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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Burnat tells tale of Palestinian struggle

Published: November 16, 2012
Section: News, Top Stories

Palestinian protest leader Iyad Burnat spoke Wednesday night about non-violent protests in his home village of Bil’in, a fight against Israeli forces that has lasted decades and led to many arrests and casualties. The event, which included a background presentation and film showing by Burnat, was sponsored by Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine.

Iyad Burnat is head of the popular committee against the wall and settlements in Bil’in, a small village in the West Bank halfway between Yafa and Jerusalem. Burnat has spent years peacefully protesting the presence in his village by Israeli Soldiers. According to Burnat, Israel built the 750-kilometer wall around the West Bank in 2003 and construction in Bil’in began in 2004. The majority of Bil’in’s population—which is somewhere around 1,800 residents—works as farmers, and during the construction more than 1,000 olive trees were demolished to make way for the wall.

Following the commencement of construction, the residents of Bil’in reacted.

“We started our demonstration every week on Friday and we have been doing it for eight years now,” Burnat said.

Despite their non-violent nature, the protests have not been without bloodshed. “In eight years, we have lost two of our friends,” Burnat said. One man was shot by a tear-gas canister, and some years later, his sister was killed by the same tear-gas. “We lost them because they participated in non-violent protest, because they said no to the war.”

The presentation also included a film showing, titled “Bil’in Against the Wall,” which consisted of 40 minutes of edited footage from the front lines of Palestinian protest. Audience members watched in silence—some even moved to tears—as protesters chanted “Bil’in will not surrender” and put themselves in the way of Israeli forces. One portion of the video showed Palestinian men throwing stones at Israeli vehicles, causing one viewer to question the so-called non-violent protest strategies.

“The man who was throwing stones, he was sent by Israeli special forces to make non-violent protest look violent,” replied Burnat. “When we see someone throwing stones, we ask him to not do that. This is non-violent.”

SJP president Noam Lekach opened the event with a moment of silence for the recent events in the Middle East, following the Israeli bombing of Gaza that ended in the death of a Hamas chief during the day on Wednesday. Hamas retaliated early Thursday afternoon by launching rockets into Tel Aviv, resulting in at least three deaths. The attacks mark the first time in more than 20 years that rockets have reached Tel Aviv. Tensions have escalated, leaving Israel and Gaza on the apparent brink of war, but protest in Iyad Burnat reflects the more regular, day-to-day conflicts that have characterized the region for decades.

“My small daughter smelled the tear gas at one-month-old,” said Burnat of the strife that has plagued his village for his entire adult life. Burnat also told of his time in prison, during which he was beaten and coerced into pleading guilty for crimes he did not commit. Burnat was among 20,000 prisoners, many of which were children under the age of 16.

“We continue our struggle, despite violence from Israeli soldiers, because we have a right to our land. We have a right to our freedom,” said Burnat. “It is one Palestine—the same Palestine—and the same Israel committing crimes against Palestinians … we always have hope to change our future.”