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Thursday, March 1, 2007

An Evening with Faryal Abu Haikal and Mohammed Khatib

Last evening, the Islamic Center in Los Angeles hosted an event at which Feryal Abu Khatib, the headmistress of Qurtaba School in Tel Rumeida and Mohammed Khatib, the founder of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bil'in spoke. It was sponsored by Women in Black, Eye Witness Palestine, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the American Friends Service Committee. The title of the program was "A Farmer in Bil'lin, a Teacher in HebronLThe Grassroots Non-Violent Resistance to Israeli Apartheid.

The program opened with verse 41:34-36 and 46 (Ha Mim) from the Holy Qu'ran:

[41.34] And not alike are the good and the evil. Repel (evil) with what is best, when lo! he between whom and you was enmity would be as if he were a warm friend.
[41.35] And none are made to receive it but those who are patient, and none are made to receive it but those who have a mighty good fortune.
[41.36] And if an interference of the Shaitan should cause you mischief, seek refuge in Allah; surely He is the Hearing, the Knowing.

[41.46] Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is against it; and your Lord is not in the least unjust to the servants.

Feryal was the first to speak last evening. She began her presentation with a map of Hebron, showing H1 which is under the Palestinian Authority and H2 (the old city) which is under IOF security forces (2000 strong). The population of Hebron is roughly 150,000 Palestinians and 400 Israeli settlers. In August 1984, Israel buldozed a section of Hebron and on top of ancient ruins placed six trailers in the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida next to Feryal's family home. Feryal's family of herself, her husband and eleven children have had to live with their settler neighbors ever since which has caused them MUCH grief. She remembered back to 1967 when she was only 21 how then the IOF entered Hebron, not one shot was fired at them from the Palestinians, rather a white flag was raised in hopes that there would not be clashes with the occupying IOF forces. She showed us pictures of Al-Shahada Street which leads to a settlement where for more than ten years the Palestinian shops have been forced closed by the IOF so that the settlers can walk home there. The homes along the street all belong to Palestinians who have had to put fencing up in front of their windows to protect themselves from the stones thrown by the settlers as they walk by. The checkpoint to Al-Shahada Street sometimes takes two hours to cross for the Palestinian residents there whereas the settlers go through immediately. Feryal showed pictures of the checkpoints with signs in Hebrew. "Why Hebrew?" she asked, "These checkpoints are for the Palestinians in their own city, NOT the settlers"

She showed film of the IOF inside her home, which comes at anytime the IOF pleases. They make all of the members of the family congregate in one room while they search the house at will often times deleting programs off their computer at will.

Since the checkpoint has gone up preventing free passage for the teachers and students of Qutuba school, often times, Feryal and the other teachers have been forced to teach the students right there in the street because the IOF will not allow them to pass. Qutuba school is also forced to close on all of the Jewish holidays. Feryal told us that in order for the students to avoid the tauntings and attacks by the Jewish settler children, Qutuba let's their students out earlier so they are not confronted by them. But on Saturdays that is not possible because on that day the settler children are not in school themselves whereas the students of Qutuba are. It is on Saturdays that most of problems arise. Below you can watch the video of what Feryal's students must go through when trying to make their way from school home past the settler children. Please note, the IOF soldiers do NOTHING to arrest the settler children engaging in these actions. They told the HRW worker when asked why they were not doing anything "We are here to protect the settlers". The film below was taken in 2005 by a Swedish HRW but Feryal assured us that this is a frequent occurance almost every Saturday. The children are shouting "No Arabs, death to Arabs, this land is OUR land". She also showed pictures of grafitti on the walls of her school placed there by settlers reading, "Death to the head-mistriss (Feryal) and Arabs are dogs". The school had to place high wire fencing all around to protect the students from the rocks thrown at them.

One day, while in their home, they were surrounded by 70 settlers. When the settlers began to throw rocks at the house and shout threats, Feryal called the IOF to come. They were told, "These people are visitors coming to you". She showed footage of this attack on her family and her husband and two sons being arrested by the IOF, NOT any of the settlers who were intimidating and attacking their family home. They were held by the IOF for four days and made to pay $700 for their release. How can ANYONE with ANY sense of ANY fairness not see what is going on here? 2000 IOF soldiers to protect a handful of DANGEROUS settlers attacking the local population who OWNS this land rightfully and is being OCCUPIED in an ILLEGAL IMMORAL occupation?!! The Palestinians are not even allowed to park their cars in front of their houses because the settlement has been ILLEGALLY plucked down there.

