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An Open Letter by Mohammed Khatib and Sharif Omar
December 26, 2007
Dear Ms. Sarandon,
We felt sorrow when we learned that you accepted Lev Leviev’s invitation to attend the opening night event for his new jewelry store in New York City on November 13 while our friends protested outside, because we respect you for your support for human rights, for your courage in speaking since 2002 against the US war on Iraq, and for your many other honorable public positions.
Lev Leviev is building Israeli settlements on Bil’in and Jayyous’ land, and is also building in the settlements of Har Homa and Maale Adumim around Jerusalem, in violation of international law. Leviev is destroying the olive groves and farms that have sustained our villages for centuries, and is profiting from human rights abuses.
We were reassured to learn from our colleagues in New York City that you expressed interest in learning more about these issues. We still hope that you will also speak in support peace and justice in Palestine. We invite you and would be very pleased to welcome you to visit Palestine, specifically Jayyous and Bil’in, in order to witness what Leviev’s settlements are doing to our communities.
Bil’in: The olive is a symbol of our land and of the Palestinian people. We are connected to the land. We were born in Bil’in like our fathers and grandfathers and their fathers. We belong here. Our mothers took us to harvest olives before we could speak. We remember playing under the olive trees which have since been uprooted by Israeli settlers who have come to live here. There is now a huge and growing settlement called Modi’in Illit where we played as children. It is hard for us to understand that our children cannot play in the same places where we played.
As a result, for the last three years in Bil’in we have engaged in a nonviolent campaign of creative protests with the support of Israeli and international activists to prevent the seizure by Israeli of 50% of our village’s land for the construction of Israel’s wall and the expansion of Modi’in Illit. The Israelis want to control the Palestinians, push us off our land and seize it for themselves. In Bil’in, we have chosen a strategy which makes clear who is the victim and who is the victimizer. We know the Israeli army can choose to deal with us in two ways. If they choose violence, we make sure to get photographs for the media so that everyone sees what we were up against. And if they don’t use violence then we achieve our aim of stopping their bulldozers and delaying construction of their Wall and settlements. But even if the soldiers put down their weapons, which they have not, that would not make us equals in the field. We would always be the stronger because we have the power of justice on our side. We want all the other Palestinians to see this and understand that this is the basis of our strategy.
Over three years of protests in Bil’in more than 800 activists were injured in more than 200 demonstrations in Bil’in. An Israeli attorney and a Bil’in resident both suffered permanent brain damage from rubber-coated steel bullets shot by Israeli soldiers from close range. Another Palestinian lost sight in one eye. 49 Bil’in residents, including some protest leaders, were arrested. Some spent months in prison.
As a result of our protests and in response to our legal petition, in September, 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Israel’s wall must be rerouted to return half of our land that was being seized, but the Supreme Court also legalized the settlement that Leviev is building on the remaining 25% of our land, though the wall is being built in violation of even Israeli law.
In response, we vowed to continue our nonviolent struggle to save the olive groves that our families have cultivated for centuries, and we have put our experience at the service of other communities struggling against the wall and settlements.
Jayyous: In October, 1988 the Israeli military governor of our district, Qalqilya, gave Jayyous’ mayor a military declaration saying that nearly 500 acres of Jayyous’ agricultural land was “state land.” The declaration granted us 45 days to prepare our landownership documents and maps to appeal that decision to an Israeli military court. 79 farmers from Jayyous appealed. The Israeli government has used British mandate laws, Ottoman laws, and the absentee landlord law to confiscate Palestinians’ land. If this is not enough the Israeli army confiscates our land for “security reasons.” Jayyous’ farmland includes some of the most fertile and water-rich land in the West Bank.
In May, 1996, the Israeli court decided on our 1988 appeal. 18 farmers from Jayyous lost all their land, some lost part of their land, while others kept their land. In 1993 LIDAR – a real state enterprise owned by the businessman Lev Leviev – established a quarry on some of Jayyous’ land that we were appealing to keep, three years before the Israeli court decision which took that land away.
During this period it became clear that LIDAR was an enemy of the people of Jayyous. LIDAR used bulldozers to prepare our land for houses for Israeli settlers, and TNT to detonate more than 16 acres for a quarry. They uprooted all the olive trees on that land. As a direct result of the quarry work, all the neighboring vegetables and fruit around have been covered with dust. LIDAR also uprooted the olive trees on two other plots. Many olive trees died because sewage from Zufim ran for many years through other plots. Other plots were annexed to Zufim.
LIDAR then announced that it would build 1500 new homes in a large area located 1.2 miles north of Zufim for “North Zufim.” Finally, in 2002 the Israel government began building its wall in Jayyous, up to 3.5 miles from the border with Israel, so as to annex 75% of Jayyous’ land (1700 acres) and six underground wells for Zufim. The land to be cut off was used to grow fruits and vegetables which sustain our village’s economy. According to the respected Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem’s 2005 report “Under the Guise of Security”, “the primary consideration in determining the route of the barrier around Zufin was to leave areas planned for the settlement’s expansion and for a nearby industrial zone on the ‘Israeli’ side of the barrier”, thus increasing “the number of Palestinians who are separated from their farmland, infringing their right to freedom of movement, their right to work and gain a livelihood, and their right of property.”
Despite more than 60 nonviolent protests organized by Jayyous’ people, and supported by Israeli and international activists, the wall has been built here, destroying 130 acres of Jayyous’ land, uprooting 4,000 trees and cutting off 75% of our land. 419 residents from Jayyous have been denied permits to pass through the gate in the Wall to reach their farmland. More than 70% of Jayyous’ farmers are now denied access to their land, many to the area where Leviev plans to expand Zufim. Hundreds of Israeli activists helped us to harvest our olives this fall because so many people from Jayyous could not reach their land.
* * *
We are engaged in a struggle for justice, for our freedom – indeed, for our very lives. We call on you, Ms. Sarandon, to end your relationship with Lev Leviev and stand with us in our struggle to save our land and our communities. We want you to see the facts here, and see what Leviev’s companies LIDAR and Danya Cebus are doing to our land. We would also be pleased to arrange meetings for you with Israeli and international peace activists who participate in our peaceful activities against the construction of settlements and the wall on our land.
As one option, we invite you to join us for Bil’in’s 3rd annual International Conference on Popular Struggle from April 30th- May 2, 2008. In 2007, our conference was attended by participants from around the world, including Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, activists from South Africa, and Israeli participants like Nobel prize nominee Jeff Halper, the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD).
But whenever you choose to come – as a supporter of human rights for all peoples, regardless of ethnicity, religion, class or gender – you will be most welcome in Bil’in and Jayyous.
We hope that you will accept our invitation.
Awaiting your kind reply we remain,
Mohammed Khatib for Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements
Sharif Omar for Jayyous’ Land Defense Committee
For background on Susan Sarandon and Lev Leviev:
-November 17 news report on Sarandon attendance at LEVIEV New York opening event http://www.nypost.com/seven/11172007/gossip/pagesix/her_best_friends_643816.htm
-November 20 letter to Sarandon from Adalah-NY http://www.mideastjustice.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=98&Itemid=61
-December 13 letter to Sarandon from US group Jewish Voice for Peace http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/publish/article_928.shtml