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The Fourth Annual Bil'in Conference 2009

Bassem Abu Rahme, a 30-year old Bil'in villager, was killed
by a tear gas canister shot by a member of the Israeli occupation force,
on April 17, 2009, the Friday before the conference.

In late April 2009, MPTers attended the Fourth Bil’in International Conference on Non-Violent Resistance, in honor of Bassem Abu Rahme. Basem had been killed in Bil’in by a tear gas canister shot by the occupying Israeli army during the demonstration against the illegal apartheid wall the previous Friday. (Just a month before an American, Tristan Anderson, was critically wounded by a tear gas canister in a peaceful demonstration in the nearby village of Nil’in. He has not gained consciousness.)

The conference was three full days of activities. The first two days consisted of grassroots and political speeches about the present situation of occupation and some possible solutions; workshops and field trips to areas where there is nonviolence activity with the goal of understanding the complexities of the oppression; and then group efforts toward some resolutions. The final day concluded with the weekly nonviolent action against the apartheid wall.

The Conference attendees were welcomed with speeches by the Bil’in Popular Committee, the Prime Minister of Palestine, Salam Fayad, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire (Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) and a letter from Jimmy Carter. Luisa Morgantini, an Italian, Vice President of the European Union (EU) Parliament, was to speak, but we heard her later in the morning via internet video and again in the next two days in person. All expressed their condolences to the village at the sad death of the village’s beloved Bassem, spoke of the harsh and unjust oppression of the Israeli occupation, and encouraged the continuance of the courageous nonviolent resistance of the villagers, to be expanded even more into the Jordan Valley, the Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and Nil’ in and Jayyous areas.

Luisa Morgantini, VP of the EU Parliament, spoke passionately in support of Palestine. Mohammed (Bil'in) and Fathi (Jordan Valley) are at the table behind Luisa.

Martha (MPTer) and Luisa have a rather serious pose together.

Nicole (MPTer) poses with Luisa and a Bil'in villager.

Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, (2nd from left) Irish Nobel Prize Laureate,
promised to return often to Bil'in and Palestine.
She was on one of the boats to Gaza earlier in the year.

The next section focused on the saving of Jerusalem. The most noteworthy speaker for this section was Umm Kamel al Khurd, the brave woman peace activist from the Sheik Jarah popular committee of East Jerusalem. MPTers had stayed in their patio for 12 days in October 2009, but then witnessed the aftermath of their eviction in early November. (See blog below: “MPT Presence at the Al Khurds in East Jerusalem, October 21, 2008” )

Umm Kamel, East Jerusalem, who was evicted from her home
in early November '08 and lost her husband a week later, shares a light moment.

Palestinian organizers of popular resistance movements from different parts of Palestine presented their reality. MPTers have worked with all of them or been at demonstrations in support of their efforts. Fathi spoke for the Jordan Valley Campaign, Mahmud for the Bethlehem area, Ahed for Nil’in, Hafez for the south Hebron hills, and Abdullah for Bil’in. This was a triumphal moment for the movement at least for the MPTers.

Abdullah, on left, chairs the presentations from Palestinians reps.
Hafez, a special friend of MPT and a popular committee organizer,
relates the situation of the Bedouin people of the South Hebron Hills.

Various heads of delegations spoke, including a young Israeli woman, Adar Grayevsky of Anarchists against the Wall. A French peace activist, representing three French peace groups with a total of 70 people, expressed his sympathy for the death of Bassem. He informed the conference on the French support of Palestine: huge demonstrations during the Gaza invasion, promotion of action by the International Court of Justice, the boycott of Israel products, particularly those from the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and efforts to stop the sale of French weapons to Israel.

Delegation reps explain how their countries support Palestine. Far left: Colombian rep Far right: Catalan, Spain rep

A Spaniard from Catalan, Spain and an EU commissioner explained the strong Catalan support for Palestine. It was similar to that of the French and both groups are pressuring their central governments regarding the boycott of Israeli products, and the sale of military weapons. He particularly praised the non-violent response of Bil’in saying, “We like nonviolence” and the world needs nonviolence. He called for more action by the international community in support of Palestine. (More on Catalan’s strong support: http://usacbi.wordpress.com/category/spanish-academia/) A Columbian expressed Colombian people’s vibrant support of Palestine, despite the silence of the President of Columbia on the Gaza invasion and the ongoing civil war in Columbia.

