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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Iltezam Morrar

At the age of 15, Iltezam launched a women's contingent part of the unarmed movement in Budrus. She was the first villager to succeed in getting past the Israeli border police and stopping a bulldozer. Her fearlessness galvanized the entire village and affirms the importance of women in the movement. The demonstrations in Budrus marked the first time that Iltezam, like most of the village's youth, met Israelis who were not soldiers or settlers. Watch interviews of Iltezam in Just Vision's film, Budrus.

  • Please introduce yourself.

    My name is Iltezam Morrar, I was born in the village of Budrus in the Ramallah district in 1988. I am currently studying at the School of Medicine in Sarajevo. My life dream has always been to be a doctor. When I was 6 years old I went to visit my father in prison. He lifted me up and asked me, what do you want to be when you grow up? I said: "I want to be a doctor."And he said, "I will help you become a doctor even if I have to sell my shirt." From then on I never swerved from my goal. My objective was to help and I can help by becoming a doctor - for me medicine is a humanitarian service. As a Palestinian, I think medicine is the best career by which I can help my people. There are many doctors in cities, while rural areas are always short of doctors and medical facilities. I plan to have a clinic in Budrus as soon as I finish. I was born to an average family in Budrus. My father was an activist during the First Intifada. Right after I was born, he was added to the "wanted list" of the Israeli forces. He was chased for three years before being detained for six years, and so I spent most of my early childhood without my father. My mother had to raise us and support the family. After six years in jail, my father was released and got a job at the Palestinian Interior Ministry. I am the oldest child in my family. I have three sisters and two brothers.

  • Tell us a little bit about Budrus.

    Thanks to its natural topography, Budrus is one of the most beautiful areas in Palestine. It has vast areas of wooded lands. It has a population of 1500 who live like one family, cooperate and help each other. In Budrus, one can feel how people support and help each other. There is a mixed high school for both boys and girls. There is a local council as well as several associations and foundations.

  • How did you get involved in the struggle against the Separation Barrier in Budrus?

    In 2003, I didn't really have much information; I didn't know what the Wall was and how it was going to affect our lives. There wasn't much media coverage of this area and we never heard of marches against the Wall. The Wall and the resistance against it were marginalized in the media. We were told that it would separate between Palestine and Israel but when the Wall actually came to Budrus, things changed; the concept of the Wall changed. It's not separating between Israeli and Palestinian land and it's definitely not for security. We discovered that it would steal land by confiscating a large area of Budrus' lands. There is a misconception among people around the world about the racist Wall. I heard and read a lot in the press and on TV, they even called it different names, a lot of them call it what Israelis call it - a security fence. To call it a Security Fence is very inaccurate because nothing about the Wall has to do with security. They called it a Security Fence thinking that the Wall will stop the bombings or the suicide operations and what they call Palestinian attacks. First of all, if you claim that you seek security - and everybody has a right to seek to secure their homes - if you build a wall, build it on your lands. It doesn't make sense to claim you want to protect yourself and build your wall on your neighbor's land. That way you are using someone else's property that does not belong to you. Second, the Wall steals the land we have taken care of for years, land filled with olive trees and the source of income for many families in the village. When you come and steal land, do you still expect security? Did you really think there would be no reaction? Did you think people would just give in? It is impossible for people to be quiet when facing injustice. The Wall has also claimed many lives and the result is that it generates rage. It's very hard for people to sit idly by while they see their land being stolen and people killed. The Israelis discovered that bulldozers would only start to work when there were about 200 soldiers protecting it. If there were 200 soldiers in every location a bulldozer was working, that would exhaust the Israelis because the people are protecting the land. The Israelis need to protect the Wall, which defeats the purpose that the Wall is being built - it's supposed to be protecting them!

  • Please tell us about your role in the popular struggle against the Separation Barrier in Budrus.

    The construction of the Wall in the village started in 2003 and that's when the people of Budrus started fighting it. I was in 10th grade, I was 15. My father was responsible for the Popular Committee Against the Wall and all its meetings were held at our house. I realized that as a young woman, it was my duty and my right to resist the Wall too. The idea was for there to be a lot of marches against the Wall, but I noticed that it was only men and that there wasn't a single woman in the marches. I met one time with my friends and said, "What do you say about going on a march?" Some of them said yes, but some of them said, "Why would I join the march, there are no women in it." So 7 or 10 of us got together and decided to join the march. We were the only women. Afterward I saw my father, who is the head of the Popular Committee Against the Wall, and I said, "How come there are only men in the march? I think also women ought to be in the marches." He said, "Men don't have a monopoly, women can also participate." I think an idea emerged that we should have a march only for women. So there was a march of women and there was amazing participation and incredible enthusiasm. When the women went to the construction site where the Wall was being built, they were fired up; there was a sense of defiance, that we were going to do something. From then on, no march had only men. Marches were attended by both men and women.

