This June I attended a “training session” of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an organization of volunteers whose purpose is to obstruct Israeli defense forces attempting to protect the civilian population from terrorist acts. The ISM was set up by the Palestinians after Arafat broke off the Oslo peace talks and launched the second intifada. Its organizers were Ghassan Andoni, a physics professor from Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, and Palestinian activists George Rishmawi and George Qassis. The idea was to bring in international volunteers, mostly radical students from the United States, Canada and Europe, as “nonviolent peace activists” who would interfere with the Israeli army’s anti-terrorist operations. If the volunteers were injured or arrested, the international repercussions would be detrimental to Israel, a propaganda win for the PLO. The operation costs the Palestine Authority very little since many of the radical volunteers pay their own transportation costs and live in the homes of Palestinians during their stays in the Middle East.
The ISM made international headlines when one of its activists, Rachel Corrie, a college radical from Olympia, Washington, was killed while attempting to block an Israeli bulldozer. The bulldozer was attempting to destroy tunnels from the Gaza strip through which the terrorists imported weapons and explosives. Corrie became a martyr to the cause, and inspiration to other radicals to follow.
Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf of the ISM
The most visible American figure in the International Solidarity Movement is Adam Shapiro, a Brooklyn Jew and college radical,who became a human shield for Yasser Arafat when the Israeli army surrounded Arafat’s Ramallah compound following the massacre of 30 Israelis – some of them Holocaust survivors -- at a Passover seder, shortly after the Intifada was launched. When I interviewed him last year, Shapiro told me point blank that he does not consider himself a Jew. He is married to Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American activist from Michigan whose father holds Israeli citizenship. They have become the spokespeople for the ISM in the United States. In articles on the ISM website where they discuss their goals of dismantling Israel by supporting Palestinian terrorists they use euphemisms such as “legitimate resistance” or support for “legitimate armed struggle” while claiming that they are nonviolent. The ISM uses as its motto “by any means necessary.”
Such means include the hiding of terrorists like Shadi Sukiya, who was arrested in an ISM office in the West Bank. An arms cache was also found in an ISM office. Two suicide bombers gained entry for their murderous agendas under the auspices of the ISM. These Pakistani Muslims from Great Britain entered Israel through Jordan as clients of the Alternative Tourism Group, an operation set up by Andoni to aid ISM volunteers coming to Israel. They then met with the ISM at their offices for an entire day in Gaza before proceeding on to Tel Aviv where they bombed a popular beach bar, Mike’s Place, killing three people.
In the last three years the ISM has developed an extensive presence in the United States, while operating under several organizational names to avoid unwanted scrutiny of its operations. One of these entities, Al Awda (the Return in Arabic), is also known as the Palestine Right to Return to Return Coalition (PRRC). It is led by Mazen Qumsiyeh, a Yale geneticist. There are Al Awda chapters all over the United States, particularly in the vicinities of U.S. college campuses. Other ISM groups under the name SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Taxpayer Assistance to Israel Now) operate in Los Angeles and New York. In New Jersey, the ISM supporters call themselves Palsolidarity. When the volunteers go to the Middle East to aid the PLO they go under the umbrella name of the International Solidarity Movement. When they hold events in the U.S. and Canada they call themselves the Palestine Solidarity Movement.
The party line, however, is always the same. The right of so-called Palestinian refugees to return to Israel is “unconditional” and Israel itself must become “Palestine.” The number of actual refugees from that part of the former Ottoman empire where Israel was established in 1948 was 600,000, most of whom are no longer alive. The number of refugees the Palestine Authority now recognizes is close to 5 million. The population of Israel is 6 million, including 1 million Israeli Arabs. The math is simple and the desired result: the liquidation of the Jewish state.
At the Palestine Solidarity Conference held at Ohio State last year, Adam Shapiro told me that the ISM has Palestinian “handlers,” or undercover supervisors at all demonstrations against Israel. These supervisors direct attacks against the separation fence that is being built to keep suicide bombers and armed terrorists from infiltrating into Israel and other targets. One of the handlers leading the current attacks on the security fence at the start of this summer’s campaign is a veteran of the Marxist terrorist group PLFP named Hisham Jam Joun. The ISM website, www.palsolidarity.org , openly proclaims that the organization is “Palestinian-led.”
I signed up for the ISM training session, after seeing their Internet announcement calling for volunteers for their new campaign, which they called “Freedom Summer 2004,” after the nonviolent campaign of the civil rights movement in the American south in the 1960’s. There were similar announcements on local websites run by the ISM all over the United States.
The phone number I dialed put me in touch with Paul LaRudee, a 58 year-old retired Berkeley professor who, along with his Lebanese wife, has been a leader of the ISM movement in the Bay Area. LaRudee assured me that they welcomed everybody, no matter how old or inexperienced. “Most of our volunteers are in their sixties,” he said. I was advised if I wanted to train with the ISM I needed to attend an orientation lecture at The New College of San Francisco which was being given by an Arab-American named Jess Ghannam, a psychoanalyst and professor at the University of California Medical School.
