April 10, 2008
Ms. Ann Veneman
Dear Ms. Veneman,
After conducting more than three years of nonviolent protests against the construction of Israel’s wall and the Israeli settlement of Mattityahu East on our village’s land, after enduring countless beatings from Israeli soldiers, teargas, bullets, invasions and arrests, we cannot accept UNICEF’s failure to reject support from Lev Leviev. Leviev is the owner of one of the companies that has built Mattityahu East. While we were dismayed to learn that Lev Leviev sponsored fundraising activities for UNICEF in France in 2007-2008, we were more dismayed to learn that UNICEF did not immediately renounce Leviev after this information was brought to UNICEF’s attention.
Israeli settlements like Mattityahu East violate international law and countless UN resolutions, all of which serve as the foundation for UNICEF’s mandate. Furthermore, during the course of more than 200 demonstrations to prevent the seizure of 50% of our land for the illegal construction of Mattityahu East, the Israeli military has injured around 1,000 civilian protesters and arrested 50. Around 300 of those injured and 13 of those jailed were children from Bil’in.
We are connected to this land. Our mothers took us to harvest olives before we could speak. We remember playing under the olive trees which have since been uprooted by the Israeli settlers who have moved here. There is now a huge and growing Israeli settlement bloc called Modi’in Illit, which includes the settlement of Mattityahu East, where we played as children. It is hard for us to accept the idea that our children cannot play on the land where we played in our childhood.
In Bil'in we have chosen to engage in a long nonviolent campaign of creative protests with the support of Israeli and international activists to prevent the seizure of our land. We know the Israeli army can choose to deal with us in two ways. Should the army choose violence, everyone sees what we are up against. And should the army refrain from violence, we achieve our aim of stopping their bulldozers. But even if the soldiers put down their weapons, which so far they haven’t done, that would not make us equals. We would always be stronger, because we have the power of justice on our side.
Among those who have suffered from the Israeli military’s use of violence during our protests are children from Bil’in like Abdullah Ahmad Issa Yassin. Abdullah Yassin was fourteen when he was arrested in October 2005 and imprisoned for two months. He was taken away by Israeli forces that stormed his house in the middle of the night, traumatizing Abdullah and his siblings. He was charged with taking part in popular demonstrations against the wall. Abdullah had been saving his money to buy toys and new clothes for the upcoming Eid holiday. Instead he spent the Eid in jail. Abdullah is now 17 years old, and he has been injured ten times by rubber-coated steel bullets fired by Israeli soldiers during various protests.
Bilal Rabah Ahmad Abu-Rahmah was 14 years-old when he was arrested and imprisoned for four months. Bilal was a simple child who liked to play with younger children. He was playing ball in the street in 2006, when an Israeli patrol passed by, scaring away Bilal's friends. Bilal alone stayed put frozen with fear and was arrested. Bilal was psychologically traumatized by his arrest and imprisonment, and he now requires special help from his parents.
As a result of Bil’in’s persistent 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 village’s land that was being seized for settlements. Six months after this partial legal victory, the Israeli army has failed to move the wall. Therefore, we have continued 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.
In Bil'in, we have chosen a strategy that shows unequivocally who is the victim and who is the victimizer. It is unconscionable that UNICEF, an organization created to support human rights and international law, would fail to clearly denounce companies like Leviev’s that, supported by violence, are trampling on UN resolutions, international law and children’s rights.
For the people of Bil’in, it is irrelevant whether Leviev donated to UNICEF directly or indirectly. We eagerly await UNICEF’s decision to renounce all connections with Leviev, a man whose company has stolen our land, and is destroying our children’s future.
The Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements – Bil’in Village
cc: Bernt Aasen UNICEF Chief of Staff
UNICEF Jerusalem Office
UNICEF Middle East Regional Office
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights