International Solidarity Movement
International Solidarity Movement
In November 2002, two of the founders of the International Solidarity Movement toured North America to build support for the ISM (www.palsolidarity.org). Here is part of the talk they gave in Toronto on November 20, 2002.
Thank you for being here. My name is George Rishmawi and I was born in 1973, in Beit Sahour. Parts of Beit Sahour are in what's known as 'Zone A', other parts are in 'Zone C', zones of occupied Palestine as designated by the Oslo agreement. It's a town of 13 000 people. 80% are Christians, and 20% are Muslims, but everyone is related and everyone knows each other. People know each other so well that it can take 15 minutes to walk 100 metres in Beit Sahour, because you are always running into your cousins, friends, and you have to stop and talk. Beit Sahour is also one of the sites of a nonviolent resistance movement against the Israeli occupation, a community that refused to pay taxes to Israel in 1989, which I'll talk more about.
I have to say that it is a very different feeling being here in Canada. When I travel here, or in the US, or in Europe, it's a different feeling because I'm able to drive for hours and not be stopped at a checkpoint. It's a different feeling because here you don't feel like someone is constantly trying to push you out.
I didn't really understand that I was living under occupation until I was 8 years old. When I was 8 years old my cousin was kidnapped and killed by the Israeli army. He was 24 years old, and because he was a close relative, the 'mourning house' was our house. Many people visited us in those 40 days of mourning, because at the time such a killing was still an unusual and rare event. It was then that I understood that we were living under an occupation: an occupation that steals your land, your freedom, your cousin away-and one day it could steal you away as well.
The first intifada started in 1987, and I was old enough then to participate in it. For a young person in Palestine at the time there were all kinds of options as to how to participate. Which party to join? Which tactics to apply? There were many different parties with many different ideas as to how to win liberation. I was attracted to a group that believes in education, in nonviolence. We worked based on the belief that by educating ourselves, we would give ourselves the power to face the situation, and the more knowledge we had, the more power we would have as well.
But of course I started by throwing rocks, chasing soldiers and running away from them, like everyone else. Like everyone else, I was arrested, in 1989. I'm a bit shy to talk about my experience in prison because I was only imprisoned for two months. My experience was not tough at all compared with my cousin's, or another cousin who was in prison for 7 years.
Based on my experiences though, if I were the Israeli authorities I would not send any Palestinians to prison. Because it's in prison that you learn how resistance is absolutely necessary. You learn because in prison you feel the occupation even more intensely. I was in prison and missed university. I missed Christmas, New Year's Eve, and my birthday. On New Year's Eve we were gassed by the army, in prison, because January 1 is the anniversary of the Fatah movement's founding in 1967, associated strongly with the movement for Palestinian Liberation. The prison authorities were worried about how the prisoners would react to the anniversary, so they put us under curfew and gassed us. We were under curfew in prison. It's strange, but true.
But before long I was out of prison, and back in the intifada. Around Christmas of 1991 there was a candlelight procession in Beit Sahour. I heard that there would be Palestinians, internationals, and Israelis taking part in this and I knew I had to join it. I wanted to join it so that I could talk to the Israelis, specifically, and tell them about the different kind of Christmas that I had had in prison. So I went, and I met those Israelis, and I did tell them about my experience, and they listened. I found out who organized the procession-it was the Center for Rapprochement Between Peoples, that I had heard of because of the tax revolt in 1989. I joined it immediately.
I appreciated the idea of rapprochement because it gave me a chance to tell Israelis, without using violence, what I thought of the occupation and what I had gone through. I believe that in some sense the violence that we are living comes about because people don't have a way of communicating this pain, these experiences, without violence. Palestinians are shooting in order to say 'we don't accept the occupation, we have a bad experience'. The rapprochement center provided another way for people to say this. So we organized dialogues between Palestinians and Israelis, but since 2000, with the second intifada, we have also been doing a lot of direct action, nonviolent direct action.
One of the important initiatives that rapprochement was involved in was the tax revolt in 1989 that I mentioned. In that year Beit Sahour refused to pay taxes to Israel, and they did so under a slogan. The slogan was: "No taxation without representation." This slogan might be familiar to you, but what happened next had a strong impact on me. Beit Sahour was seized by Israel. The army arrested 89 people and besieged the town. There was a resolution in the United Nations condemning Israel's actions in Beit Sahour, and it was vetoed by-the United States of America. That was a clear message from the United States that what is good for us isn't good when other people do it, and it had an impact on me personally.