Ghannam’s lecture was a two hour diatribe, reviewing the history of the Middle East. It was so pathologically anti-Israel that it even reversed the famous slogan of the PLO, originating with Arafat’s uncle the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem that the goal of Palestinian liberation was to “drive the Jews into the sea.” In Ghannam’s version it was the Jews who intended to drive the Arabs into the sea, though how this could be done with 200 million people he failed to explain.
Ghannam concluded his lecture by telling a story about an Israeli soldier who asked him for his ID card when he was at a checkpoint in the West Bank. The young soldier noticed that Ghannam was from the San Francisco Bay Area and, being friendly, mentioned he’d gone to Mt.Tamalpais High School near Ghannam’s home. “Imagine!” Ghannam said indignantly, “This soldier, a Jew born in the United States, had the nerve to ask me for my ID on my land!” Yet Ghannam had told us in the beginning of the lecture that he was also born in the United States.
The following Saturday morning, June 12th, I arrived for my actual training. The session was held at 2263 Mission Street in San Francisco, a ratty storefront theater in a rundown area of the city that had a folding grid gate barring the entrance from the public.
About ten of us showed up, counting both volunteers and trainers. Before we were allowed to enter the storefront, however, we had to go through a simulated interrogation by an “Israeli border guard” impersonated by a woman named Jamie, who was a social worker for the city of San Francisco.
Jamie took her role very seriously. We learned later that she was an ISM veteran, having been a volunteer in Israel two years earlier as a member of San Francisco’s Jews For A Free Palestine (JFFP) and would be going again this summer.
Jamie went through my belongings and, on finding my notes from the ISM orientation lecture, asked me why I an Arabic name like Jess Ghannam appeared in my notebook.. Playing the game, I replied that I thought Jess was a Christian name and that I had no idea that Ghannam was an Arab. She asked me what hotel I was staying at in Israel, to which I replied the Sheraton. She allowed me to pass inside, and then turned to the next signup.
After everyone passed through the interrogation ritual, the gate was secured with a big padlock so nobody could get in or out. We were told we were in there for the entire day with just a brief break for lunch, a potluck meal which we had all been asked to contribute to.
Now that we had entered “Israel,” Jamie continued with the instruction. She had us form a circle and then led a discussion of the “border checkpoint” we’d just been through. I was told I did the right thing to get past the guard by lying that I had not realized Ghannam was an Arabic name and making up the hotel, since I would be actually staying with Palestinians. In other words, the ISM training session began with the idea of breaking the law to enter a democratic country by deceiving its border guards. In fact, everything we were instructed to do in the course of our training while we were in Israel would involve some form of breaking Israeli law.
Jamie then handed out ISM training manuals, big thick white notebooks containing eight sections, a text designed for would be infiltrators and subversives. Inside were articles authored by radical groups like the War Resisters League, Act Up, Direct Action and a several “anti-global” organizations. There were also internal ISM documents. They contained valuable information on how to disrupt the Israeli law enforcement and defense officials as effectively as possible. Jamie admonished us, “You see what it might be like when you try to enter Israel. Don’t bring your manuals with you!”
We then introduced ourselves. The first in the circle to do so was Mahera, a Palestinian-American woman in her late twenties who we were told would also be training us.
Mahera told everyone she works for the San Francisco office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). I learned later that our orientation lecturer, Jess Ghannam, was on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco chapter of the same organization, which bills itself as a non-profit civil rights advocacy group for Muslims and Arab-Americans. Glancing through my manual I noticed it referred us to “the ADC reader.”
Many will be familiar with the ADC through its communications director, Hussein Ibish, who frequently appears on television talk shows, and promotes the ADC as a civil rights organization for Muslim-Americans in no way involved with aiding Middle East terrorism.
As Adam Shapiro had informed me earlier, the group was told that the ISM is a Palestinian-led movement and that we were under the leadership of the Palestinians who had professional handlers to oversee what we would be doing. Once we were in the West Bank there would be veteran ISM leaders to guide us, but that the Palestinian handlers had ultimate control.
The first woman in the circle identified herself as Barbara Miles, who said her maiden name was Zakasia and that she was Lebanese-American. Barbara described how she had visited Syria to support of the regime there. She asked if having “Syria” stamped on her passport would prevent her from getting into Israel. “Get a new passport,” Jamie advised. “It’s easy.”
The next to introduce himself was Ian Trenallio who was from Lake Tahoe and wore a T-shirt that said “anti-hate, anti-capitalist, anti-Zionist.” Ian told us he formerly had lived in San Pablo, a suburb of Berkeley. He had recently been to Tijuana, he said, to protest economic globalization and now he wanted to “help the Palestinians.” “Don’t say to the border guard you are there to help the Palestinians!” Jamie interjected. “The goal is to have the Israeli guards think you are a tourist. The Israeli economy is hurting because the war has killed tourism and we want to take advantage of that.”
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