Palestinian peace activist Iyad Burnat at First Parish Peace and Justice Group on November 11

Submitted by Brown Pulliam

Bedford resident David Packer and Palestinian non-violent peace activist Iyad Burnat in 2007, at the gate separating farmers from their olive groves in Bil’in, a Palestinian village located in the Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate, 12 kilometres west of the city of Ramallah in the central West Bank.

Palestinian farmer, community organizer, and non-violent peace activist Iyad Burnat came to Bedford on November 11 to speak at the First Parish Bedford, Unitarian-Universalist. He came at the behest of the church’s Peace and Justice Committee.

Burnat is on a three month tour of the U.S. that got off to a rocky start early this month when he was denied permission to travel to Amman, Jordan to board his plane flight to the U.S.  It took about a week for protesting emails and phone calls before Burnat was allowed to board a plane for Detroit to belatedly begin his tour.  Even then, he was further detained by U.S. agents during his scheduled stopover in Frankfurt, Germany and subjected to several hours of interrogation.

Bedford got into Burnat’s schedule because the Boston schedulers had an unfilled slot the evening of November 11 between his appearances at Simmons College that afternoon and his next appearance at Harvard University the following evening.

Bedford resident Sue McCombs, Chairperson of the Peace & Justice Committee at First Parish learned of this opportunity and by offering to provide transport and lodging for Burnat, got him to Bedford for half a day.  With further presentations scheduled at BU and Brandies University, Bedford was the only non-academic speaking site during Burnat’s Boston visit.

Burnat’s connection with Bedford goes back to March, 2007 when three Bedford residents, Dave & Ginny Packer and Brown Pulliam who were members of an Interfaith Peace Builders delegation designed to let people experience Israel and Palestine and ‘see with their own eyes’ the situation there, talking with people and groups both Palestinian and Israeli who are seeking resolution and peace.  The Bedford visitors were invited to Burnat’s home for lunch before being taken by him and his brother to view the Israeli barrier cutting the residents of Bil’in off from about half of the farmland that provided most of the livelihood for the village.

In his Bedford presentation, Burnat showed photos and videos, and talked about the ways one village, the town of Bil’in near the city of Ramallah, has used ‘out of the box’ creative tactics to resist the Israeli confiscation of their farmland.

Since 2005 citizens of Bil’in, joined by Israeli and international peace activists, have held weekly demonstrations against the building of the Israeli separation barrier through the community’s agricultural lands, and the steady encroachment of illegal settlements.  The protestors have remained committed to non-violent tactics in spite of many injuries and some deaths from the tear gas canisters and rubber coated steel bullets employed by the Israeli military.

These well organized protests, along with lawsuits brought in Israeli courts, have resulted in gaining for the villagers some access to their fenced off land, and have become a model that is now being emulated by several other West Bank communities.

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