On Sun., Jan. 13, the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, with Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER), co-hosted a talk by Iyad Burnat. Burnat is the head of the Bil’in Popular Committee and a leader in the village’s non-violent popular resistance movement.
Since 2005, residents of the Palestinian village of Bil’in in the West Bank have held weekly unarmed demonstrations against the building of the Israeli wall through the community’s agricultural lands and the encroachment of illegal settlements. The demonstrators are joined by Israeli and international peace activists, and have maintained a commitment to non-violent methods of resistance in spite of armed, military opposition that has resulted in many injuries and some deaths. These demonstrations are the subject of the recent documentary “5 Broken Cameras,” the Oscar-nominated film directed by Iyad’s brother, Emad Burnat.
Hen Mazzig, the Israeli representative for the Pacific Northwest chapter of StandWithUs, claims that when he was working for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Ramallah five years ago, he met Iyad, who acted violently toward him. There is no way of verifying the accuracy of this claim, but we recommend that you watch “5 Broken Cameras.” The film shows Iyad and the other demonstrators — week after week — peacefully protesting to gain their land back. You will also see a great deal of violence and aggression on the part of the IDF, who arrest and wound Iyad, his brother Emad, and many others, as well as kill one of their close friends.
The village of Bil’in has been subject to a military occupation for decades before Mazzig joined the IDF, and there are no signs of this changing anytime in the future, long after Mazzig’s involvement. As people without citizenship who were born into an illegal occupation of their land, Iyad and his community understand that the wholesale theft and destruction of their ancestral olive orchards will not be stemmed by asking politely, silent vigils, or by “talking with each other,” as Mazzig suggests.
Instead, with their weekly demonstrations, the people of Bil’in have aligned themselves with other historic non-violent struggles for justice, including the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. The Oscar nomination of “5 Broken Cameras,” which documents the Bil’in community’s struggle to regain their land, demonstrates the growing international attention the protests in Bil’in are attracting.
Mazzig presents his role in the IDF as a level-headed mediator. As a pro-Israeli occupation organization, StandWithUs is trying to put a human face on a brutal military occupation in order to make it palatable to Americans who care about civil rights. In reality, Mazzig and the IDF’s Civil Administration unit are facilitating a very lucrative (and illegal, according to international law) real-estate grab of private Palestinian land, and the continued permanent colonization of the West Bank.
During Iyad’s presentation of video footage shot by his brother, people in attendance at our event were not laughing at IDF soldiers. Instead, we were watching in shocked silence as IDF soldiers brutalized and attacked not only the protesters, but all the villagers in Bil’in: They arrested Palestinian children in the middle of the night, took over Palestinian houses, and arrested more than half the men in the village on trumped-up charges.
After Burnat’s presentation, Hen Mazzig asked his question, and a young man, unknown to JVP or SUPER, started yelling at him. JVP and SUPER supporters immediately tried to calm the young man down. We all knew Iyad could handle the question, and we encourage dialogue at our events. The young man eventually ran across the room, and the other Israeli man (identified by Mazzig) hit him on the head with a camera.
Both the man with the camera and the younger man showed blatant disregard for the speaker and his message of non-violent protest. By yelling and engaging in a physical confrontation, both men caused a violent disruption, which upset the audience who had come to learn from Burnat and the long-standing commitment to unarmed resistance shown by the people of Bil’in. We took immediate action to de-escalate the situation and to ensure the safety of all attendees.
JVP and SUPER strongly condemn all violence, including the verbal and physical assault that occurred at the event. Our intent is to create a safe space for dialogue and education, and we regret that violence occurred at our event.
The disruption only underscored the vital importance of Burnat’s message. As the presentation so compellingly showed, we believe that steadfast non-violent resistance in the face of the daily violence of the Israeli occupation will ultimately pave the way for justice. We are committed to ensuring that violence does not occur at any future events, and we ask all who attend our events to conduct themselves peacefully.