Palestinian Activist Discusses Nonviolent Resistance

Julia Herbst, News Editor

Students, faculty and community members packed into Wilder 101 on Tuesday night to hear Palestinian activist Iyad Burnat discuss nonviolent resistance methods used by his town against the Israeli Defense Forces. The event, co-sponsored by Students for a Free Palestine, Oberlin Peace Activists League, Third World Co-op, Asian American Alliance, the Edmonia Lewis Center and the Oberlin Community Peace Builders, was heavily attended by members and allies of SFP. Members of Kent State’s Students for Justice in Palestine also were in attendance.

Burnat spoke briefly how about he first became involved with nonviolent activism at age 15 in 1987 during the First Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which was primarily nonviolent in nature and included boycotts, strikes and civil disobedience. As a result of his part in the intifada, Burnat spent two years in jail.

Burnat also provided an introduction to the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict in his small village of Bil’in in the West Bank.

“In 2004, [the Israeli government] started to build the Apartheid Wall in Bil’in,” said Burnat. “The wall cuts Bil’in from the half. … This land is full of olive trees. Most of the people in the village are farmers, and they have their olive trees. So when the Israelis’ bulldozers started to build the wall, they destroyed more than 1,000 olive trees and these trees are the life of [the people of Bil’in]. So the people were angry. They saw the bulldozers destroy their life. So they got together, and it really started in December 2004. The demonstrations in the beginning were every day from morning and evening. … Then we decided to have demonstrations weekly —every Friday … to have our resistance against these bulldozers, against the occupation.”

Burnat spent much of the talk showing footage of activists protesting the security wall and Israeli occupation through traditional means of protest including marches, chanting, signs and silent vigils to remember those killed. Other clips showed more creative forms of protest, including activists locking themselves inside metal containers, putting themselves in cages or chaining themselves to trees.

“We [have] used the nonviolent way in our struggle [for] eight years now, and we continue every Friday. We have a lot of international [activists] who participate with us in our demonstrations. We have a lot of Israeli activists also who participate with us every Friday in our actions,” said Burnat. “We put ourselves in cages and barricades and cylinders in front of the bulldozers. We are fighting by our bodies. We build walls on our bodies. We try to stop them [from uprooting] our olive trees.”

The footage also showed Israeli soldiers at the wall warning protestors to disperse, hitting them with batons and protective shields and throwing tear gas canisters at protestors.

“Bil’in has been under the occupation [for] 65 years. It’s not the first time we’ve lead demonstrations in the village but it’s because of the wall that it’s been … every Friday,” said Burnat, later adding, “The U.N. said that [there are] two states: [a] Palestinian state and [an] Israeli state. But the Israelis, they didn’t care for the international laws … so they continue to build the settlements on the Palestinian land. Occupation is not just a wall. Occupation, you feel it. It’s in our blood. At night, at day, every minute, you feel occupation.”

College senior and SFP member Daniel Gould hoped Burnat’s testimony and video footage would educate people about the degree to which he feels the movement is being suppressed.

“I think it really shifts the perspective back onto Israel when you show that these movements do exist and are very active and are repeatedly repressed,” said Gould. “Really the question should not be ‘Why are there no nonviolent Palestinian actors?’ but ‘Why are Palestinian nonviolence movements so harshly suppressed by the occupation forces?’”

Many members of SFP hope that Burnat’s talk will educate people about the longer history of nonviolent resistance in Palestine.

“I would hope that [Tuesday] night was a window into the world of nonvionent resistance that is a norm and that people don’t interpret [Tuesday] night’s event as this one person in this one village who is trying this as a strategy,” said College senior and SFP co-leader Amanda. “I think that [in] the mainstream U.S. media, the topic on nonviolent Palestinian resistance is approached as a novel idea. … Iyad Burnat was speaking from personal experience about his efforts and his village’s efforts but I think he did a great job of contextualizing it within the larger movement [with] a large and long history.”

Lucia Kalinosky, College senior and SFP Treasurer, agreed.

“Although I was not familiar with Iyad Burnat as a figure [prior to his visit to Oberlin], I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been familiar [in SFP] with the work of Bil’in and other villages and their situation for a long time [and the] really fantastic nonviolence resistance that they do in the West Bank,” said Kalinosky. “Bil’in is just a really inspirational story.”

Note: One of the co-leaders of J Street U, Ari Feinberg, was contacted by the Review about this article and no members of J Street U were in attendance at Bernat’s talk.