Archive for March, 2015

West Bank Activist to Visit Middletown

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

Iyad Burnat's Twitter photo

Iyad Burnat’s Twitter photo

Residents of the Mid-Hudson Valley will have a rare opportunity this week to meet and speak with Iyad Burnat of the West Bank village of Bil’in, whose story is documented in the award-winning film, “Five Broken Cameras.”  The documentary was shot almost entirely by Burnat’s brother Emad, a Palestinian farmer, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son. At the same time the Israeli government began bulldozing the village’s olive groves to build a barrier to separate Bil’in from the Jewish Settlement Modi’in Illit.

Structured around the destruction of Burnat’s cameras, the film (co-directed by Emad and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi) follows the Burnat family’s evolution over five years of turmoil and provides a first-hand account of the events leading to the ongoing non-violent weekly protests led by the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall, led by Iyad. The film has won numerous awards, including a 2012 Sundance Film Festival award, and was nominated for an Academy Award that year.

Iyad Burnat will be speaking at a public meeting starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 26, at the Mulberry House Senior Center, 62-70 West Main St., Middletown. The program is organized by the recently formed Middle East Realities Forum (MERF). It will also include Sam Sussman, a graduate student at Oxford University, freelance journalist, and co-director of Extend Tours, an initiative to introduce young American Jews who visit Israel on Birthright trips to meet and engage with Palestinians living in the West Bank.

This will be the second in a series of programs arranged by MERF, “designed to promote open and honest dialogue about the issues confronting this tumultuous region of our world,” according to a flyer publicizing the event. “As always, ALL OPINIONS ARE WELCOME.” For more information call 914-213- 9783.

Emotions tend to run high whenever a discussion of Israel/Palestine takes place. Nevertheless, I plan on being there Thursday night and listening respectfully to all opinions whether I agree with them or not (although I will not listen respectfully to hate speech of any kind).  I hope others will do the same.

And speaking of hate speech, why does so much of it seem to emanate from Pine Bush? By now the latest episode of xenophobic idiocy on the part of at least some residents there is so well-documented that I have nothing to add other than one more expression of sympathy for the unfortunate Jordanian-American high school girl who was vilified after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic as part of an International Language Week celebration.

A couple of years ago, in the midst of the furor over the school district’s failure to address repeated ugly incidences of anti-Semitism, many local teens posted hateful notices on Facebook and there was even proud mention of a certain Pine Bush “heritage.” Pine Bush had an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan well into the 1970s and was home to Earl Schoonmaker, a Grand Dragon no less. I believe most people in Pine Bush aren’t haters but when I think about the place nowadays it reminds me of how I used to feel about Mississippi.

Michael can be reached at