular Committee of Bil’in, is touring America, raising awareness of the devastation caused by the Israeli military and the West Bank barrier, a 750-kilometer fence that lines the occupied territory.
Burnat will speak in Grass Valley today at the Unitarian-Universalist Community of the Mountains.
Burnat’s visit to Nevada County was sponsored and organized by the Palestine-Israel Working Group, part of the Peace Center of Nevada County.
“We put on as many events as we can to show the Palestinian side of the story,” said working group member Wendy Hartley. “Iyad is actually the first Palestinian we’ve been able to bring to Grass Valley, and he’s absolutely the perfect person to bring. He’s an outstanding person. I don’t even have the words to revere him.”
Hartley visited Burnat’s town of Bil’in in 2008 and 2010 as part of a faith peacebuilder trip.
“He showed us the grave where his friend, who was killed by a tear gas canister that hit him in the chest, was buried,” Hartley said.
Hartley said the West Bank barrier is one of the infringements by the Israeli government.
“I call it the apartheid wall,” Hartley said. “It has stolen quite a lot of villages’ land. They are agriculture farmers and olive growers, and if you take away their land, you take away their livelihood … When they get to a certain distance of the wall, the Israeli military appears with teargas, skunk water, which is a noxious liquid that smells terrible, and rubber-coated bullets.”
Burnat is “ a very gentle man,” said Deppen Webber, who visited Burnat’s home in Palestine with Hartley. “He’s a farmer, a family man. It’s hard for me to witness what he’s going through because he’s such a kind man, and yet he’s having to deal with land eaten up by Israeli settlements.”
Burnat’s brother, Emad, created a documentary titled “Five Broken Cameras,” after five cameras that had been broken throughout the filming, which covered the nonviolent protest movement.
“The documentary is being considered for the documentary category for the Academy Awards,” Webber said. “You can watch the film on HuluPlus, and it is being released on Amazon, and Netflix will be able to carry it.”
“It is very easy to make peace, but political people make it very hard,” Burnat said in a phone interview earlier this week. “Every week we have Israelis, internationals, Christians, Jews, everybody living together as very good friends, and because of this, I believe we can live in peace as people. We hope to change by people, not by politicians.
“We’ve had our nonviolent demonstration every Friday,” he added. “We have used the nonviolent way in our movement, put ourselves in front of bulldozers. Soldiers use many kinds of weapons against us.”
Burnat has been protesting in his small farming village of Bil’in since 2004.
“They try to break us because we use nonviolence. The people can win this way,” Burnat said, noting a successful moment when the Israeli military decided to move the wall.
“After our demonstrations, our actions, we succeeded to move the wall back 500 meters,” he said.
A prominent point Burnat aims to make is that American tax dollars contribute to the Israeli army, which harms Palestinians.
“The American people have to know that because their tax money supports the Israeli army, they are part of the occupation because the money is used to destroy our lives, children, and the money is used to kill people, not help people,” he said.
Burnat spoke of the night raids and arrests the Palestinians face by the Israeli army, something he personally experienced after being falsely arrested at the age of 17 for allegedly throwing stones.
“It’s very hard,” he said. “They make the life of the village very hard by killing people, by injuring people.”
The loss of land from the West Bank barrier affected the ability for farmers to maintain their livelihood, Burnat said.
“They lost their land, their olive trees,” he said. “Now after the wall, it’s very hard for the people. The farmers selling olives before the war now have to buy (them).”
Burnat said the Israeli government has also taken over water access, providing water to the Israeli settlements that have occupied Palestine with Palestinians only receiving water once or twice a week.
“If you look at the settlements, they are green with swimming pools,” he said. “But if you look to the Palestinian village, it’s brown, and you can look and feel that there is no water.”
The disputed “holy land” between Israel and Palestine should not be an issue of religion, Burnat said.
“The holy land is for everybody,” he said. “Not (just) for Jews or Christians. We have all kinds of people living in Palestine, so it’s for everybody. We are not against the Jewish, just against occupation.”
The demonstrations have been about peace, not religion, Burnat said.
“It’s not a religious thing,” he said. “We have in our demonstration Christian people, Muslim people, black, white, everybody participating in our demonstration.”
Burnat will be speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains at 246 S. Church St. in Grass Valley from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. today. Admission is free.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.