In closing, Feryal gave this reason for her speaking across the US, "We want you to help us. We have no problem with the Jewish people because they are Jews. We have a problem with the OCCUPATION and what they are doing to us"

Second to speak last evening was Mohammed Khatib, founder of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bil'lin, a non-violent grassroots organization (consisting of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals) which holds weekly protests in his village which has been severed by the apartheid wall built by Israel. He showed a map of how the wall has appropriated 60% of his village's land to the Israeli side of the wall for the settlement of Midolin Illit. The 60% which has been stolen was the agricultural portion of the village. Mohammed himself is a farmer with a wife and three children who believes DEEPLY in non-violent resistance to the occupation. The wall as he pointed out is twice the lenghth of the green line (border between Israel and Palestine) because it snakes in and out in order to surround illegal settlements in the West Bank and making ghettos out of inaccessible Palestinian villages since it's erection. Portions of the wall are 20 foot high concrete slabs while other portions are razor wire and electric fence. Since the erection of the wall in Bel'lin, the farmers have been prevented from reaching their land stolen from them by this internationally recognized ILLEGAL wall.

Midolin is the largest settlement in the West Bank and recently received approval from the Israeli government to expland. The mayor of the town states that the ultimate goal is to house 150,000 settlers. Mohammed pointed out that this is an attempt to put "facts on the ground" so that it will become even more impossible to establish a contiguous Palestinian state. The wall in Bel-lin was begun with no permit from the Israeli government. One day Mohammed's group approached the IOF and told them the settlement there and the wall was illegal, that they must move it because REGULARLY this is what is done to the Palestinians when they are forced to move and their homes are destroyed. They were told by the IOF that "Those houses are in the ground, it is YOU who are here illegally, YOU must move" The group then erected a small temporary home during the night to prove their point: this is THEIR land and they are NOT there illegally. It was after that that Israel gave the formal permission to the settlement.

Each week Mohammed's group stages a march towards the Israeli checkpoint at the wall. There have been MANY instances in which they have been shot at, once, a protester was killed. Tear gas is also lobbed at the protesters. At one point, a group of disabled Palestinians decided to stage the Friday protest. This did NOT stop the IOF from lobbing tear gas at them and rubber bullets. In the video Mohammed showed us (available he said later) we heard the IOF officer saying, "This is the most cynical thing you can possibly do, send disabled people here in your place. What are you trying to prove". Each and every one of those disabled protesters had been disabled by the IOF!! His group also has members chain themselves to the olive trees which are being uprooted by the IOF which belong to the Palestinians.

Mohammed in his indifatigable attempt to protest the occupation, once was brought to a very uncomfortable point. He and his friend were at a checkpoint where the IOF was forcing them to crawl under a rope to pass. His friend, who refused to crawl under the rope instead cut the rope. He was then shot in the leg by the IOF and blead to death. Mohammed told us, as he took a deep breath, that was one of the worst moments of his life. Two weeks later the Al-Aqsa brigades staged an attack at that checkpoint at which some IOF soldiers were killed. Mohammed told us quietly, his first reaction was to feel revenge and gladness, but that he could not remain in that uncomfortable feeling which is totally against his moral principles of non-violent protest. It was not even probably those soldiers who had killed his friend he thought, because the soldiers are frequently rotated. And it is the OCCUPATION, he would not let himself go to this point and stay there because it does NO GOOD.

In closing, Mohammed spoke powerfully of this incident when saying
, "The soldiers had two options, they could shoot and be violent or not. They chose violence but NON-VIOLENCE ALWAYS WINS IN THE FACE OF VIOLENCE BECAUSE WE ARE RIGHT AND WE ARE STRONGER THAN THEM. It is not EASY, but this is what we must do, we MUST BE RIGHT but WE REFUSE TO DIE IN SILENCE".

Mohammed and Feryal, last night you spoke to all in the crowd of your brave non-violent protest against the occupation. You moved all of us, you moved me to tears. Your message WILL be heard, and may you be blessed in ALL you do. Solidarity.

This video was added just last week. It is of the two year anniversary protest which drew over 1000 protesters

Conference on Nonviolent Popular Joint Struggle - April 18-20th, 2007

This conference hopes to create a network to improve coordination, share resources, support each other's work
for justice, and create joint campaigns to stop the Apartheid Wall and end the Israeli occupation.

We will continue to devise bold ways of non-violence that say « no » to occupation and « yes » to a just peace.

We will learn from each others practical experience, share tactics and build on one another's strengths.

Come and be part of the joint Nonviolent struggle!

Bil'in is a symbol of what is happening across all of Palestine. By participating in the conference in Bil'in,
you help everyone in Palestine continue their struggle for liberty.

Details and registration