VIDEO: Harvesting the Olives in Bil’in (and information on Iyad and his son) 19Oct11 October 18, 2011

Throughout the centuries, Palestinians farmers have made their living from olive cultivation and olive oil production; 80 percent of cultivated land in the West Bank and Gaza is planted with olive trees. In the West Bank alone, some 100,000 families are dependent on olive sales. Today, the olive harvest provides Palestinian farmers with anywhere between 25 to 50 percent of their annual income, and as the economic crisis deepens, the harvest provides for many their basic means of survival. But despite the hardships, it is the festivities and traditions that accompany the weeks of harvesting that have held Palestinian communities together and are, in fact, a demonstration of their ownership of the land that no occupation can extinguish except by the annihilation of Palestinian society itself … such heartbreaking reality has led the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, to say, “If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would have become tears …” (Sonja Karkar, Electronic Intifada)


IYAD BURNAT “FREEDOM NEXT MONTH, INSHALLAH”  (Iyad appears in the Olive harvesting film above)

by Hamdi Abu-Rahmah

Iyad Burnat, 37 years old, married with four children, is the Head of the Bil’in Popular Committee and Head of Bilin’s Friends of Freedom and Justice.

I started my life in jail at seventeen, during the first intifada. I have a clear memory of my arrest. The army took me from my home, in the middle of the night. My father was told that because I was a child, they just wanted to speak to me for five minutes. Some of the soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes, and they grabbed me as soon as I opened the door. The first 12 hours of my detention were utter horror. Soldiers stripped me of my clothing and left me outside in the snow, with my hands cuffed and attached to a metal construction above my head. The next 20 days I spent in solitary confinement where the torture continued. I was put in a small cell with my hands still tied to the ceiling, so I could only stand up. At night, I was stacked in a small room with 36 other prisoners. The cell had a hole in the roof, allowing the cold winter with its rain and snow to slip in. Every ten minutes, soldiers banged the door to deprive us of sleep. During the day I was beaten, punched and kicked. It was a package of dehumanizing tactics, persuading me to sign a confession that I had been throwing stones at the soldiers.

The soldiers kept on asking me about the names of the Popular Committee’s members, which did not exist at that time. I did not even know of any political affiliations.

After 21 days, I cracked and signed that paper. Two years later I was released, but I had another year of house arrest. Actually, all Palestinians are in prison, the only difference is that we have our families with us here.

In 2005, we began our non-violent demonstrations in Bilin, against the Wall and settlements that have been built on our land. We want to tell the world that this Wall is not for security, but it is an Apartheid Wall built only to steal our land for the purpose of expanding illegal Israeli settlements. It seems the Israeli Occupation Forces do not understand, let alone sympathize with, non-violent methods. Once, I had tied myself to an olive tree to protect it from being uprooted by a bulldozer. A soldier hit me heavily in the chest with a stick. I lost my speech and felt I could not breath anymore. I earnestly believed I was dying.

At some point, I approached the Israeli colonies. I wanted to talk to these people and ask them why they are living on stolen land. If you are truly religious, then you would not take someone else’s land. This is not written in the Torah, I believe. Many of them were afraid of the camera and refused to speak. Some did not know why they were living there. Others had settled on our land because of economic reasons: the state had sold it for little money. One man said he was willing to move if I paid him back his money!

These actions resulted in many arrests and plenty of house raids during the past five years, though these are not criminal acts. I want peace, through peaceful means, that is my struggle. In return, I receive uninvited armed soldiers in my home. If they are searching for something, why would they do this at night when my family is asleep? Why do they force my children to go out in the dark, wearing only their pajamas? The soldiers don’t seem to care whether Palestinians are adults or children; they start to kick the doors, throw the children outside, and ransack their bedrooms. How can they feel safe in their homes? The two youngest often wake up screaming at night because they have had nightmares. My daughter is then convinced that soldiers are surrounding the house or are hiding in her room. Often the children do not dare sleep alone and come to sleep with me and my wife.

My children’s lives are affected to the core by the Israeli occupation. The dead sea is nearby, but they have never seen it. We do not have a garden to play in, instead they play with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets near the wall. I have overheard them talking many times about the soldiers and the night raids. They turn it into a playful competition: “I bet I have more rubber bullets than you have!” or “How many friends do you have in prison?”

I try to protect them from these things. If I find bullets in the house, I throw them out. But sometimes the soldiers throw tear gas in the homes. We turn on the television or open the internet and they find more stories and images of this violent occupation. Escaping it is simply impossible, it is our reality, our daily life. We live like animals, but I think animals have a better life.

The occupation causes me grave worries for my children. I am never at ease when they are longer than five minutes outside. So far they are doing well in school, but what future do they have? There are no jobs here for them in Palestine. Often they ask me why we are not free and what will happen next week, next month or next year. I always answer them; “Next month, inshallah, there will be freedom.”

We are a simple people, and more than anything we want to see peace, but before there is peace there must be justice, and we must have our freedom. We are not against Jews or Israelis, but we are against the occupation.





 Ten year old Abed Khaled, Iyad’s son, is the second boy of four children. He is short in size, but strong and fierce in his choice of words.

Every week I go to the demonstrations. I have been going for two years. Often I carry Palestine’s flag, shouting “No, no to the wall!”.

You know, I am not afraid of the soldiers. Except for this one time when they threw a sound bomb in between my legs and I ran straight back home [silence]. What can we do?

I fear most for my father’s life. I hope to God that He will save him. He is often away from home, busy with the Popular Committee’s activities. He hardly sleeps, fearing another invasion or arrest.

I wonder why they occupied our land. We didn’t do anything! We have to continue the demonstrations, to show we are against them and that they have no business being here.

I think my life is sometimes good, sometimes bad. If I feel free, playing with my friends for example, I enjoy a good life. But when the army comes, things are dangerous and unpredictable. They can come at any time and I never know what the soldiers might do. My home is the place where I feel most safe, surrounded by my parents, in the company of my brothers and sisters. This has changed since the night raids however. So far, the army has invaded our house five times already, always at night.

This one time, me and my brothers were sleeping, while my mother and sister were out. We woke up at the loud blast of a sound bomb. Soldiers were trying to force their way into our home. I left my bedroom to see what was going on, even though my father told me to go to bed. Just before the soldiers entered the house, I gathered everyone’s passports and held them in my pocket. Apparently, we had visitors in the house, but they were not allowed to film or take pictures. Soldiers even tried to destroy their cameras. But I have a camera in my phone, so I started filming all these scary shouting faces, making a mess and destroying the place. The captain was on to me quickly and hit me to get my phone. He said that people filming would get arrested. I told him “Fuck you, I am not afraid! This is my phone, not yours, don’t touch it!” I was angry and continued shouting, “what are you doing here? I can film in my home!”

An international woman interfered to protect me, asking why they were so rough with a child. They left me alone. At that time, my six year old brother was very scared, hiding under the covers of his bed. I went in to comfort him. The soldiers left after half an hour, but neither of us managed to sleep that night. Shortly after, all the children of Bilin held a demonstration for the army protesting against the frequent night raids and the chanting “We want to sleep!”

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