Palestinian peace activist denied entry to U.S. for speaking tour

Edo Konrad, +972, March 4, 2019

Osama Iliwat was supposed to speak to synagogues, churches, and universities across the United States about the power of nonviolence and bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead he was sent back to Palestine.

A Palestinian peace activist was denied entry to the United States last week after being extensively questioned by American border authorities about his political affiliations and about the funders and leadership of the group for which he works. Iliwat was supposed to join a Jewish-American member of the organization for a speaking tour in synagogues, churches, and university campuses across the United States.

Osama Iliwat, a 42-year-old from Jericho, in the West Bank, had a valid visa for the United States and had been admitted into the country on numerous occasions before last week.

Iliwat, a former Palestinian Authority police officer who grew disillusioned with the violence of the Second Intifada, joined Combatants for Peace in 2014 as its Jericho-Jerusalem coordinator. Today, he serves as one of the organization’s public speakers, delivering talks to Israelis, Palestinians, and international audiences on nonviolence as a path toward reconciliation. He has never been convicted of a crime and Israel even gave him a general entry permit that allows him to cross into the country whenever he wants.

During his interrogation at New York’s JFK airport, Iliwat was repeatedly asked about Combatants for Peace and about his political affiliations. In a telephone interview with +972 upon returning to the West Bank, Iliwat said that interrogators focused most of their questions on the organization’s activities, asking for information about the its founders, their political beliefs and affiliations, how often Iliwat speaks to them, and whether they have spent time in Israeli prison. Iliwat said the interrogators also asked him about the West Bank tours Combatants for Peace organizes, and which Palestinian political movement he supports.

Palestinian peace activist Osama Iliwat (left) seen in the village of Jeb al-Deeb, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Courtesy of Combatants for Peace)

Palestinian peace activist Osama Iliwat (right) seen in the village of Jeb al-Deeb, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Tatiana Gitlits/Combatants for Peace)

Combatants for Peace was formed in 2006 as an organization founded by both former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian armed fighters committed to nonviolent action against the “Israeli occupation and all forms of violence.” The group leads tours of the West Bank, supports various communities in the West Bank who face violence from settlers and the Israeli army, and has put on an alternative memorial day event for the past 11 years. While the former Israeli soldiers in Combatants for Peace served in an army that receives support from the U.S. government, Palestinian combatants are often seen as former terrorists by both Israel and the United States.

After 12 hours of interrogation, during which his phone was taken away multiple times, the agents asked him to sign a statement confirming the answers he had given them, and that he understood he was being denied entry to the country. Nobody ever told him why, he said.

The border agents then put a red stamp in his passport, annulling his three-year visa to the U.S., and brought him in handcuffs to the plane which took him back to Doha.

Continue reading

A Teenage War Resister in Israel

An Antiwar Story from the Embattled Middle East
He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel.

“Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens, and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together based on citizenship and equality, not segregation and racism.”
Ahmed Abu Artema

Rory Fanning, TomDispatch, March 18, 2019

Hilel Garmi’s phone is going straight to voicemail and all I’m hoping is that he’s not back in prison. I’ll soon learn that he is.

Prison 6 is a military prison. It’s situated in the Israeli coastal town of Atlit, a short walk from the Mediterranean Sea and less than an hour’s drive from Hilel’s home. It was constructed in 1957 following the Sinai War between Israel and Egypt to house disciplinary cases from the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF.

Hilel has already been locked up six times. “I can smell the sea from my cell, especially at night when everything is quiet,” he tells me in one of our phone conversations. I’m 6,000 miles away in Chicago, but Hilel and I have regularly been discussing his ordeal as an Israeli war resister, so it makes me nervous that, this time around, I can’t reach him at all.

A recent high-school graduate with dark hair and a big smile, he’s only 19 and still lives with his parents in Yodfat, an Israeli town of less than 900 people in the northern part of the country. It’s 155 miles to Damascus (if such a trip were possible, which, of course, it isn’t), a two-hour drive down the coast to Tel Aviv, and a four-hour drive to besieged Gaza.