  • What were the reactions to women participating in the struggle?

    My father was encouraging, he believes there needs to be popular resistance and that includes everybody: men, women and children, people from all groups, of all ages, from all factions and political parties. Once you have everybody involved, that is truly popular resistance. There is a contrast between how it was when only men participated and how it was when women and people from different age groups started participating. The goals that we achieved are very big goals, great goals, and our achievements are proof that we did the right thing.

  • How did you feel during these first marches?

    I'm very proud of my family; we have a history of resistance - my father and my uncles and my grandmother, they told us about how they participated in the First and Second Intifadas. When I was growing up I heard stories about what my father did, what my uncles did, how many of them were imprisoned, what my grandmother did. I've always felt that I want to participate - Palestine is my homeland - but I didn't know how to. When the Wall came, I decided this is my opportunity, and my role. I was very excited; here was my opportunity to serve my people. During every march I was afraid but I would say to myself, in the next one I will not be afraid. But when I saw the army, I was afraid. But the feeling of fear did not make me forget that we have a duty to fulfill. When you first see the bulldozers and the soldiers, you spontaneously go to work. I would grab the flag or the megaphone before every march and just go down. The fear is always present because everything is possible. The soldiers have no compassion, no mercy, they might hit you, they might shoot you, or they might imprison you. But there is a duty that one has to perform. At one of the demonstrations there was a whole wall of about 200 soldiers surrounding the bulldozers that none of us was able to penetrate. I found a very narrow opening I thought I could get in. Suddenly I found myself behind the line of soldiers, facing the bulldozer. I was extremely frightened, and I didn't know what to do. I got an idea: jump in front of the bulldozer. The bulldozer was digging a hole as a result of uprooting trees but it wasn't very deep. I jumped in. When I saw the bulldozer, I realized that I was alone and I was terrified. I thought, "What can you do against a bulldozer?" Any movement from the bulldozer and I could get hurt. I was terrified the driver would react rashly. Of course, the history of bulldozers was not comforting - Rachel Corrie was killed by one in Gaza. The man in the bulldozer - I looked in his eyes and I think he didn't know what to do. He looked at the soldiers and he decided to stop because he couldn't do anything. Seven soldiers started chasing me and that left a hole in the line they had formed and allowed people from the village to follow. At first I was afraid and panicked and then Ted, an American, jumped into the hole. So I felt better because we're two, not one; and because he's American they [the soldiers] might take that into consideration. Then a friend of mine from school joined us, and a few moments later everybody was there. I didn't know what I had done. My uncle later told me, "you did a fantastic thing, you stopped the bulldozer."

  • How did you feel about Israeli and international solidarity activists joining your struggle?

    My whole life the image of the Israeli, for me, was the soldier. When I was a kid I used to go visit my father in prison and the only Israelis that I met were soldiers. It was the soldiers that came into our village and injured the men and hurt our village and stole lands. The image of an Israeli was that of the occupying soldier. But in these demonstrations, I discovered that there was another side to the Israelis, that not all Israelis are soldiers and they are not all occupiers. So that changed my point of view. They showed me that some Israelis could be our friends and that not all Israelis are soldiers. My perspective changed after American, Israeli, and Jewish activists joined the rallies. I previously thought they hated the Palestinians and wanted to displace or exile us. Some of them became valued good friends of mine and I appreciate how they were willing to endanger their lives while they joined our marches. Bullets fired by Israeli soldiers don't differentiate between Palestinians and non-Palestinians. I wish most Israelis believed in the same things as the Israelis who came to the village to demonstrate their solidarity. The experience of Budrus was a very important and effective one because it included everyone. In terms of people from the village, it included people from different ages, children, young men and the elderly. It included men and women. It included all political parties. No party missed out. The other thing is that there was a presence of international and Israeli activists and of course this made the demonstrations in Budrus unique. We were like one body in the demonstrations, working together.

  • Do you think the Palestinians and the Israelis will live in peace?