Israel confiscated goods, machines from small businesses, ovens right out of people's houses, in order to 'collect the taxes' that Beit Sahour was refusing to pay. They took $5 million worth of goods and left the town with a damaged infrastructure. There was a loud cry among Palestinians then, because our nonviolent resistance was met very violently. There were Israelis coming in to break the siege and be with the Palestinians. That was part of an effort against Prime Minister Rabin's policy of 'breaking the bones of the Palestinians'. Our initiative was called 'Break bread not bones'. One day the military ordered the evacuation of all the Israelis in the town on the grounds that it was 'dangerous' for them. Luckily some of the Israelis visiting us were rabbis, and they argued. It was Shabbat, they said-was the Israeli government going to be the only government in the world that impinged on the religious freedom of Jews by forcing them to travel on Shabbat?
In 2000, the rapprochement center had another candlelight procession, the biggest since 1991, with 8000 people. After our demonstration there were several houses that were demolished by shelling. Why? The army claimed that there were snipers who were hiding out in the houses. But there were 160 houses destroyed, 240 families displaced-because when you destroy a home you displace more than one family. When your house becomes the source of your fear, when the children are afraid to stay in the house, you will want to leave, and so many people left even though their houses weren't destroyed.
On December 28 of 2000 we marched for removal of the military base near Beit Sahour. There was no justification for this base even in terms of protecting Israeli settlers. There were no Israeli civilians in the area. It was also an ancient site of graves dating back to the Byzantine era, of historical importance. 350 of us marched to the base, and there were no guards at the gate because marching to a military base was not something that was done, it wasn't something they were expecting. So we walked right in, and gave them our message: we meant them no harm, we intended no violence, but that they had to evacuate the base. They were shocked. This wasn't something that happened! They said they would consult with their superiors. On our way out, one protestor-an international, who they say was French but I still remember as a Canadian-climbed up to a watchtower and planted a Palestinian flag. Palestinians wanted to do that but couldn't because they would have been shot, but this international managed to do it. This was a victory. There were 350 people marching, people of all ages, including kids, internationals, Palestinians, some Israelis, no one even threw a stone.
The Israeli media put this on the 7pm news-most people watch the 7 o clock news. The commentary that went with it was: how did the army allow them to do this? This question was asked over and over. When the IDF spokesperson was interviewed, he said the base had been moved-200 yards away. Now 200 yards is not a major victory but it shows that they were concerned. We thought we could build on this. There were examples of successful nonviolent action, like the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, so why couldn't we do the same? We planned for a campaign in April 2001.
In that campaign we had 3 major actions targeting the daily problems of Palestinians under occupation. The roadblocks, for example. These were a major problem, dividing the West Bank into 64 separate cantons. They make 15-minute journeys into journeys of 3 or 4 hours. Babies have been born at these roadblocks. People have died in ambulances at them. The roadblocks are for the settlers. The settlers can drive straight through them while Palestinians have to wait. So we did direct actions to take these roadblocks down. We had other campaigns of direct action.
Since April 2002-well, March 29, 2002 to be exact-the ISM has managed to establish a permanent international presence in some Palestinian areas. Staying in homes, in Balata in the houses of martyrs that are targeted for demolition. Riding ambulances and acting as a human shield, for students and teachers in schools. Sometimes internationals have been shot at. In Beit Jala, there was some shooting even though the army knew there were internationals in the crowd. We have been training people in nonviolence and in action in the Palestinian situation, and we've seen great improvements in the performance of our activists as a result. So today training is a fundamental part of what the ISM does.
The ISM is today a Palestinian led, nonviolent movement. It isn't that Palestinians are the commanders. We have a consensus-based structure, with a core group that meets once a month but with the details left to the affinity groups. We have regional coordination, and a decentralized structure that depends on the local communities. Our goal is to help Palestinians do nonviolent resistance because when they do it without international accompaniment they are met with terrible violence. The international presence enabled many families, this October, to go to their fields and harvest their olives, and open roadblocks. When the army sees that they're watched, they are less free-handed in how they treat people.
