Non-violent activist Iyad Burnat joins list of prominent Palestinians denied UK visas

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The list is growing: the list of Palestinian voices that the UK Conservative government are attempting to silence.

As more and more people globally are being made aware of the facts of the Palestinian/Israeli ‘conflict,’ the near seven decades of Israeli occupation, and the growing success of the Palestinian led Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement (BDS), so are Israel’s supporters pushing for the truth to be muzzled, using the considerable influence they have cultivated for decades on political parties and politicians throughout the US and Europe, including the UK.

A recent glaring incident of visa denial is Hamde Abu Rahma, renowned award-winning photojournalist who was denied entry to the UK for 2 years. Despite traveling elsewhere without incident, the UK government continued to deny him entry for his Roots Run Deep book/speaking tour. In June of this year Abu Rahma had a tour organized and at the last minute he was denied, again. This time an intensive online campaign on Facebook and Twitter was launched, with support from Scottish National Party politician Tommy Shepard and Sinn Fein Member of the European Parliament Martina Anderson, as well as online petitions that garnered thousands of signatures. His visa was finally given after he provided extra documentation. Abu Rahma’s home was raided by Israeli forces in the middle of the night during his tour. 

Speaking of raids, another Palestinian who has recently been denied visas was Nabil al-Raee, artistic director of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin whose home Israeli forces raided (also in the middle of the night) arresting him. No reason was given for the 3 a.m. raid and arrest; “the only answer you get is a gun in your face”.

A statement from the UK Friends of the Freedom Theatre says that al-Raee was told by a UK official, “I am not satisfied you are genuinely seeking entry as an entertainer or business visitor and will leave the UK at the end of your trip and do not intend to live for extended periods in the United Kingdom.”

At about the same time as Abu Rahma’s visa was stalled, two athletes from Gaza, Nader al-Masri and Sami Nateel were denied visas to enter the UK and participate in the Derry marathon in Northern Ireland. al-Masir is an Olympian representing Palestine,

And the latest victim of British complicity in Israel’s war on truth is Iyad Burnat, a non-violent human rights activist from occupied Bil’in, who has been denied a visa by UK authorities.

Burnat is well known in the Palestinian solidarity community. In 2015 he received the 2015 James Lawson Award from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). The award is named after and presented by the Rev. Dr. James Lawson, a leader in U.S. Civil Rights movement who participated in the Nashville Lunch Counter sit-ins of 1960 and whom the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called, “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

Steadfastly leading nonviolent resistance since 2004, Iyad Burnat is head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Israeli Wall and Settlements, which campaigns against Israel’s plan to replace the lands of Bil’in with Israeli settlements. Awarding the prize, Rev. Lawson said of Iyad;

“As dominant narratives of Israel and Palestine have focused on the threat of violence on both sides, Burnat has exercised outstanding leadership in nonviolent resistance, achieved victories for his community, and remained steadfast in his commitment to non-violent means”.

Burnat is one of the founders of the Bil’in Popular Committee, a citizen’s group formed by the people of the village, to deal with the regular raids that began in 2004 by the Israeli cccupation forces. The group sought to slow the theft of Bil’in’s olive trees and the confiscation of farmland by the state of Israel, and the village’s fight for survival was documented in the Oscar-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras ,” filmed by Iyad’s brother, Emad Burnat.

Cover Art: Bil'in and The Non-violent Resistance by  Iyad Burnat

Cover Art: Bil’in and The Non-violent Resistance by  Iyad Burnat

 Iyad was due in the UK for a book/speaking tour, to launch his book Bil’in and The Non-violent Resistance and travel through Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. He was also due to visit the Republic of Ireland, having received his visa from the Irish government without any problem. 

He was denied his visa because, allegedly, he falsely represented himself by not disclosing he was previously denied a visa in 2010, although on his current application he did state that he’d been denied entry before, in 2012. But his failure to disclose the earlier denial was the stated reason of the current rejection.

Burnat isn’t buying it. On Facebook, he said that the timing of the refusal followed an article on August 31, published in the Jewish News Online, that accused him of being anti-Semitic for likening Zionism to Nazism and ISIS and likening Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Hitler. Burnat attributed the smear and the visa denial to pressure from Zionists: 

I believe it is not paranoid to suggest that this is as a result of pressure applied by the Zionist Lobby. We are witnessing in the UK targeted and systematic attacks against Palestinian activists and supporters of the legitimate and moral BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) Movement, as well as an increase in the denial of UK visas to Palestinians wishing to visit Britain to share the stories of living under the Israeli State’s brutal and illegal 68 year occupation.

Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. Source: U.S. National Archive

Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. Source: U.S. National Archive

The accusation of anti-Semitism smear arose when Burnat’s book tour was announced. Given that the UK’s robust pro-Israeli/Zionist “hasbara” agents are not immune to using the Nazi Holocaust to their own ends whenever it suits them, this is a bit rich. As Robert Cohen says in a post on the misuse of the Holocaust to smear BDS: 

What’s wrong is how this picture, and others taken at the same time in the early 1930’s, are now being used to suppress free speech and non-violent protest and brand a movement for civil and political rights as racist and illegitimate……

Photographs like this have appeared in a recent booklet [“A better way than boycotts”] published by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and in a report on antisemitism by the new British branch of Christians United for Israel.

So what’s going on here?

What we are seeing is a deliberate attempt to make a direct link between those that follow the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and those that perpetrated the Holocaust.

Indeed, conflating BDS with the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses has become a main staple of anti-BDS activism on both sides of the AtlanticEnter Netanyahu’s now infamous ‘Grand Mufti caused the Holocaust‘ allegation! Apparently, Nazi comparisons are all the rage as long as they’re made by Jews, British or otherwise, in the service of Israel. And astoundingly, a new British group established to combat and defeat the Palestinian led BDS movement, called Jewish Human Right Watch (JHRW), offers a “History of Jewish Boycotts 1933-2015” on their website that claims “BDS emulates the Nazi program“! Does the UK Conservative government have a problem with that too? Or do Zionists have free rein to slander anyone in the service of Israel?

Also denied UK visas were a group of Palestinian medical experts, three doctors and a nurse sponsored by the World Health Organization, as well as a psychologist from Bethlehem University, Dr. Nahida Al-Arja, all invited to give presentations at an international conference in Kingston University, London, to bring together groups of mental health workers “to evaluate mental health practices in war zones.” 

Palestinian doctors and nurses, a theatre director, a photographer, writers from Gaza refused entry to speak at a festival celebrating contemporary Arab art, athletes,  musicians— who will be next? 

One wonders if the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), who seek to “strengthen ties between the British Conservative Party and the Israeli Likud party” are, at least in part, behind these rejections. And the question has even been raised, whether the Conservative party has “an anti-Palestinian problem“. 

Activists in the UK have now set up a UK government online petition and an international petition to, again, put pressure on the UK authorities to grant Burnat, another Palestinian who speaks out against oppression, a visa.

You can order Bil’in and The Non-violent Resistance by Iyad Burnat here

Annie Robbins contributed to this report.

About Amanda Crawford

Amanda Crawford is an Irish theatrical actor/director, mother, grandmother and human rights/Palestinian rights activist. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_damanda

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