Working in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority's propaganda ministries, ISM describes itself as “a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles.” Though claiming to be non-violent, ISM recognizes the Palestinian “right to resist” Israeli abuses “by any means necessary,” including “legitimate armed struggle.” As ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf puts it:
“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 a similar vein, ISM organizer Paul LaRudee, says:
“We believe in the application of international law. Although we are totally dedicated to nonviolence, we recognize not everyone in the Palestinian community is dedicated to nonviolence and under international law we recognize that violence is necessary and it is permissible for oppressed and occupied people to use armed resistance and we recognize their right to do so.”
ISM is not, in the traditional sense, a single, autonomous organization with a board of directors and a roster of identifiable card-carrying “members.” Its name is, in fact, a generic term for a consortium of “solidarity” groups that act together as a unified coalition.
Co-founder Adam Shapiro has stated that ISM and the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) are essentially the same entity by two different names. When the individuals affiliated with these coalitions are engaged in activism within the United States, says Shapiro, they go by the name of PSM; and when they are in the West Bank or Gaza, they call themselves ISM.
Moreover, PSM—whose work is concentrated “primarily on [college] campuses” across the United States—can be thought of as the student arm of ISM. With their interchangeable agendas and personnel, both ISM and PSM have developed a strong presence in the halls of academia. ISM affiliates such as the Muslim Student Union, and the Students for Justice in Palestine likewise enjoy considerable influence and popularity on college campuses nationwide.
ISM's intricate web of connections not only to PSM but also to other anti-Israel groups, is explained by investigative journalist Lee Kaplan, founder of the organization known as "Stop The ISM":
“[T]he International Solidarity Movement operates like the Comintern in the 1950s: The Palestinians create a myriad of groups under various names, such as Al-Awda, SUSTAIN (Stop US Taxpayer Aid to Israel Now), Students for Justice in Palestine, Women in Black, even Electronic Intifada, etc. They do so in case one gets closed down by the government or says something untoward, so the others can keep operating and disclaim the statement as being from them. By this means, an ISM leader like Charlotte Kates of New Jersey Solidarity can claim that Israeli children are 'fair game' for terrorists, while her friends in Al-Awda who agree with her can tell the press she does not speak for them.”
The International Solidarity Movement professes to “len[d] support to the Palestinian resistance to the [Israeli-imposed] apartheid” by means of “Direct Action,” which ISM defines as: “participating in nonviolent demonstrations, disrupting construction of the illegal apartheid wall, accompanying farmers to their fields and residing with or near families whose homes are threatened with eviction or demolition.”
Toward those ends, ISM maintains a continual, low-level presence in the Palestinian territories year-round, punctuated occasionally by large, episodic campaigns. At various times, its volunteer “nonviolent peace activists” have temporarily taken over Israeli military checkpoints, interfered with the arrests of Palestinians charged with terrorism, and attempted to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes sitting atop subterranean tunnels that were being used for weapons smuggling.
Many ISM volunteers pay the costs of their own transportation to the Middle East and then live in the homes of Palestinian hosts during their tours of activist duty.
Roadblock Removal: Trainers taught the ISM activists how to physically dismantle the piles of rocks and dirt that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had created to serve as roadblocks designed to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from accessing key locations. The trainees were told that this work would generally be done by hand, with shovels, though “local coordinators” (organized by the PLO) promised to arrange for a bulldozer whenever possible.
Hassle Checkpoints: ISM activists were instructed to form groups of three or four, and to distract and “hassle the soldiers” at IDF checkpoints—so as to allow Palestinians to bypass those checkpoints undetected. “The checkpoint watch will get more heated,” warned the trainers, “when ISM members argue with soldiers in an attempt to get Palestinians through.”
Human Shields: The trainers advised that in instances where ISM activists were unable to help Palestinians circumvent checkpoints by distracting the Israeli guards, they (the ISMers) should act as “human shields for Palestinians.” As one ISM trainer put it: “Soldiers will be less likely to shoot or use violence when Westerners are present. Usually, they [the ISM activists] also carry a camera or video camera, because filming soldiers often makes them leave.”
Media: Trainers encouraged the ISM activists to produce independent art or video projects during their stays in the Holy Land, “so that they can be active in spreading anti-Israel information when they reach home.” Toward that end, numerous activists have volunteered at the ISM media office in Beit Shour.
Hospitality with Terrorists: ISM activists were encouraged to stay, during their time in the Mideast, in houses slated for destruction by the IDF. Since the IDF only targets homes that are used either as residences or bomb-making factories by terrorists and their families, the ISMers were essentially being encouraged to serve as human shields for such people. In San Francisco, ISM leader Paul LaRudee wrote a letter openly boasting that he had spent a night with the family of a suicide bomber.
