This evening, the International Nonviolence Conference will open in Bethlehem under the auspices of the Holy Land Trust. The conference will continue over a three day period with the participation of approximately 350 guests from around the world who represent a vast platform of institutions, religions and social sectors.
President Abbas was scheduled to participate in the opening ceremony but apologized and will send a representative in his place. During the opening ceremony, which will take place in the Nissan Hall, a letter will be read from UN Secretary General Kofi Anan and another from former US President Jimmy Carter. Another will be read from Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Among the various activities of the concert, which will be held in the Terra Sancta High School near Manger Square, there will be a workshop entitled “Nonviolence in Palestine”.
Dr. Hind Khouri, state minister for Jerusalem affairs, Dr. Mustapha Barghouti, secretary general of the National Initiative and PLC member Qaddoura Fares will all participate. In addition, Dr. Mubarak Awad, head of the Nonviolence Center in Washington DC will attend.
The second session will be entitled “The Palestinian nonviolent movement” in which a number of field activists and representatives of NGOs will attend.
Another session will be entitled “Nonviolence and religion in Palestine” in which Archbishop Attallah Hanna, chief of justice Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi and Father Alex Awad will speak. Other prominent personalities will also participate in the conference’s various workshops and activities including Arab Knesset member Azmi Bishara, attorney Jonathon Kuttab, Dr. Riyad Malki, Dr. Sami Kilani, Bethlehem governor Salah Tamari in addition to Holy Land Trust director Sami Awad.
The conference will end on Friday evening with a large march towards the separation wall being built on Bethlehem land in the context of nonviolent popular protest against this illegal wall, according to sources from the Holy Land Trust.
From his headquarters in Washington DC, Mubarak Awad accused Israel of trying to obstruct the conference by barring four of its foreign guests from reaching Bethlehem through Ben Gurion Airport. Airport authorities informed the four that they would not be allowed entry into Israel and would have to turn back. When the four refused these orders, they were forced into a detention room at the airport. The four are: Vittoria Arjouni from Italy, Michael Horvil from South Africa, Luke Sharn from Australia and Patricia Masimort from Scotland. In addition, Israel unjustifiably denied entry visas to six others.
Dr. Awad, who was deported by Israeli authorities in 1988 for participating in nonviolent resistance, has been allowed to return after becoming a US citizen over ten years later. He said there are a number of reasons behind organizing such a conference in Bethlehem including the fact that the conference itself is one form of resistance to the wall and also a protest to the siege of Bethlehem. It will also revive political activity in the city and bring life to hotels in Bethlehem during the Christmas season. Awad also said it was necessary for the world to hear the voice of popular resistance in Palestine of which nonviolence is a crucial part. Hence, the world will stand by the Palestinians in their just demands. It can also build bridges between the Palestinians and the world.
Awad said nonviolent resistance has a deep history and prominent symbols, first and foremost Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It has a present and a future and what distinguishes its present is that it has more popularity and is not limited to its symbols alone.
Awad said the conference will address the viewpoints of religions towards nonviolent resistance where Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist men of religion will speak, adding that it is important to hear these viewpoints.
Furthermore, Awni Jubran, general coordinator of the conference said a priority of holding this conference is to have the biggest number of participants possible from foreigners and volunteers who support the Palestinian cause and who could influence their communities and international public opinion in general. In addition, the conference aims at introducing citizens in Palestine to the philosophy of nonviolent resistance.