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Palestinian Organizer Imprisoned after Tour of Canada

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Issue: 63 Section: International News Geography: Middle East Palestine/Israel Topics: prison, IDF

August 17, 2009

Palestinian Organizer Imprisoned after Tour of Canada

Interview with Abdullah Abu Rahme of Bil'in's Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements

by Stefan Christoff

Mohammad Khatib is currently being held by the Israeli Defense Forces. He has been a key organizer of Bil'in's weekly peaceful protests of the separation wall. Photo: Valerian Mazataud

MONTREAL–Bil'in, a village in Palestine, has become a celebrated symbol of the Palestinian popular struggle against the Israel's "separation wall" built in the Palestinian West Bank. Each Friday, Bil'in villagers gather to peacefully protest the wall.

Demonstrations in Bil'in have attracted global attention and often face severe violence from Israeli military forces. Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma, a Palestinian community activist from Bil'in, was killed last April after being struck at close range by a teargas canister. Abu Rahma was the 18th Palestinian to have been killed by the Israeli army during popular demonstrations against the apartheid wall in Bil'in and throughout the West Bank.

Bil'in is also known to people in Quebec and across Canada after village representatives launched a lawsuit against two Montreal-based companies involved in the construction of Israeli-only settlements on Bil'in lands. In June 2009, members of Bil'in's Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements visited Canada, touring 11 cities across the country.

In recent weeks Israel's military has been carrying out night raids on Bil'in, targeting members of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements with arrest. Among those arrested was Mohammad Khatib, a member of the Committee.

Khatib is a key Palestinian community activist from Bil'in. Khatib has been detained by the Israeli military for almost two weeks—a political prisoner, according to other Palestinian activists.

Khatib now joins an estimated 8,000 Palestinian prisoners currently detained by Israeli authorities. According to a recent report from Amnesty International, many Palestinian prisoners “face medical negligence, routine beatings, position torture and strip searches by Israeli prison authorities.” The Palestinian prisoner population includes over 400 children and over 100 women.

Last month, Abdullah Abu Rahme visited Canada for a national speaking tour with Khatib. On August 3, Israeli soldiers raided several homes and arrested Khatib. He is currently in prison with no charges.

Dominion: Abdullah, can you first give us an update on the ongoing night-time raids on Bil'in and the arrest of Khatib?

Abdullah Abu Rahme: During the past months, Israeli soldiers have been following closely activists from Bil'in, arresting [multiple] members of the Bil'in Popular Committee. Israel wants to arrest us all because of our ongoing popular protests and because we are standing against the apartheid wall and settlements.

In the last months Israel has been working to build more settlements on our land, and we as Palestinians are trying to stop Israel from colonizing our land. They are trying to stop our struggle by arresting us.

Mohammad Khatib is known in Palestine and around the world for [organizing] the popular, non-violent struggle in Palestine, in Bil'in. Mohammad was arrested on Monday morning and this week an Israeli judge asked the Israeli military to release Mohammad, but they are still holding him without charge.

Can you talk about your protest movement in Bil'in?

For over four years we have been protesting each Friday in Bil'in, our struggle, our protests include Israeli activists and many internationals from around the world. Bil'in is struggling to have the Israeli wall removed from our land, to stop the construction of settlements and to end the occupation.

In the last weeks we have been calling on many people to come to our village to protest with us in Bil'in because the Israeli army has been raiding our village at night and is now putting us in jail.

Israel's wall is confiscating our land, actually more than half of our land in Bil'in... [as] farmers we need our land [which is] agricultural land. Israel is [planning] to build settlements on our land and they actually built East Matityahu on our land.

If the Israeli military continues to arrest us and put us in jail we will see more Israeli and international activists coming to protest with our children every Friday, even if we are in jail. Bil'in will continue on with our struggle.

Mohammad Khatib from Bil'in was arrested this week—Mohammad who spoke at Concordia University and who also toured Canada in June. Bil'in's tour in Canada was focused on mobilizing support for your lawsuit in Canada against two Montreal-based companies building settlements on your land but also to build support for your weekly protests against the Israeli "apartheid wall." Abdullah, could you describe for people the Israeli wall on Bil'in's land?

Abdullah Abu Rahme: Israel's wall in Palestine is around 770 kilometres long and [annexes] around 12 per cent of the land of the West Bank. This land is rich with water resources which are very important for Palestine but with the wall the water is directed towards Israeli settlers, to the settlements.

In addition to stealing our water the land [annexed] by the wall is mainly rich agricultural land on the Palestinian side of the [1967] Green Line. In Bil'in's case, more than 50 per cent of our lands are behind the wall, around 2000 dunams [about 500 acres] of our land, which are rich lands for agriculture and lands with water. Actually Israel is planning to build settlements on all the lands of Bil'in [which have been] stolen by the wall.

It is becoming more and more difficult for us in Bil'in. We need our farm lands. We are being pushed to leave Bil'in, to another city or another country. This is a new Nakba for us, but we will never leave. We refuse to leave and want to stay on our land.

Back to Mohammad Khatib, who visited us recently in Montreal: What are you calling on people in Canada to do to respond to Mohammad's arrest?

Mohammad is my friend not only from the Popular Committee but from school, from university. He has two daughters and two sons, small children, who are sad about Mohammad's arrest. The whole village is sad. Mohammad has spoken in many countries about Bil'in's struggle: in Germany, in France, in Canada, in the US, in Italy, in Spain, presentations to call on people to come and celebrate with Bil'in.

In Palestine also Mohammad has given many lectures calling on people to join the popular protests, to use non-violence protest against the Israeli occupation.

To all the people in Canada, who know Mohammad and who don't know Mohammad, we are asking you to protest and to send a message to Israel to release Mohammad from prison.

We call on all people to join with Tadamon!, who have supported us in Canada and helped us with our legal case; contact Tadamon! and all our friends in Canada to organize protests to call for Mohammad to be released. To hold actions outside the Israeli embassy in Canada, to also collect money to [help us] pay our legal bills for our legal case in Canada.

People in Canada should [send] a message to the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv to support us in Bil'in, to call on Israel to free all our prisoners. Canada's Foreign Minister should do something to support our case in Bil'in.

Can you describe for us how Mohammad was arrested?

On Monday at three in the morning a [large] number of soldiers, around 200 soldiers with masks and painted faces, entered our village, surrounding our homes, the homes of the members of Bil'in's Popular Committee.

Israeli soldiers surrounded Mohammad Khatib's home and entered his home violently and took Mohammad in front of his children violently.

Also the soldiers came to other people's homes, arresting others also from the Popular Committee in Bil'in. Israeli soldiers beat Mohammad and the other Palestinians badly. Israeli soldiers put a knife to the neck of some people in our village demanding information about Bil'in's Popular Committee.

For more information visit: http://www.bilin-village.org

Stefan Christoff is an independent journalist and community activist.

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Two sides

Although some of your reports are certainly troubling, anyone following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knows that there are two sides to every scenario. Looking at your conflict from afar I have always felt that Palestine has been the aggressor. Israel's history is one of defending itself from various Arab militants. It's no secret that the Muslim nations want to obliterate Israel and drive it's people into the sea.

If I was a Jew living in Israel I would be in a constant state of concern about my neighbors who have vowed to kill me. It's always Israel that gives in to peace demands and looses territory. It never takes too long before the occupants of the land given up by Israel turns around and fires rockets into Jewish neighborhoods. online casino

I don't pretend to know who

I don't pretend to know who is at fault between the Israelis and the Palestinians but at some point there is going to be no one left to fight. There is clearly violence from both sides but it's at a point where it doesn't seem to matter now who is worse or who started it.

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