Preparing for Demonstrations and Possible Arrest: The trainers advised that for those activists who expected to be arrested for their disruptive activities, “it is helpful to have discussed in advance whether to go limp/sit or walk with police to the van.”
Observing Troop Movements: ISM trainers assigned some of the volunteers to engage in “spotting and reporting IDF troops in military operations and reporting their whereabouts to armed Palestinian units.”
Investigative journalist Lee Kaplan, who infiltrated the aforementioned ISM training session, adds the following about what took place during that session:
“One thing made clear during training was that if caught trying to enter Israel as human shields for terrorist groups, we should refuse deportation because a lawyer [usually from the National Lawyers Guild] would be provided free of charge to us. The goal was to tax the resources of the Jewish state in any way possible. We were told that, once we were in the West Bank, we should get ourselves arrested with an Arab because as internationals the police would be reluctant to keep us in jail for long, and if we refused to leave without [an] Arab prisoner 'in solidarity,' they [the Israelis] might relent just to get rid of us and let him go too. Never mind what the Arab prisoner did, we were there to overburden the system.”
“We had nothing to fear from armed terrorists since we coordinated with these groups in advance and would be given safe passage by them. We were told not to tell Arab children not to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. We were taught 'direct action,' civil disobedience and violence that would hamper Israeli security and drain the state’s resources. We were told that we were not there to make peace between two parties; on the contrary, we were there to roil things between Israelis and the Arabs as a step toward making all of Israel into Palestine.”
“We were given training manuals with a history of the conflict that focused on bringing down western governments like in Israel and America. We were instructed on working in non-hierarchical 'affinity groups' so nobody could pinpoint the actual [ISM] leadership.”
ISM Casualties and Their Propaganda Value
From its inception, ISM realized that if any of its volunteers were to be arrested, injured, or killed in the course of their activities in the West Bank or Gaza, such events could be exploited as major propaganda victories for the PLO. As ISM leader George S. Rishmawi once put it: “When Palestinians get shot by Israeli soldiers, no one is interested anymore. But if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.”
One of ISM’s most well-known activists was the late Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old volunteer who, in March 2003, was crushed beneath an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah when its operator failed to see her trying to block the destruction of a tunnel through which Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists were receiving smuggled weapons. Another high-profile casualty was Tom Hurndall, a British-born ISM volunteer who was shot in the head by an Israeli solier during a firefight between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists on April 11, 2003. Hurndall's life was initially saved by a four-hour emergency surgery, but he spent the next nine months in a coma and then died on January 13, 2004. Both Corrie and Hurndall were lionized as martyrs by pro-Palestinian activists and media outlets.
ISM's "Documentation" of Israeli Abuses
In addition to Direct Action, ISM also engages in extensive “Documentation”—i.e., “documenting and reporting to local and international media about the daily life under apartheid and countless human rights and international law violations by the Israeli military.” According to ISM, “The need for documentation is not just to show that there are illegal and unjust actions going on, but also to provide a real means of evidence for accountability to the police and courts, case by case.”
More ISM Positions
ISM is an uncompromising supporter of the Palestinian “right of return” not only for the relatively few remaining survivors who were among the 725,000 Palestinians who fled Israel during the 1948 war (when eight Arab armies attacked Israel on the very day of its creation), but also for all their descendants born since 1948. Thus ISM places the number of refugees who should be permitted to “return” to Israel at approximately 4.25 million.
ISM also opposes what it dubs “Israel’s Apartheid Wall,” the recently constructed anti-terror barrier bordering the West Bank. According to ISM, this barrier is an affront to the dignity of Palestinians and represents a violation of their human rights.
Further, ISM supports boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaigns against Israel. In February 2009, ISM called for "an escalation" of BDS efforts, so as to combat "the intensification of the collective punishment, imprisonment and ongoing war on the people of Palestine."
The Chicago chapter of ISM has endorsed the “Declaration Regarding Caterpillar Violations of Human Rights,” a document impugning the U.S.-based Caterpillar Corporation for selling its machinery to the Israeli army, which in turn uses that equipment to demolish Palestinian terrorists' homes and bases of operation. This Declaration characterizes the demolitions as maliciously “grave abuses of human rights and humanitarian law.”
ISM and Islamic Terrorism
When the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in May 2002 surrounded the Church of the Nativity (in Bethlehem)—wherein some 200 Palestinian terrorists had barricaded themselves and taken Christian clergymen as hostages—Huwaida Arraf, Adam Shapiro, and a number of fellow ISM activists broke through a closed military zone and entered the church, supposedly to deliver humanitarian aid to the hostages. Some have suggested that by so doing, the activists in essence became “human shields” for the terrorists inside.