Zico Tamela, International Official of SATAWU (South Africa Transport and Allied Workers Union) from Durban, South Africa compared Israel’s oppression of Palestine to the apartheid of South Africa. During the Gaza invasion, his union refused to unload Israeli ships in South Africa despite possible legal penalties. He expressed support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) anchoring it in international and human rights law.

Left to Right: Omar Barghouti (scholar, chair of this panel and
and a coordinator of the
BDS movement workshop.
Zico Tamela - Union Official South Africa.
Iman Hammouri, Director of the Popular Art Center, Jerusalem

The Palestinians on the panel promoted a culture of resistance through the arts, advocating support only for that artistic expression which expressed resistance. Art for art’s sake has to wait for the end of the occupation. They called for boycotting Israeli cultural groups, including the dance group, Batsheva, since these groups are utilized for Israeli propaganda and have no stated opposition to the occupation. Haidar Eid, an English professor, and others from Al-Quds University in Gaza were able participate on this panel via video conferencing.

A panel of Palestinian politicians from various parties spoke. Hard questions from Palestinians in the audience challenged their ability to work together with common goals and strategies for ending the occupation were asked. Answers were not yet satisfying to the questioners.

The panel of politicians were challenged with difficult questions.

In the evening, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, MD, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, gave an excellent presentation on the general situation in Palestine, including the problems with the Oslo Accord and the need for creative support from the international community through BDS and legal means. Following this, he showed a moving power point presentation on his and international health officials’ visit to Gaza after the invasion. The statistics alone were horrifying. He showed some shocking photos, which only depicted part of the terrible aftermath of the Gaza invasion

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti [2nd from the left] gave two excellent presentations
the second evening of the conference.

After the Barghouti’s presentations, a simple, but poignant village-prepared film documentary and another moving documentary of Bassem by Shay Goldman (Israeli cinematographer – Bil’in My Beloved) were shown. Bassem was deeply loved for his kindness to all and his playful, but very direct, interacting with the Israeli occupying force. He was a lover of peace for all peoples.

All listened attentively during the days of the conference.

The following day MPTers attended a motivating workshop on boycott, divestment and sanctions. These seem some of the best means to end the occupation. [A blog will soon be written on this.] Following the workshop conference attendees went on buses to a site where they has been organized nonviolent resistance – the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the south Hebron Hills, and the northwest – Qalqillya and Tukarum. The MPTers chose the northwest, which is their new area of our work. [There will be a forthcoming blog on this field trip.]

Several young Israelis who were not part of the Israeli Anarchists against the Wall [a highly politicized, pro-Palestinian group] attended the conference. Having almost no experience in the West Bank, they were deeply challenged by all that they experienced and heard from Palestinians and internationals. People spoke very respectfully in answering their questions, but were very direct and honest with them. It is against Israeli law for Israelis to be in Area A of the West Bank, so the young people took a risk coming to Area A where the conference was held.. Some were arrested on the bus trip to the Bethlehem area, also Area A.

On the final day, Friday, after words of remembrance for Bassem and Tristan, the American peace activist, the resolutions and strategies from the workshops the previous day were read and approved by the assembled people. Resolutions or unifying strategies included better coordination of national BDS campaigns, promotion of legal action for the war crimes in Gaza, and increased coordination between the Palestinian popular committees as a strategy to spread and support the nonviolent resistance movement. One strategy to strengthen the international movement of solidarity with Palestine was promoting the rejection of the cooperation agreements between the EU and Israel until Israel begins to obey international law. Resolutions included challenging Palestinians to work harder for national unity, Israelis to strengthen ties between Israeli peace activists and internationals to continue to present the situation of Palestine to the world.

Abdullah presents the concluding resolutions/strategies of the conference.

( For a complete reading of this statement regarding these strategies, go to http://www.ramallahonline.com/content/3244-closing-statement-of-the-fourth-bilin-international-conference-on-non-violent-resistance)

After a training for internationals, several hundred Palestinians, Israelis and internationals walked to the apartheid wall in Bil’in. [There will be a blog on this in the coming week..] This was a somber time for all because of the death of Bassem, but a very hopeful time for the future of Palestine because of the increased popular nonviolent resistance movement and the growing successes of BSD.

(For a concise Palestinian account of the conference see: http://www.alternativenews.org/english/1886-bilin-nonviolent-resistance-conference-between-rhetoric-and-action-.html)

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