The International Popular (nonviolent) Resistance Conference opened on Tuesday night under the auspices of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem with an attendance of 200 internationals from around the world and local representatives from various factions and institutions. The conference is being held in the Nissan Hall in Bethlehem and will continue for the next four days.
The conference was opened with a speech by conference organizer Sami Awad in which he asked the audience to stand in a minute of silence and mourning for those killed in the conflict. The Palestinian national anthem was then played. Awad then honored the late Father Ibrhaim Ayyad, a founder of the Holy Land Trust who he described as an advocate of freedom and independence.
Awad said, “The Palestinian people has risen up to the occupation and is seeking to establish a just peace and achieve its dream of establishing a Palestinian state with its capital Jerusalem.”
This was followed by a speech by Dr. Mubarak Awad, president of Nonviolence International, based in Washington DC. He said holding this conference in Bethlehem, which is under occupation, has great implications for us in that we live in the land of miracles. But at the same time, we are celebrating in a city that has become a victim of the occupation and of violence. This is why we must come up with new ideas and new visions so we can have a future worthy of our children and grandchildren.
Awad, who delivered his speech in English, continued that the occupation deported him in 1988 because he believed in nonviolent resistance. He was not allowed back to his homeland as a Palestinian citizen. He credited his mother as his source of inspiration in her nonviolent methods (When I fought the rage that boiled inside of me when my father was killed and left behind a widow and seven children, my mother used to always say to me, ‘do not let the spirit of anger and revenge find its way into you.’)
Awad stressed that this conference is not in order to make peace or to solve the Middle East conflict but to support Bethlehem and the Palestinian people in confronting all they suffer as a result of Israeli measures. “It is so Bethlehem can become a city opened to tourists and pilgrims and to guests who are banned from entering it,” he said adding that even Israeli peace activists were barred from reaching the conference.
He concluded by saying one of the goals of the conference is to give a chance to the foreign guests to meet, observe and come together with Palestinian leaders and people and to become acquainted with their suffering so they can offer their solidarity.
Peter Burn then read a letter to the conference on behalf of former US President Jimmy Carter. He saluted the conference’s participants, who he said carried a clear message, which is to stand up to all forms of violence, injustice and oppression and to stand with oppressed peoples. He added that what is happening in the Middle East is an abnormal phenomenon that must be removed and which will not be removed until the bridges of dialogue, understanding and love are built between all parties involved to reach a just peace that will achieve security, stability and life for all peoples of the holy land.
After this, a speech on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmund Tutu was delivered in which he criticized the actions of Israeli occupation forces, drawing a comparison between the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories to that in South Africa under apartheid. He continued that such a situation cannot be confronted except with nonviolent resistance, which is the path to peace since it is the guaranteed method for moving away from the language of revenge and counter-revenge.
Tutu also mentioned the city the Beit Sahour, which he previously visited and which was the pinnacle of nonviolent resistance through civil disobedience. Tutu also criticized the separation wall that has turned Bethlehem into a closed space and has usurped it of its rights to a natural life. This is the place from which over 2000 years ago the light of Jesus shown on all humanity. He then called on the Palestinian people to continue to seek a just peace, which will bring them independence and freedom.
Victor Batarseh, Bethlehem mayor then expressed his happiness that Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, is holding this unique conference. “Jesus dedicated his life to resisting oppression and tyranny without resorting to violence, which is still successful to this day,” he said.
He continued that Bethlehem is being subjected to an unjust siege, attacks, tyranny and continued oppression. Still, it insists on confronting these things with more dialogue and by welcoming guests from all over the world.
Hence, Bethlehem and the other Palestinian territories is resisting with patience and determination to all these measures.
The last speaker of the day was Bethlehem governor Salah Tamari, who delivered a speech on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas. He said the Israeli occupation uses violent methods against the unarmed Palestinian people disregarding all international protests against it. “Occupation forces have repeatedly opened fire at Palestinian civilians, have prevented pregnant women and the ill from reaching hospitals and have clashed with and killed hundreds of schoolchildren in their peaceful demonstrations,” Tamari said, naming Muayed Hawarish, an 11-year-old boy from Bethlehem who was killed on his way home from school.
“All of this points to the violence of the occupation, which is the prevailing factor in our country and which must stop,” he said. Tamari continued that this conference is one way of standing up to the violence of the occupation, ending his speech by saying that Bethlehem and Palestine is strengthened by its friends across the globe, namely those in the conference and those who demonstrate against the separation wall.
As part of the opening ceremony, which was chaired by Suzan Sahouri, a debka (national dance) performance was presented by the Nazareth-based Muwwal dance troupe.
The conference was also attended by state minister for Jerusalem affairs Hind Khouri, tourism minister Ziyad Bankak, Chief Justice Tayseer Tamimi, DFLP politburo member Qays Abdel Karim. A large audience from various organizations including municipality employees affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad also attended. Many observers say this is an indication of the people’s longing for a just peace.