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November 21, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Iyad Burnat, a nonviolent peace activist from Palestine, brought his message of the nonviolent resistance to Israel’s settlements and the longing of the Palestinian people for justice and peace to the Weber Center Auditorium on November 13. In his heart-felt, sometimes difficult, presentation, he spoke of the injustices inflicted on the people of Palestine and their longing to live in justice and peace in their homeland with the Israelis.
Mr. Burnat spoke before an auditorium filled with Siena Heights University students, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates, and members of the greater Adrian community. The event was sponsored by Siena Heights University and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
Before addressing the desires of many people in Palestine for a life of shared justice and peace, Mr. Burnat set the context for the situation in Palestine and laid out the injustices faced by his people. In 1948, he said, 7 million Palestinians became refugees with the arrival of people who wanted to establish Israel on their former land. In spite of the efforts of the United Nations to create a two-state situation, in which the people of Palestine and the people of Israel would share the land, Israelites built – and continue to build – settlements within the Palestinian borders.
Mr. Burnat said Israeli settlements had been built on his small village of Bil’in and other villages around the West Bank. Through the years, he said, more and more land set aside for the Palestinians was confiscated and used to create settlements for the people of Israel. He recounted much of the injustice that the Palestinians continue to face: water diverted to Israeli settlements from Palestinian people; checkpoints established between different parts of Palestinian land, making it difficult for the people to go from one area of their land to another; and violence against those who protested the occupation. These injustices made life difficult for Palestinians, Mr. Burnat explained.
In 2004, Mr. Burnat and others in Bil’in decided to hold nonviolent demonstrations against the occupation every Friday. “People from all over the world join us,” he said. “We use nonviolence in our strategies. We fight with our bodies” rather than with weapons. For example, he said, they have stood in front of bulldozers that were going to destroy part of their land to create the settlements. Sometimes, as many as 3,000 to 4,000 people participate in the demonstrations, he said.
“In spite of the nonviolence of our struggle, we have faced much violence from the Israeli Army from the beginning,” Mr. Burnat said. The army has used teargas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, among other weapons. He recalled that 2,000 Palestinians – of which 800 were children – had been killed in 2014.
At a more personal level, Mr. Burnat spoke of the different times in which three of his sons had been shot. One of his sons lost his foot because he was not permitted to go to the hospital to have needed surgery. During his own most recent arrest two years ago, Mr. Burnat was attacked by six soldiers and endured two broken ribs, teargas sprayed into his eyes, and 10 hours of pain before he was let go to call an ambulance.
Mr. Burnat continues to focus his efforts on nonviolent demonstrations and on getting the word out about the situation to the rest of the world. “We invite everybody to come and visit us and see the life of the Palestinians, because we believe the internationals have become our messengers,” he said. People from other countries usually attend the weekly demonstrations.
He said that, because of the media, many people in the United States don’t understand the situation fully. “The media want to show the Palestinians as violent,” he said. “Go to the ground. Visit Palestinians. Meet Palestinian people. Taste our food.” He added that people in the United States need to understand that many of the weapons used by the Israeli Army against Palestinians comes from the United States and that – in spite of what the media might say – Palestinians do not want to eradicate the Jewish people.
Asked if the United Nations’ proposal for two states in Palestine was the solution to the violence and injustice, Mr. Burnat said no. “We believe and are working to have one state for everyone to live together in peace, justice, equality, and freedom,” he said. “This is the way we would like it to be. We are not against the Jews or the Christians.”