Iyad Burnat hails from the Palestinian village of Bil’in, located just west of Ramallah. He is a member of what he calls a grassroots peace movement known as the Bil’in Popular Committee.
The organization was formed around 2004 and he said it has continued to grow in support since.
On Monday, Dec. 3, Burnat spoke to Mona Debaz’s political science course, U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East. In addition, The Carroll News interviewed Burnat about his work with the movement.
Below is the transcript of that interview and his responses to our questions:
The Carroll News: How does the Bil’in Popular Committee stand in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what exactly is the goal you try to carry out?
Iyad Burnat: I am Iyad Burnat, head of the Popular Committee in the settlement of Bil’in. Bil’in is a village 16 kilometers west of the city of Ramallah. We started our non- violent resistance when the Israelis started to build the wall and settlement on our land. So this wall and this settlement has affected the farmers in Bil’in and most of the people in Bil’in are farmers. It is a small village, 1,900 people live in this village. So when the people saw bulldozers destroy the land – destroyed all of the trees, it is the life of the Palestinian – they started to have demonstration every week. But the bulldozers tried to stop them, so we used our non-violent ways in our struggle. [For the past] eight years, we have demonstration every Friday. We have International support with the movement, Israeli activists who are civil with us every Friday with our actions. So our goal, Bil’in is the same of other villages and cities in the West Bank under occupation since 65 years. They are suffering from the occupation; their first goal is to have the freedom like all the people in the world. Also the farmers in the village want to have their land. So this is the first goal that the Bil’in people started to fight against the bulldozers and fight against the Israeli army to have their land.
CN: Do you feel like you have sympathies with organizations such as the PLO even if you may not agree with their tactics, or do you feel that they are completely going off from what you are trying to achieve?
IB: To understand, after Oslo agreement, the Palestinian Authority control Area A. So we have Area A, Area B, Area C in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority controls just Area A. We are living in Area B and C and this is under control of the Israeli security. So they can raid the villages, they can raid the houses. Sometimes in our demonstration we invite the people from everywhere to participate with us in our demonstration. But we are not under the control of the Palestinian Authority, we are a grassroots resistance: farmers, the people who are on the ground who resist by this way. There is also no support from the Palestinian Authority to this area. So there is no contact between the PA and the people who are fighting against occupation.
CN: How has the movement grown in the last eight years? Has it been a gradual increase in supporters or are you guys generally stable in the numbers you have?
IB: [For the past] eight years, we have had many succeed us in our non-violent struggle. We have had many villages now and areas start to do the same of Bil’in. So now we have 20 places in West Bank doing weekly demonstration in non-violent way. So from the beginning if we talk about the violence they use against us in all of the West Bank, they kill 40 people in violent struggle. The Israeli army has tried many times to break us because they know that this way has affected the Israeli’s army, affected the Israeli’s economy, affected the Israeli’s media, so they try to break us anyway. In Bil’in village for example, they killed two of us. We have 1,300 people who were injured, 150 were arrested, many of whom were children. They tried to break us because they know that this way is against them, in all of the war and in the media and in the ground. But we succeed to start in other places. For example, we started to succeed in Nil’in village; they also used violence against these people. In Nil’in they killed five in one year. So the non-violent does grow and not just in Palestine. So if you are talking about for eight years, there is no more people knowing about what’s the war or what is occupation because the Israelis are very strong, as you are aware in the United States and Europe.
But now we have a lot of groups, a lot of people who know about the situation in Palestine, and what is the meaning of occupation, what is the mean of the war, of the settlements. So because of this we continue, and continuing is very important for the people of Palestine to have it in their weekly demonstration.
CN: How do you feel about the Western Media? When they report what is going on do you feel that it is completely one-sided, favoring Israel or do you feel that it captures some of the truth in regards to what is going on? Is there much more to the story than what many people in the Western World do see?
