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My Surprisingly Inspiring Trip to the West Bank: Echoes of Our Civil Rights Movement

By       Message Jeff Cohen       (Page 2 of 4 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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Like our 1964 civil rights martyrs in Mississippi -- Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman -- Nabi Saleh reveres its martyrs:  Mustafa Tamimi  and  Rushdi Tamimi .  

 

BIL'IN:  If you saw the Oscar-nominated documentary " 5 Broken Cameras ," then you know of the seven-year-long, partly-successful battle by the villagers of Bil'in to drive back Israel's "separation wall" (aka the Apartheid Wall) -- which was positioned to confiscate nearly 60 percent of their land, separating farmers from their fields and olive trees.  It's an inspiring story  of courageous nonviolence, with international activists (and Israelis) flocking to Bil'in to support the villagers' resistance.

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"Internationals" who live in the West Bank and put their bodies on the line in support of nonviolent Palestinian struggles remind me of the U.S. students and others who "headed south" in the 1960s to support the civil rights movement. 

 

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We stayed overnight in the homes of Bil'in residents.  Iyad Burnat, the brother of  "5 Broken Cameras" director Emad Burnat, talked with us past  midnight  about the importance of media coverage, international support, and creative, surprise tactics in a successful nonviolent movement (like using their bodies to close an Israeli "settlers-only" road). "In Bil'in we don't use stones. The Israeli soldiers use that -- kids throwing stones -- to attack our people."

 

Iyad was one of a dozen Palestinians we met who bristled at their lack of mobility now that their communities are ringed by the wall, settlements, checkpoints and Israeli-only highways. "It's easier for me to get to the U.S. or the U.K. than to Jerusalem, 25 kilometers away."

 

Like our Selma martyrs -- Jimmy Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo -- Bil'in has its nonviolent martyrs:  Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahmah  and  Jawaher Abu Rahmah .

 

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EAST JERUSALEM:  One of the most powerful and educational movies on Israel/Palestine is the 25-minute documentary, " My Neighborhood " -- which exposes the Judaization of  East Jerusalem  by focusing on a Palestinian family facing eviction from their home of 47 years in the middle-class neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. We sat down with the "stars" of the movie, the al-Kurd family, outside the part of the house they still can live in. Absurdly, zealous and aggressive Jewish settlers occupy the front part of the house.  As we approached, I caught a glimpse of the settlers behind their Israeli flag. (Watch the movie  here .) 

 

Middle-aged mom Maysa al-Kurd and her 94-year-old mother told us they've lived in their East Jerusalem house since 1956, having been forced to flee Haifa during the 1948 "War of Independence."  Settlers are now using intimidation in hope of forcing them to flee again. With half a home, the al-Kurd family is luckier than dozens of others in Sheikh Jarrah who've been driven out of the neighborhood completely. (Many Palestinians are refugees two or three times over.)

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Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR in 1986.

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