Peace with Realism

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The International Solidarity Movement:

Champions of Peace?

By Carlos

[Note: Much has been written about the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and much of it has been dismissed as merely rumors. The following report shows the true nature of the ISM in its own words and in well-documented incidents. I want to express gratitude to the Jewish Action Task Force for having provided many of the references used in this report. Their site contains cached versions of some of these references, and should be consulted if any of the links become broken.]

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), founded in the spring of 2001, prides itself on being a nonviolent movement for peace. At least this is the image its members present to the world, and they have been extremely successful. News media routinely portray them as "peace activists," and even one member of the Canadian parliament has nominated the ISM for the Nobel Peace Prize. (1)

The liberal Protestant Church has also embraced the ISM, often inviting its members to speak and offering financial support. One group of missionaries working in the West Bank encourages enlistment in the ISM:

How does your faith prompt you to act? How is God calling you to respond through action? Perhaps you have the courage and faith to go into areas of violence and oppression and send a message of peace and justice as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team or with the International Solidarity Movement. (2)

The ISM is often called "peacemaker." But do they deserve this designation? The best way to understand what the ISM is all about is to read its own words. And the best place to start is the ISM's own web site.

A Pro-Palestinian Movement

First, the ISM makes a pretense of being neutral, claiming it is not even "pro-Palestinian": (3)

Over the course of the past year and a half, the Israeli military and government has used various tactics in efforts to delegitimize our message. Some of you in the media have repeated or suggested the accusations yourselves: that we are "young and naive," that we are "trouble-makers," that we are "pro-Palestinian." As Ive noted above, the ISM is diverse in age and make up. Were Palestinian-led, but not pro-Palestinian. Were not pro or against any group. (4)

This pretense is immediately transparent. It will be seen from the quotations to follow that the ISM is indeed pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. The disingenuousness of the ISM's claim to neutrality is just a small part of its overall strategy to present a peace-loving image to the media while actually working to enable those who do commit violent acts.

It is true that members of the ISM do not themselves engage in violence. But in word and in deed they support those who do. In fact, they make no secret of their sympathy for the use of violence, even though it is a tactic they personally do not choose. They state that violence is legitimate for those who choose to use it:

The International Solidarity Movement is a Palestinian-led movement of Palestinian and International activists working to raise awareness of the struggle for Palestinian freedom and an end to Israeli occupation. We utilize nonviolent, direct-action methods of resistance to confront and challenge illegal Israeli occupation forces and policies.

As enshrined in international law and UN resolutions, we recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle. However, we believe that nonviolence can be a powerful weapon in fighting oppression and we are committed to the principles of nonviolent resistance. (5)

This is about as "pro-Palestinian" a statement as one could hope for. It also specifies nonviolence as just one option in the struggle against Israel, with violence being another, equally valid option. (6)

Advocates for Violence

If violence is indeed considered legitimate, then why don't ISM members choose it for themselves? The answer is based not on morality but on strategy. In a revealing essay that appeared in the Palestine Chronicle for January 29, 2002, Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, two of the ISM's founders and senior leaders, write:

Let us reiterate, we accept that Palestinians have a right to resist with arms, as they are an occupied people upon whom force and violence is being used. The Geneva Conventions accept that armed resistance is legitimate for an occupied people, and there is no doubt that this right cannot be denied. But that does not mean that this right must be utilized. Regardless of what is a right and what is not, the elements that will make any change in the situation are strategy and tactics. To date, the use of violence as part of the resistance has not evinced a strategy. Not in operations against the military or settlers; not in operations inside the Green Line. The choice of using nonviolence would not be effective either if it was not organized strategically. (5)

In other words, the Palestinians have an undeniable right to use violence, and since Arraf and Shapiro make no qualifications on that use, it can only be assumed that the Palestinians have a right to use violence just as they are doing right now, in the form of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. But the use of this right is not always wise, and so it need not necessarily be exercised. To be effective, the use of violence must follow an organized strategy. The same is true of the use of nonviolence. They are both options to which the Palestinians have a legitimate right, but they are only feasible if they follow an organized strategy.

