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Fifth Bil'in Conference: Setting the Stage

(Picture: Luisa Morgantini and Eyad Burnat introducing Salam Fayyad, Palestinian Prime Minister.)

The Fifth Annual Bil’in Conference, April 21-23, opened with a welcome by Eyad Burnat (Bil’in popular committee) and Luisa Morgantini (recently retired member of the European Union (EU) Parliament). This conference is held in a small village of Bil’in in Palestine, but is organized with input from other Palestinian popular committees, Israelis peace activists and internationals; however, the main effort is from the popular committee of the Bil’in village. This is the village that gives hope to all of Palestine for their creativity in consistent resistance. (MPT has been present at three of the five conferences and seen it develop as a means to unify and inspire Palestinians, Israelis and internationals.)

A stirring letter written by a leading village activist, Abdullah Abu Rahmah, a prisoner now for 5 months, was read and then Basssem Abu Rahmah, killed by a tear gas canister one year ago, was remembered in a special way.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, of the recently formed Palestinian National Initiative Party, spoke of the increase in nonviolent resistance all over Palestine with the resulting heavy oppression and of the need for action in international courts, for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign, and for national unity and solidarity. These concerns were reiterated throughout the conference. (Barghouti, MD, put 4 stitches in the knee of an MPTer who fell during a demonstration a few years ago.)

The role of the United States in this conflict is ever present in the minds of those who understand the conflict. The French honorary member of the EU Parliament, Jean Claude Lefórt, spoke of General David Petraeus’ concern that the stability of the Middle East depended on the resolution of the Palestine/ Israel conflict. Lefórt saw the need for European solidarity in confronting Israel’s flagrant violation of international law.

Luisa Morgantini, whose passion enlivens the conference, spoke fervently of her desire for a world that is different for everyone – a world of peace, justice and solidarity and where women are part of decision making. Eyad Burnat and Mohammed Khatib, Bil’in villagers from the popular committee, who were major facilitators for the entire conference called for continued nonviolent resistance, a strong campaign for the release of prisoners, pressure on Israel to end the occupation, and expressed their desire for a different world for Palestinians. In the conference this year, more popular committee members from different parts of Palestine acted as adept facilitators of panels and discussions.

Salam Fayyad, Palestinian Prime Minister spoke of the need to build an infrastructure toward a free Palestine, the many problems with settlements, the importance of Jerusalem and the efforts of the Palestinian Authority (PA – government) to meet the many needs of Palestine. This is the first time such a high ranking government official has spoken at the Bil’in Conference. Persons from various international consulates were present for this first part of the conference.

Following this, popular resistance committee leaders from the various parts of Palestine related the situation in their area. That the area around Bethlehem has increased its resistance was evident. The Archbishop Dr. Atallah Hanna, Greek Orthodox of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, spoke passionately about the worsening situation in Jerusalem.

Persons from Gaza communicated via satellite conference.

A Nablus woman from Nablus spoke of arrests in December and six-year prison sentence of Wael Eaquin. Prisoners were an often-spoken topic in the conference because of the large number of Palestinian prisoners particularly from Bil’in. Positioning the conference in the stark reality set the stage for looking for concrete resolutions to continue to confront the occupation.

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