November 21, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Iyad Burnat, a nonviolent peace activist from Palestine, brought his message of the nonviolent resistance to Israel’s settlements and the longing of the Palestinian people for justice and peace to the Weber Center Auditorium on November 13. In his heart-felt, sometimes difficult, presentation, he spoke of the injustices inflicted on the people of Palestine and their longing to live in justice and peace in their homeland with the Israelis.
Mr. Burnat spoke before an auditorium filled with Siena Heights University students, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates, and members of the greater Adrian community. The event was sponsored by Siena Heights University and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
Before addressing the desires of many people in Palestine for a life of shared justice and peace, Mr. Burnat set the context for the situation in Palestine and laid out the injustices faced by his people. In 1948, he said, 7 million Palestinians became refugees with the arrival of people who wanted to establish Israel on their former land. In spite of the efforts of the United Nations to create a two-state situation, in which the people of Palestine and the people of Israel would share the land, Israelites built – and continue to build – settlements within the Palestinian borders.
Mr. Burnat said Israeli settlements had been built on his small village of Bil’in and other villages around the West Bank. Through the years, he said, more and more land set aside for the Palestinians was confiscated and used to create settlements for the people of Israel. He recounted much of the injustice that the Palestinians continue to face: water diverted to Israeli settlements from Palestinian people; checkpoints established between different parts of Palestinian land, making it difficult for the people to go from one area of their land to another; and violence against those who protested the occupation. These injustices made life difficult for Palestinians, Mr. Burnat explained.
In 2004, Mr. Burnat and others in Bil’in decided to hold nonviolent demonstrations against the occupation every Friday. “People from all over the world join us,” he said. “We use nonviolence in our strategies. We fight with our bodies” rather than with weapons. For example, he said, they have stood in front of bulldozers that were going to destroy part of their land to create the settlements. Sometimes, as many as 3,000 to 4,000 people participate in the demonstrations, he said.
“In spite of the nonviolence of our struggle, we have faced much violence from the Israeli Army from the beginning,” Mr. Burnat said. The army has used teargas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, among other weapons. He recalled that 2,000 Palestinians – of which 800 were children – had been killed in 2014.
At a more personal level, Mr. Burnat spoke of the different times in which three of his sons had been shot. One of his sons lost his foot because he was not permitted to go to the hospital to have needed surgery. During his own most recent arrest two years ago, Mr. Burnat was attacked by six soldiers and endured two broken ribs, teargas sprayed into his eyes, and 10 hours of pain before he was let go to call an ambulance.
Mr. Burnat continues to focus his efforts on nonviolent demonstrations and on getting the word out about the situation to the rest of the world. “We invite everybody to come and visit us and see the life of the Palestinians, because we believe the internationals have become our messengers,” he said. People from other countries usually attend the weekly demonstrations.
He said that, because of the media, many people in the United States don’t understand the situation fully. “The media want to show the Palestinians as violent,” he said. “Go to the ground. Visit Palestinians. Meet Palestinian people. Taste our food.” He added that people in the United States need to understand that many of the weapons used by the Israeli Army against Palestinians comes from the United States and that – in spite of what the media might say – Palestinians do not want to eradicate the Jewish people.
Asked if the United Nations’ proposal for two states in Palestine was the solution to the violence and injustice, Mr. Burnat said no. “We believe and are working to have one state for everyone to live together in peace, justice, equality, and freedom,” he said. “This is the way we would like it to be. We are not against the Jews or the Christians.”
May 5, 2017, Washington, D.C. – A number of Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and friends braved the heat and crowds of Washington, D.C., to express their commitment and concern for Earth and her inhabitants. The group – along with students from Siena Heights University in Adrian – were participating in the People’s Climate March on April 29.
The crowd was estimated in the tens of thousands, and some say up to 200,000 people took part in the march, which was organized into eight blocs of activists. The march coincided with the 100th Day in office of President Donald Trump – and of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, great Dominican mystic and reformer.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Patty Gillis, an Adrian Dominican Associate, were among the staff members and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ), an interfaith network of people who care for Earth. Their group marched as part of the Defenders of Faith bloc.
“I wore my Dominican scarf in honor of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena,” Patty said. “I felt her energy in all the caring people taking their concerns to the seat of power, much like Catherine did in the Middle Ages.”
Patty said she was uplifted to be among the indigenous peoples who took part in the march, and among people of so many faith traditions. “They reminded us all that Care for Creation is a moral and spiritual issue.” She was also pleased to see the influence of Pope Francis on many participants through his picture and quotes from his encyclical, Laudate Si, on banners carried through the streets of Washington, D.C.
“The People’s Climate March was very impressive, with many, many activists,” Sister Janet said. “We stood in respect as the indigenous communities and Protectors of Justice prepared to lead the March. They were followed by the immigrants, water keepers, and Creators of Sanctuary.” In all, Sister Janet said, her participation in the Climate March was “a meditative, powerful, and hopeful experience.”
Members of the group from Adrian – marching with the Defenders of Truth group – also found the Climate March to be a hopeful experience, in spite of the urgency of the climate change issue and challenges such as the 90-degree heat, crowds, and the difficulty of traveling to the march site.
“It’s so hopeful, because you are out there with all these people and you think, ‘Wow, these are all people who care about the same things I do, and there are so many of us,’ ” explained Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP. She is the Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. “How can [the March] not make an impact?”
Sister Kathy – along with Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer – were impressed by the kindness of the people they encountered, whether at their hotel or among other participants, in spite of the discomfort and inconveniences.
“Everyone is so peaceful and kind,” Holly said. She noted that the atmosphere of peace among the participants made parents feel secure enough to bring their young children to the march. “It’s kind of cool to see people being introduced to this [activism] at so young an age, and parents feeling it’s safe enough to bring their kids, too.”
They were also impressed by the commitment of so many people, not only at the People’s Climate March, but the weekend before, at the science march and at a May Day demonstration in Chicago. “Week after week, the crowds continue to come out,” Sister Kathy said. “The energy hasn’t lagged.”
Sister Maurine saw the interconnectedness of issues represented by many of the marchers, from Black Life Matters activists to indigenous peoples who carried signs such as “Don’t Break Treaties.” But the various agendas “all fit under the same category – respect for our world and respect for the inhabitants of our world,” Sister Maurine said.
In general, the participants from Adrian came away from the People’s Climate March with a renewed commitment to caring for Earth – and a greater sense of a culture of respect. Sister Maurine said the message she would like to bring to others after her experience of the march is that “people desire to respect the Earth and everything in the Earth and on the Earth.”
Feature photo (above): Staff and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ) took part in the Climate March: back row, from left, Karen Clarke; Patty Gillis, Associate and Director of VEJ; Sister Janet Stankowski, OP; Marian Gillis; and Laura Gillis. Seated in front is Nate Butler, Laura’s husband.
Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP, third from left, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, front row, right, with a group of Co-workers, friends, and Siena Heights University students, take part in the People’s Climate March on April 29.