    To me, this question means, will Palestine be liberated? Yes, definitely. I believe that freedom is inevitable. No matter how long it might take or what sacrifices are necessary, eventually it is inevitable that we gain our freedom. As soon as the Occupation ends and the Palestinians gain their freedom and rights, peace will naturally prevail. If I were hopeless, I would have long ago stopped talking about rights, occupation, and defending one's homeland. I always hope tomorrow will be better, and that is what keeps me motivated.

  • What are the roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

    The problem resulted from a wrong decision 60 years ago when Britain decided to grant Palestine, allegedly "a land without a people", to a "people without a land" [the Jews]. That was the beginning of the error. History proves the Palestinian people have always lived in Palestine and nobody can refute this claim. I think that if we look at the heart of the problem, we will find the solution. Our problems with Israelis aren't about religion. The only problem between us is occupation. Israel occupied our lands. If this problem is resolved, we will start to deal with each other as people. But as long as there is occupation, the image of the Israeli will continue to be that of an occupier. As soon as occupation ends, everything will change. For peace to happen, occupation needs to end.

  • How do you see the future?

    The future as I wish to see it is the Occupation ending, and Palestine free. As soon as that wish is realized, I will be able to live freely as any other woman in the world. I will be able to go to work and come back home free of any fears or worries that my children might be hurt in their schools. I will not be worried the Israelis might impose curfew, or one of my children dies as a martyr, or be detained. I simply wish to feel safe.

  • Has participating in the popular resistance movement and recruiting other women from Budrus changed you?

    My own experience as I took part in the activities against the Wall greatly influenced my personality. It strengthened my will to accept challenges and I became more adamant and convinced that I can achieve what I want. Our experience in Budrus and how we managed to push back the Wall convinced me that every goal is attainable. I can realize my childhood dream of becoming a doctor and I am trying now to complete my studies.

  • What was the biggest challenge for you in the popular struggle?

    The same challenge all other men and women faced - how to protect the land and at the same time avoid casualties. In other words, we had to defend our land and at the same time avoid detention and even death. I am sure everybody faced great challenges and had their concerns, yet they were all determined.

  • Can conservative Muslim women from villages who wear Hijab play a role just as their counterparts from cities?

    Take me as an example. I am a Palestinian woman who wears Hijab. I never think that wearing Hijab or being a villager prevented me from playing any role or doing anything I wanted to do. Hijab was never an obstacle, I feel very comfortable with it. So far, I obtained everything I hoped for without any impediments. I believe women from the villages are strongly attached to the land because they are the ones who sow and collect the crops. Their contact with the land is stronger, and so they feel the loss when their land is confiscated.

  • What is your message to Palestinian women regarding non-violent struggles in Palestine that draw on Budrus' experience?

    I know that Palestinian women are always prepared and know what role they should play in any kind of resistance. My message to them is that they have to believe they can create change and, that will help them achieve their goals. From our experience in Budrus, I believe in nonviolence and peaceful resistance even more because it helped us achieve something. We actually achieved something important. Large amounts of land were supposed to be confiscated from the people of Budrus but because of these demonstrations they were only able to take a small portion of the lands that they planned to take, and they moved the Wall to the Green Line. This is a big achievement. Any theory needs to be tested and if it succeeds that means it is effective. Through these achievements our belief grows stronger that nonviolence is really effective, like we did in Budrus. It is a given that all occupied nations have the right to defend themselves by all means but our Palestinian nation is innovative in its approaches. Nonviolence and peaceful resistance aren't new to us; look at what the first intifada achieved. It was a very popular struggle in its approach. If one approach succeeds, that approach will continue to be used.

  • How did you feel when you watched the film, Budrus, screened for the first time at the Dubai International Film Festival?

    It was overwhelming happiness. Budrus' experience deserves to be shared worldwide, it's very important people see the truth. Everybody should see it. Screening the film that way reflected that people are concerned about resistance. The film conveyed what was actually going on in Palestine and revealed the truth about the Wall and resistance. The fact that Budrus and its activities against the Wall arrived in Dubai was a great achievement. It wasn't difficult to have a Palestinian newspaper cover one of our rallies, but Budrus managed to reach Dubai through its activities against the Wall, and that's amazing.

  • Is there anything you want to add?

    I would like to send a message worldwide: Budrus proved one important thing: people can achieve whatever they want if they insist on it. Nothing in the world can prevent them from realizing their objective. People can take Budrus as an example - if a small village achieved such an accomplishment, everybody can.