IB: Yes, I think, well all the Palestinian people are thinking that the Western media is controlled by the Israeli’s media, in the United States and Europe. So we have to work against this media. Not just in media, but also in political things.
We find America supports the Israelis and occupation in weapons. We find a lot of weapons and they use it against us in non-violent demonstrations that are made in the United States. They spend $300 billion a year to send it to support the Israeli’s and occupation and it goes to the army. So the people here didn’t know, or most of them didn’t, know that. So because we are working against this media by our friends and commission who are coming to this country to buy our media and it is important to have the international [media] in our village because they are our messengers outside. They can show what is happening on the ground.
Also, the Palestinian people feel, believe, that America is part of the occupation. When you have a child in the demonstration find a weapon that says made in the United States, he think that it is part of the occupation, that they send the weapons to kill us. So the American people have to understand the message from the Palestinian is that they are a peaceful people, they like to live in peace.
But they are suffering everyday under the occupation, they suffer every minute. Everyday we have people killed, people injured, people arrested. But you didn’t show this in your media here. Your just showing that they Palestinian is a terrorist and he is going to kill the Jewish, and we are not against the Jewish, we are against the occupation. So the media I think is very bad in the United States, in Europe. We are working a lot to change this media and we have a lot of people understand what is going on now. So before eight years, you didn’t have people marching against the Israeli’s embassy or against the governments in London. But now you have 100,000 people at the last demonstration against the Israeli’s embassy in London. So it grows and grows and the people are starting to understand the situation in Palestine.
CN: What were your feelings on Camp David 2000?
IB: I think it was a lot of agreements, not just Camp David, we have for example [Resolution] 242 in United Nations [and] the Security Council. It is a lot of agreements. But the Israelis did not care for all of these things. They continued to build settlements, they continue to build the walls. In West Bank you have 600 walls between the cities. There is no contact between the Palestinian cities and villages. For example I cannot go to Jerusalem, I have never been in Jerusalem and it is 25 kilometers from my home. I can not go to the city, it is easier for me to go to London than it is to go to Janin city, and that is one hour by car. So they cut everything and they didn’t care for any agreements. As we are as Palestinians on the ground, we didn’t believe in all these political things, because we wanted to see some things change on the ground. So we have a lot of speech. Mr. Obama comes to Cairo and he was speaking about the peace and the hope, but after this we didn’t see anything on the ground. Now the Palestinian authority goes to the United Nations to have a member, but what about the Palestinian who is suffering everyday? It doesn’t mean too much so we need to see change on the ground.
CN: How do you feel about what is going on in the U.N. right now and trying to recognize Palestine and Israel’s arguments against it. Is it any progress or is it not going to make to much of a difference?
IB: No, after the United Nations treatment, I called my family and they said the occupation is still there (laughs). It’s still the same, nothing has changed. It is still the same and nothing has changed that I believe in nonviolent resistance. It is just the way there will be change.
CN: What would you like to see the Israeli government do?
IB: Israeli’s goal is to transfer all the Palestinian people from this land. If you want to wait for the Israelis to do something, they didn’t, but we hope to have our state, Christian, Muslim, Jewish together in one state. [We want] to have this and equality.
CN: On one final note, there are a lot of people in the Western world who are not to familiar with political matters; they tend to get mixed up and associate Palestine with the rest of radical Islamists. They consider them working hand-in-hand with the likes of Al Qaeda, which is generally not the case. Would you say that – what you said about being one secular state – that is something the Western world should know about the Palestinian cause?
IB: Yes, this is the message of the Palestinian people, to have one state, or two state. But we want to decide for that we have to back the Palestinian people to vote for that, not to government or to other people. So we believe that one state you have more power because it was Christian, Jews, Muslims living in Palestine before the occupation and so if you look to Bil’in now and to other places in West Bank, you find Christian, Muslim, Jewish, everybody working together against occupation, so we can live together in one state, we can live in peace, we can do it.