Lest there be any doubt that this is what the authors mean, and that they do in fact advocate the use of violence if strategically planned, they write further in the same article:

The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement in India militants attacked British outposts and interests while Gandhi conducted his campaign, while the Black Panther Movement and its earlier incarnations existed side-by-side with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

What Arraf and Shapiro fail to mention, of course, is that neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King endorsed the use of violence but were appalled by it, while the ISM clearly approves of "violent movements" acting "side-by-side" with its own nonviolent approach. The ISM sees itself not as a substitute for but as an adjunct to the use of violence against Israelis. It therefore cynically exploits the legacies of those who stood exclusively for nonviolence and passive resistance. The ISM clearly believes in violence - it actually says so - but chooses nonviolent opposition as an additional tactic.

In a message she posted to an ISM mailing list, Arraf went as far as to quote with approval an essay praising suicide bombers as shahids or martyrs. (7)

Other leaders of the ISM have also expressed their support for violence, even though it is not the tactic they personally prefer to use. Ghassan Andoni, another founder of the ISM, said in an interview by that Palestinians have the right to use violence if they choose:

Bitterlemons: Does that mean that you do not think that armed resistance is valid?

Andoni: No, we state clearly that Palestinians have the full right to resist the occupation with means that they think are suitable. We as the Palestinian Solidarity Movement have decided, however, that our tool for resisting the occupation is non-violence. (8)

Saif Abu Keshek is a co-ordinator for the ISM in Nablus. In an interview on the ISM-London web site he says the same thing: that Palestinians are morally justified in using violence if they choose.

So there is strong support for the armed resistance?

[Keshek:] Surely there is support for the armed resistance. It is one of the rights of the Palestinians to fight back against the occupation.

The ISM supports non violent direct action, not armed struggle...

[Keshek:] Yes, but also we recognise the right of the Palestinians to choose their way of resistance. To join our way of resistance or to choose armed struggle. (9)

From all of these statements by people central to the ISM it is clear that the ISM wants to have it both ways: to claim the moral high ground of nonviolence while keeping the tactical advantage of violence. For Palestinians, "violent resistance" usually takes the form of terrorism, that is, targeted attacks against civilians. Even the ISM, in its support of the right to use violence, makes no distinction between terrorism and other forms of violence. We have heard ISM leaders in their own words: "Palestinians have the full right to resist the occupation with means that they think are suitable"; "We recognize the right of the Palestinians to choose their way of resistance" - with no restrictions. Such statements by ISM members are far from unique.

It is now clear that the ISM is not a pure nonviolent movement but sees itself working together with violent, even terrorist factions of the Palestinian fight against Israel. Nonviolence that accepts violence enables violence. Nonviolent obstruction of Israeli efforts to resist terrorism enables terrorism to continue. For example, members of the ISM, including Rachel Corrie, have tried "nonviolently" to obstruct the movement of Israeli bulldozers whose job it was to expose and destroy tunnels used for illegally smuggling weapons. This is "nonviolence" in name only. These "nonviolent peace activists" were helping to ensure that arms get into the hands of terrorists. If your work helps make violence possible, you are participating in violence. There is little difference between distracting your target while others ready their weapons and wielding the weapon yourself. The type of nonviolence that the ISM espouses supports and aids terrorist violence. (10)

Connections to Terrorist Groups

The ISM has indeed worked together with terrorist groups. An ISM press release dated July 2, 2003 announced a demonstration to block construction of Israel's security fence (which ISM calls an "apartheid wall"), and invited participants to "Join the ISM, the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces and the Apartheid Wall Defense Committee" in these efforts to disrupt the fence's construction. (11)

Who are these "National and Islamic Forces"? A virulently anti-Israel statement this group issued on February 10, 2001 contains the names of its members, which include the terrorist organizations Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and several others. (12)

There is some evidence that ISM cooperation with terrorist activity goes beyond signing joint statements and giving verbal support. While not engaging in violence directly, ISM members have come to the aid of others who have.

In the spring of 2002 about 40 senior terrorists wanted by Israel took refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where IDF soldiers had them under siege. About a dozen ISM members snuck past Israeli troops and entered the church to give support to the terrorists. (13) The ISM published on its own web site an account by the British Guardian containing a proud proclamation that these ISM members were to act as "human shields." (14)

At about the same time, other ISM members were acting as human shields in the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah. They were present not only to support Yasser Arafat but to protect the "Ze'evi Five," terrorists wanted by Israel for the murder of Rehav'am Ze'evi, Israeli Minister of Tourism, on September 18, 2001. (15)

In the spring of 2003 Israeli troops were searching for Shadi Sukiya, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad in Jenin who had been involved in planning suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Jewish communities. They found him hiding in the offices of the International Solidarity Movement.