You are all invited to Palestine. When they see internationals who have come, Palestinians feel hope, that others have come to share their hardship. Hope is very important for a people who feel their pain ignored, their voice unheard, their land taken away every day. Thank you very much.
My name is Neta Golan. I was born in Tel Aviv. My childhood was scary, and simple. There were good guys and bad guys. We were the good guys. The bad guysâ€¦ could be anyone, but they were mostly Arabs. Now I'm a 3rd generation Israeli: my grandmother was born in what was still called Palestine. My mother was born in 1948. And yet, I grew up in the shadow of the holocaust. It was always my reference point, for everything.
As a child, I met Palestinians. They were there, working in construction or sanitation. But there was never a chance to meet as equals. Instead there were fears, being fed by the media, by what we learned in school. I learned always that we were defending ourselves from people who wanted to kill us.
It wasn't until I was 15 years old that I learned of the occupation. It was during the first intifada, because before the first intifada Palestinians, the occupation, simply didn't exist to us. The first intifada made it impossible for Israelis to ignore Palestinians. But I was raised on Jewish history, a history of oppression, dispossession, suffering ethnic cleansing, of being forced out of community after community. Could we really be doing these things to another people?
I couldn't believe it because I was a part of the consensus opinion in Israel, that we are morally superior. They are violent. We have purity of arms. If we do kill a civilian or an innocent, it's by mistake. Even if these mistakes happen every single day. I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. I refused to believe that a soldier would open fire on an innocent child, but I saw it. Unfortunately in Nablus where I live, I see it too often. When I would hear about a child being killed by a soldier, I would think-no, he must have thrown a stone, he must have been doing something that endangered the soldier and forced the soldier to shoot back. I wanted to believe that the children were throwing stones. But when you are in the West Bank, and you see a child throw a stone at a tank, you understand that if that child is killed, that is murder. And very recently, 5 internationals were with Baha, one of the children who we knew well, and soldiers in an armoured personnel carrier picked him out from among the internationals, shot him twice in the chest, and killed him.
As a child I wouldn't have been able to believe this. I would say-the proof of their violence is suicide bombing! We would never do something like that. One of my classmates asked me: what's the difference between a suicide bombing and a Phantom jet bombing a refugee camp? I said-we don't bomb refugee camps. I couldn't believe the only difference between us and them was that we had better weapons. But I went home and asked my father.
"Is it true that we bomb refugee camps with Phantom Jets?"
"Yes. The terrorists think they can hide in the refugee camps, so we prove that they cannot" he told me.
But that wasn't even enough to change me, because the conditioning runs very deep. So deep that when I first went to the West Bank, during Oslo, I would have anxiety attacks. Once a week I would go, and every trip I would be filled with anxiety, filled with fear, thinking: "they all want to kill me!" And it took at least fifteen minutes of seeing people going about their business, talking to each other, working, doing almost anything other than thinking about how much they wanted to kill me, before I calmed down. Seeing their openness, their willingness to accept me, their generosity, that has been the greatest gift of overcoming my fear-the chance to discover the wisdom, the beauty of the Palestinian people. Israelis who can't overcome their fear are much poorer for not having the chance to do that.
After a year and a half of this anxiety, it mostly went away. But as soon as things changed, when the political situation would become worse, I would fall back on that conditioning and become afraid again. In 2000, when the second intifada broke out, I was afraid. I was in Nablus and asked my fiancÃ©, am I being paranoid because I'm afraid? He said: "yes!"
I am still shocked, sometimes, to discover what my government does, and to discover who the Palestinians really are and what they are really like.
During the Oslo peace process, I thought, along with most Israelis: "this is wonderful!" Because in Israel, there was peace. But when I heard from the Palestinians, I learned that there was not peace. There were, instead, settlements, losses in freedom of movement. Overnight in 1991 Palestinians lost the right to go to East Jerusalem without a permit. East Jerusalem is the capital-the heart-of Palestine in every way: politically, culturally, spiritually, economically. Overnight they lost the chance to go there and in 1993 with the peace process, they waited to get their chance back. The resistance to occupation basically stopped. But peace never came. What came instead were the bypass roads, settler roads that surrounded all the communities, with the checkpoints and roadblocks.
Thanks to the bypass roads and checkpoints, it isn't just difficult to travel between cities in the West Bank: it's illegal. This wasn't the case even during the first intifada. Today the West Bank has been under siege, under curfew, for months and months. It's possible for the army to besiege the West Bank in this way because of the infrastructure of the bypass roads that was built during the 'peace process'.
