Lessons in resistance and humanity

IssueOctober - November 2017
News by David Hanlon

On 10 July, some 50 Ceredigion residents gathered in the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth to hear Iyad Burnat bear poignant witness to a life of resistance in his native Bil’in, a village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank some seven miles to the west of Ramallah. Bil’in has been divided by Israel’s separation barrier which cuts off access to half of its agricultural land.

Iyad is the head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall (PCAW) which for the last 12 years has staged weekly protest actions against the barrier, and he also leads Friends of Freedom and Justice in Bil’in, an international Palestinian solidarity network.

Over the course of his address, Iyad starkly and calmly detailed a struggle which pits 1,800 unarmed villagers against the world’s most militarised state. We learned of punitive rationing of access to water, the illegal confiscation of land, and the destruction of farm buildings and thousands of olive trees – people’s livelihoods.

We learned of violence and intimidation against the village by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF): indiscriminate firing of toxic tear gas canisters from grenade launchers; deliberate maiming of children with sniper fire; sleep-depriving night-time raiding of households; mass arrest and months-long internment of children; deployment of special forces as agents provocateurs among the villagers during protest actions; and arbitrary arrest and beating of children on their way to school.

Iyad and his family have also suffered on a personal level. Two of his sons have been left with long-term injuries caused by rubber-coated bullets, and he himself has been repeatedly arrested and beaten.

Still, the people of Bil’in’s commitment to nonviolent resistance has withstood all provocation. As Iyad explained: ‘If I am peaceful, their bullets cannot hurt me – that is our philosophy and that is what we teach our children.’

The PCAW has developed an imaginative repertoire of action. For example: Avatar cosplay (dressing as characters from the film) to underscore the settler-colonial context of the conflict; planting of Palestinian flags on settlement buildings; various forms of squatting; and, throughout, the forging of links with civil society in Israel and beyond.


Two achievements stand out. The first is ‘The Room Behind the Wall’. In the face of IOF hostility, villagers secretly constructed (in 24 hours) a permanently-occupied building on Bil’in land beyond the Israeli Wall. It now serves as a meeting place for activists and a monitoring station of settler illegality.

The second is Ruling 8414/05 of the Israeli high court in response to Bil’in petitioning. This order forced the Wall back 500 metres, returning 250 acres of land confiscated by the Israeli authorities, and preventing the building of 2,000 settler apartments.

The evening was highly educative, but also discomfiting for an audience of mostly UK nationals. References to the British Mandate, the Balfour Declaration, and the Sykes-Picot agreement (which all helped to lay the basis for today’s Middle Eastern divisions) punctuated the evening and served as a reminder of the UK’s historical complicity in the suffering of Bil’in.

That said, the overarching feeling of the audience was probably as expressed by Elizabeth Morley: ‘It was impossible not to feel humbled by Iyad’s resolute faith that peaceful, nonviolent resistance is the only way.’

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