In the wake of two April 29, 2003 suicide bombings in an Israeli bar (killing 3 people and wounding more than 50), Israeli officials discovered that the bombers, both British nationals, had been hosted by ISM just prior to carrying out their deed—though ISM claimed that its activists were wholly unaware of the pair's intentions at the time. This incident, which came on the heels of many prior serious clashes between ISM activists and Israeli authorities, prompted the Israeli government in June 2003 to formally accuse ISM of maintaining ties with Palestinian terrorism. "For us," said the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s information chief Gideon Meir, "that was the turning point. Defying army bulldozers was one thing; providing cover for suicide bombers to slip into the country quite another.” Moreover, Israeli officials announced that all foreign nationals seeking to enter Gaza would thenceforth be required to sign a form swearing they were not members of ISM. Consider also these revealing quotes:
Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that "ISM members take an active part in illegal and violent actions against IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] soldiers. At times, their activity in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip is under the auspices of Palestinian terrorist organizations."
A senior IDF officer said: "We have nothing against the internationals, but, as far as we are concerned, ISM is not an international organization or a peace organization. It’s a pro-Palestinian organization, set up by Palestinians, funded by Palestinians and linked to Palestinian terror."
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel said that although ISM activists were not terrorists themselves, they had broken Israeli laws while “abett[ing] the grave wave of terrorism that deluged Israel and the territories and disrupt [ing] the IDFs counterterrorism activities.”
ISM's affinity for Islamic extremists is reflected further by the fact that the Movement has lobbied for the release of the incarcerated Marwan Barghouti—an Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades operative who is regarded as the leader of the First and Second Palestinian Intifadas, and who is currently serving multiple life sentences for acts of terrorism and murder.
During a 2002 International Solidarity Movement campaign, the aforementioned ISM volunteer Paul LaRudee stayed with the family of Ayyat al-Akhras, a suicide bomber who had killed two Israelis in a supermarket.
In 2003, ISM issued a press release inviting volunteers to join ISM and the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces—a group composed of members of Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad—to block Israel's construction of the security fence along the West Bank.
In June 2004, a news story in the Israeli leftist daily Haaretzrevealed that ISM's "international solidarity protesters," who were trying to sabotage Israel's security fence along the West Bank, were taking their orders directly from Yasser Arafat. Indeed, the ISMers met with Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters, where he explained how they should run their "peace" protests against the security fence. Arafat ordered them to escalate the violence of their demonstrations—especially at two locations, near Jerusalem and near the Jewish town of Ariel—just before the World Court was scheduled to meet in the Hague to discuss Israel's fence.
“There are elements out there that try to say, you know, we support terror.We don’t refuse to work with anybody. So, often times I am asked if, you know, 'What’s our position on Hamas or the Islam Jihad?' We’re willing to work with anybody, but we’re not willing to engage in military assistance. We’re not going to win that way, but Hamas are some of the key forms of organizers, the PFLP, anyone who wants to organize and help us in our struggle really is our friend and we’ll work with.”
It is reported that Matan Cohen, an activist from an ISM affiliate in Israel (known as Anarchists Against the Wall), once met with the Zapatistas, a Mexican Marxist terrorist group.
ISM Infiltration Tactics
ISM training manuals are replete with infiltration tactics very similar to those used historically by the Communist Party and its related front groups. Putting these tactics to use, ISM activists have had some success in infiltrating U.S. Christian denominations—particularly the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, some branches of the Methodist Church, and the Quakers (through the American Friends Service Committee)—by depicting present-day Palestinians as helpless victims of the same type of oppression that the Jews of Europe once faced during the Nazi era.
One ISM trainer advises activists to establish rapport with the church congregations they approach by “bring[ing] them a gift from the Holy Land, such as some holy water.” Further, he advises the activists to: persuade their local pastors to dedicate Masses to Palestinian Christians; invite “Palestinian pastor[s]” to celebrate Masses and worship services in their U.S. churches; introduce fellow parishioners to information about the Palestinians; host Palestinian “cultural night[s]” at their churches; organize candlelight vigils on behalf of the Palestinians; write about the Palestinians' plight in parish newspapers; and hold parish events to raise money for Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank. The ultimate goal is to persuade these Christian churches to delegitimize Israel and to divest economically from the Jewish state.
A member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, ISM in the post-9/11 era has taken a strong stance against the U.S. war on terror, the Patriot Act, and the American military incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2004, ISM operative Abe Greenhouse said that the International Solidarity Movement was using Gaza and the West Bank not merely as venues for its anti-Israel activism, but also as training grounds for anti-American campaigns that the American Anarchist Movement was planning to stage along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 2008, ISM became a member organization of the newly formed Free Gaza Movement (FGM) coalition. Huwaida Arraf was a major player in FGM.
Also in 2009, leaders of various ISM-affiliated organizations were permitted to testify with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) at a Congressional Briefing on Operation Cast Lead; their aim was to persuade Congress to issue a resolution condemning the Jewish state for its military incursion into Gaza.