People saw that the peace process was a smokescreen and that on the ground, the occupation was expanding. Palestinians would tell me, first, 'nothing has changed, but we're waiting for things to get better.' Next, they would say 'things aren't changing, and we can't stand this.' For years I tried to tell Israelis that there was no peace process. Most Israelis didn't want to hear it. They would say-these things take time. And when you have a job, a home, freedom, you have time. But when you have none of these things, for 7 years, as Palestinians didn't have, you don't feel like you have time.
I remember in 1997, Prime Minister Netanyahu made the decision to build a settlement around occupied East Jerusalem, Har Homa. East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, but it had been surrounded by Israeli settlements. Har Homa was the final link in a chain that would totally surround East Jerusalem with settlements. For the Palestinians, this was read as proof that the peace process was over. There were nonviolent protests. Palestinians and Israelis joined in. Feisal Husseini and others were there. The mountain that was to become Har Homa was squatted by activists.
Netanyahu gave the order to storm the mountain, kick the demonstrators off it, and bulldoze all the trees on the mountain to make room for the settlement.
The night that happened I was devastated. Again I talked to my father, who supported the decision.
"We can't allow them to tell us where we can and can't build," he said.
I'm not a prophet, but I knew hopelessness, desperation, when I saw it. And I saw it then.
"But what if there's another suicide bomber?" There hadn't been one in some time, by that time.
He told me that it was a "calculated risk."
Hours later there was a suicide bombing. "Do you still think it was the right decision?" I asked him. "Yes, it was a calculated risk." I couldn't believe it, but I thought "he's upset, as I am, shocked by the bombing, he doesn't mean that."
Hours after that, our phone rang. My father answered the phone and when he hung up he was pale. My cousin had been killed in the bombing.
My father took back what he said about the calculated risk-I shouldn't have said that, he told me. "But the only person responsible is the bastard who did it."
The only person responsible. The "calculated risk" had disappeared. The context had disappeared. Just the bomber was responsible.
And the bomber was responsible. But so was Netanyahu's settlement policy. And the Israeli government, who are willing to pay the price-- even in Israeli blood, my cousin's blood-- for maintaining and expanding the occupation.
And the international community, as well, for not reacting. In Israel, I was shocked at the international community's non-reaction. We kept thinking-there's no way the international community is going to put up with this. But they did. And they do, still.
The Palestinian nonviolent movement today faces an unprecedented situation, a level of violence that is unimaginable. The Israelis don't see it. I want to show you a day of siege in Jenin, basically a 'non-news' item, where tanks roll around, shooting in the streets to announce curfew as people run in fear. This happens every single day and it's not news because most journalists don't leave Jerusalem except occasionally to go to Ramallah or Bethlehem.
In an environment like this, people won't join a nonviolent movement. That's why we need internationals. We need people to join, to bring the attention of the international community to the situation. The intifada started with children throwing stones. They were answered with snipers. Some Palestinians reacted to this violence by shooting attacks on soldiers and settlers. They were systematically assassinated, starting in Beit Sahour, and nearly every assassination killed innocent bystanders as well.
I'm often in Balata refugee camp, and I want to believe that Israel believes that its actions are going to stop resistance but they have to know that they are making the situation so intolerable that non-resistance is a non-option. There were no suicide bombers from Balata until May of this year. In May there were assassinations of two young men who were Palestinian fighters, members of the armed resistance. For the people in these camps, these fighters were heroes who were defending their people. It was 4 days after these assassinations that a wave of 7 suicide bombers came from Balata.
The oldest of these bombers was eighteen.
The operations were poorly organized. Many of them blew up on the way, failed in their missions. They were obviously acts of pure desperation. The Israeli Army knows they can't stop attacks like these. Arafat certainly can't stop them.
But there is one thing that can stop them. Hope.
In the first intifada, tens of thousands of Palestinians marched for an end to occupation. There were some bombings-but Palestinians stopped them. When Prime Minister Barak wanted to have elections in an atmosphere of quiet, he got his quiet by lifting the siege and opening up a few roadblocks. That was all it took. There were no bombings because there was hope.
By your joining us, you can help bring back hope.
To volunteer with the ISM, see www.palsolidarity.org