Yodfat itself could be a set for a Biblical movie, with its dry rolling hills, ancient ruins, and pastoral landscape. The town exports flower bulbs, as well as organic goat cheese, and notably supports the Misgav Waldorf School that Hilel’s mother helped found. Hilel is proud of his mom. After all, people commute from all over Israel to attend the school.

He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel. Each year roughly 30,000 18 year olds are drafted into the IDF, although 35% of such draftees manage to avoid military service for religious reasons. A far tinier percentage publicly refuses to fight for moral and political reasons to protest their country’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The exact numbers are hard to find. I’ve asked war resister groups in Israel, but no one seems to have any. Hilel’s estimate: between five and 15 refuseniks a year.

“I’ve thought the occupation of Palestine was immoral at least since I was in eighth grade,” he told me. “But it was the March of Return that played a large role in sustaining the courage to say no to military service.”

The Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018, the 42nd anniversary of the day in 1976 that Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested the government’s expropriation of land. During the six-month protest movement that followed in 2018, Israeli soldiers killed another 141 demonstrators, while nearly 10,000 were injured, including 919 children, all shot.

“I couldn’t be a part of that,” he said. “I’d rather be in jail.”

However, after 37 days in prison, it was the letter Hilel received from Abu Artema, a key Palestinian organizer of that march, which provided him with his greatest inspiration. It read in part:

Continue reading

March 26 – April 14, 2019
Naila and the Uprising

On Wisconsin Public Television’s Women, War & Peace

Tuesday, March 26 8:00 pm on WPT 26-1
Wednesday, March 27 2:00 am on WPT 26-1
Sunday, April 14 9:00 pm on The Wisconsin Channel 26-2

Discover the story of a courageous, non-violent women’s movement that formed the heart of the Palestinian struggle for freedom during the 1987 uprising, known as the first Intifada. One woman must make a choice between love, family and freedom. Undaunted, she embraces all three.

During the Intifada, women weren’t just following orders, we were instrumental in making decisions alongside men.

We want our home land!
We want to live free.

Women’s resistance went hand-in-hand with national resistance.

There is a discussion guide available to help you learn more about women’s leadership, unarmed civil resistance and grassroots organizing in Israel-Palestine.

South Hebron Hills Update

Expulsion by a thousand cuts

Dear Friends,

The last weeks have been busy and challenging in the South Hebron Hills. Young Palestinians, with international and Israeli peace activists, have planted hundreds of trees. But this is also a difficult time. Soldiers and settlers have repeatedly forced shepherds off of Palestinian grazing land located near settlements and outposts, settlers have harassed schoolchildren and shepherds, and just last night Settlers uprooted more than 20 young olive trees.


christadelphia.org

The creativity, resilience and commitment to nonviolent resistance is more amazing here each year.

Here are a few recent events and photos.

On the night of February 4 Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on uprooted 23 olive trees on Palestinian land near Tuwani in Humra Valley. The trees have were recently planted during a nonviolent demonstration of Palestinians and Israeli and International activists.

On January 23 Israeli army and civil authorities used a bulldozer to destroy an agricultural field in the Palestinian village of Khalaya Al-Moghrabi. The farmer was already unable to work his land because Israeli authorities had confiscated his tractor.


The Palestinian road to Jinbah and the villages of Massafer Yatta

On January 31 the Israeli army used a bulldozer to destroy two sections of the road that connects the city of Yatta to Jimba village and the other villages of Massafer Yatta, making access to school, health care, commerce and other services even more difficult for the families living in the villages located inside the area claimed by Israel as Firing Zone 918.


School in Khallet Athaba

On January 30 The Israeli Civil Administration (DCO) issued demolition orders for the school and two private family houses in the Palestinian village of Khallet Athaba and a stop work order for a house in the village of Tuba.


Palestinian child from Tuba

Israeli authorities delivered a stop work order for the home of this child’s family in the village of Tuba. It is impossible for families to get building permits. And stop work orders are often followed by demolition orders.