At first Susan Barclay, the ISM Coordinator, refused the Israeli soldiers permission to search the offices. But the soldiers forced their way in and arrested both Sukiya and Barclay. A handgun was also found. (16)(17)

An ISM spokesperson claimed that Barclay had no way of knowing who Sukiya really was. Nevertheless, this is no excuse for obstructing a legitimate search for a wanted terrorist. And how plausible is the ISM's proclamation of Barclay's innocence? Barclay herself told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that "she knowingly worked with representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad - terrorist groups that sponsor suicide bombings and exist, according to their charters, to demolish the Jewish state entirely." (18)


While pretending to stand for nonviolence, in both what it says and what it does the ISM aids and abets violent Palestinian extremist movements. The words of the Jewish Action Task Force capture the essence of the ISM:

The ISM is a terrorist protection organization. The goal of the ISM is not to plant bombs and murder civilians. The ISM aims to protect the terrorists who plant bombs and murder civilians. The ISM hopes to keep the IDF out of Palestinian neighborhoods so that terrorists will be free to manufacture explosives, train suicide bombers, smuggle weapons, arm snipers, and fire rockets at residential neighborhoods without interference from the IDF. The ISM calls itself non-violent, and many supporters of the organization in the U.S. may actually believe that this is a non-violent movement following the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The leadership, however, is using the rhetoric of non-violence in a calculated effort to mask the true nature of the ISM, which is organized for the protection of terrorists. (19)

This report has presented the International Solidarity Movement in its own words and actions. I have already documented the ISM's cynical exploitation of the death of Rachel Corrie, and need not repeat that here. The ISM is not, as it pretends to be, a neutral, peacemaking organization. What it does stand for is abundantly clear. Let us not be fooled.


1. Svend J. Robinson, MP, "ISM Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize," Canadian Dimension, May 2, 2003.

2. Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders, "What You Can do."

3. Because the ISM web site is organized in frames, it is not always possible to give precise web page references. Therefore the subheading will be provided in quotation marks when available.

4. International Solidarity Movement, "Statement on Bombings."

5. International Solidarity Movement, "About ISM."

5. Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, "Why Nonviolent Resistance is Important for the Palestinian Intifada: A Response to Ramzy Baroud," Palestine Chronicle, January 29, 2002.

6. On the question of whether the "occupation" is a legitimate excuse for violence, see "Is 'Occupation' an Excuse for Terrorism?" elsewhere on this web site.

7. Huwaida Arraf, "ISM Reports: A Bone from Rafah / Ethnic cleansing," Palsolidarity Mailing List, March 27, 2003.

8., "Resisting the Tool of Control: An Interview with Ghassan Andoni," October 7, 2002.

9. "Interview with Saif Abu Keshek," International Solidarity Movement - London,February 23, 2003.

10. Some have questioned the existence of those arms-smuggling tunnels. But after the horrendous bus bombing in Jerusalem on August 19, 2003 that killed 21 and injured over 100, Palestinian forces not only admitted their existence, they "poured concrete into five tunnels used to smuggle guns, ammunition, drugs and other contraband from Egypt, under Israeli forces, and into the Gaza Strip." "'In this way, you are cutting the supply line for Hamas and Islamic Jihad,'" said a spokesman for Muhammad Dahlan, the Palestinian Security Minister. (James Bennet, "Four Hamas Militants Killed in Israeli Attack," The New York Times, August 25, 2003.)

11. "ISM: July 3 Action to Stop the Wall," New Zealand Scoop, July 2, 2003.

12. "Statement Issued by the National and Islamic Forces," Jerusalem Media & Communication Center, February 10, 2001.

13. Walter Rodgers, "Israelis Blame Arafat for Bethlehem Church Fire,", May 3, 2002.

14. Nic Fleming, "From Bristol to Bethlehem," The British Guardian, May 16, 2002.

15. Between the Lines, "Operation Devastation", May 2002.

16. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Senior Islamic Jihad Terrorist Arrested While Hiding in the Offices of the International Solidarity Movement in Jenin," March 27, 2003.

17. Matthew Gutman, "Tension Rises Between Activists, Army After Third Recent Casualty," Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 13, 2003.

18. Sam Skolnik, "Activist's Death Focuses Spotlight on Mideast Struggle," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 20, 2003.

19. Jewish Action Task Force, "International Solidarity: A Terrorist Protection Movement," no date.

August 2003

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
Peace with Realism