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Interview with Abdullah Abu Rahme, Member of the Bil’in Popular Committee

by Taka Nakahara

In 1987, Abudullah Abu Rahme was 16 years olds. He spent his high-teens amidst the First Intifada, which he appreciated as successful attempt of continuous Nonviolent Resistance under national unity, at least for the first 6 months. After he started his study in Bir Zeit University, he participated in road blockades using rocks, so that Israeli military convoys could not pass. He reflected on the moment during an interview with me and my journalist friend from America, and explained the reason why: he did so because he did not like violence. He did not want the cars to go through, because they would go to kill someone. It was not hatred against the enemy, but rather love and respect for all life that necessitated him to take the action.

After twenty years, in 2007, he is a father, and got a job in high school near Bir Zeit and also part-time job in Al Quds Open University. What makes him distinguished from other teachers is his role as a Coordinator of now world-famous Bil’in Popular Committee. His belief in Nonviolence and respect for all people is never changed, even strengthened since 1987: especially after 2005, when villagers of Bil’in village started Nonviolent Demonstrations.

He really is a normal father of children. But the condition of this small village does not allow him to be normal person. He sadly mentioned us the fact that he so far failed to take his children to a zoo. His children want to see lion, but not in TV nor in book, in a zoo. They also never are able to go to the sea. This rather normal need as a child (which can be realized without much difficulty in US, Europe, Japan and many other countries) is extremely difficult to realize in Palestine, an abnormal entity, one of the very few places which still remains as the Occupied territory (in the Twenty-First Century!).

Another his strong conviction is respect for all people. He explicitly says, “We are not against Jews” (this interview is not the first time, by the way, for the author to hear the same comment from him). In his house, which first floor has been turned into an “International House”, many people from many different countries come, eat, sleep, and struggle. His guest includes people from America, France, Germany, Britain, Scotland, Japan, Denmark, Spain, Basque, Morocco, Iceland, Belgium, Greece … and, the biggest group: Israelis.

Now Bil’in is a name that most people who either believe in Nonviolence or Palestinian cause appreciates, especially after Israeli Supreme Court ordered to re-route the Separation fence. The fence has denied access for villagers 2,300 donums of their lands (about 58% of village’s original land) and resulted in de-facto annexation of the land for Israeli settlers.

When they started the demonstration, they were not sure how to attract media coverage. So they started tying themselves to Olive trees, staring from May 4th, 2005. The message was: “If you want to up-root this tree, you have to kill us”. Next, both Palestinians and Israeli participants put themselves inside Oil Barrels, only heads and hands outside and sent the same message again. He recalls these creative acts made journalists surprised, perhaps panicked. “What? What is happening in Bil’in???” … this was their first thought. Since then, TV stations came, radio reporters came, internationals came, more Israelis came … and Bil’in legend had started.

Thanks to effort by thousands of Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals who had participated, both in Palestine and in their home country, among them 800 injured, a few hundreds detained/arrested, and countless suffered by the tear-gas, in September 2007 the Court ordered the Government to re-route the fence. In the ruling, 1,100 donums of the land is to be given back to the villagers, which Abudallah regards as satisfactory result, at least, so far, especially given the fact that no one has been killed. Being asked how long it would take for the land to be recovered, he explained it would be about 5 or 6 months, possibly a year. Villagers still did not give up rest of the land, though. They determined to continue their struggle until they recover ALL the land that has been taken from them, and are continuing their demonstration, now nearly two months after the ruling.

The court decision, if successfully implemented, will be one of the most convincing examples of premise that “Nonviolence works” in a decade, even a century. Member of Bil’in Popular Committee determined to spread this miraculous success to all over Palestine. For example, he explained to us that member of the Committee, including himself, went to a village called Kuseen near Nablus, which is suffering because of Road Block. They also visited to Umm Salemouna, located in the South of Bethlehem, where local villagers are continuing Nonviolent (and very, very creative) demonstration, now nearly one year.

In his role in the relentless struggle, many people see arrival of Nonviolent icon. Some journalists even called him “Palestinian Gandhi”. I doubt whether or not it is good idea to dramatize one individual as charisma out of lots of others, who are struggling together or separately with him: nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that his role in what this rather small village had accomplished makes him deserves to be called so.

During interview, he said he believes Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and others who liberated themselves through Nonviolent methods. They gave him courage and confidence for what he is doing now. And, there is no question, I believe, that for many people with different language, nationality, and religion who believe Freedom and Justice in the land of Palestine and all over the world, now it is Abudallah Abu Rahme of Bil’in Popular Committee who is giving courage and confidence in what they are doing … as long as their struggle (from my understanding), herald of the Third Intifada, or “Bil’in Intifada” continues.