NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 2 No. 1) 11 September 2003
ISM -- A FALSE LEGACY
For many, the International Solidarity Movement's blatant support for Palestinian incitement and rejectionism is the antithesis of a human-rights organization. Charges of harboring terrorists , endangering the lives of foreign 'peace volunteers,' and sabotaging sensitive military operations have prompted the Israeli government to limit the activities of members of this organization. The Israeli Chief of Staff even singled out ISM as a direct threat to his soldiers' lives.
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) mobilizes the power of the rhetoric of human rights to justify its position and cries suppression and brutality. Its website defines itself 'an international citizen's peace-making campaign formed in August 2001, using the proactive tactics of non-violent direct action epitomized by Gandhi, Archbishop Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King, and other practitioners of creative non-violent resistance.' A claim to such an ideological legacy encourages journalists to publish and promote the ISM's pronouncements with little scrutiny, and gives the movement a voice in humanitarian NGO activities and even "human rights film festivals".
The press attention dedicated to ISM is the fruit of the strategy of exploiting the language of morality, ethics and human rights to de-legitimize Israel. The organization was first thrust into the limelight after two of its activists, an American citizen, Rachel Corrie, and a British citizen, Tom Hurndall, were respectively killed and seriously wounded in separate incidents as they positioned themselves in the center of clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. ISM members have announced that they believe that Israel not only targets Palestinians but has also begun targeting international volunteers. This led to a flurry of diplomatic activity and damning anti-Israel reporting in the international press. This came despite the fact that ISM was discredited by the way it presented Rachel Corrie's death on its website - a sequence of photographs of Rachel Corrie was posted to 'prove' that the death was deliberate. The photos, however, were clearly taken at different times of the day, and the real story of her death was deliberately distorted by the ISM as part of this public relations effort.
As a direct result of this incident, Israel issued a waiver form for foreign nationals entering the Gaza Strip. It stated the Israeli army is not able to guarantee their safety because international activists have endangered their own lives and those of Israeli soldiers by interfering in legitimate counter terror operations designed to protect Israel's civilian population. The Israeli move, standard procedure in times of urban warfare all over the world, in turn, generated a heated campaign by six well-known humanitarian NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, EMHRN and the French NGO, FIDH.
There are a number of inherent contradictions in ISM's claimed objectives. The following five points illustrate ISM's tactics of promoting 'non-violent action' but in fact pursuing a far more violent agenda;
1) ISM's 'non-violent' declarations and 'pro-freedom' proclamations are followed by the sentence on its website, "we recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle." It also calls for "direct-action methods of resistance that will oppose the Occupation and force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank East Jerusalem, and Gaza." Such "direct actions" include literally placing volunteers between the Israeli army and Palestinians, some of whom are known terrorists. When volunteers are wounded, Israel is falsely blamed as having deliberately targeted them.
2) The organization declares that it "supports the unarmed, civilian-based intifada" and aiding the provision of humanitarian help. In violation of its commitment to 'non-violent methods', however, it effectively endorses the tactics that the Palestinian leadership and the main political factions of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have employed indiscriminate murder of Israeli citizens. Their methods include suicide bombings in public places with no warning, shooting indiscriminately at women and children, sometimes in their homes, sometimes on the roads.
3) ISM employs uses the term 'martyr' - even for those killed in suicide missions attacking Israeli citizens, thereby legitimizing these attacks.
4) ISM chooses to ignore historical context in order to undermine Jewish legitimacy. For example, its website contains a report on Nablus (the Biblical Shehem), which was placed in control of the Palestinian Authority during the Oslo Process. With complete absence of context and in gross distortion of history, ISM announced that the "Occupational Army [Israeli army] causes damage to the Old City of Nablus by injuring and killing people, putting curfews over the population, demolishing houses without any reason or as a collective punishment to the families of martyrs.…" The simplistic summary "without any reason" demonstrates that ISM's agenda is far from the promotion of 'freedom', but rather the legitimization of the violent Palestinian uprising and an indirect endorsement of terror against Israeli civilians. The report also failed to mention that the city is a Hamas stronghold, home to many bomb factories and a large proportion of suicide bombers emanate from there. Elsewhere, talking of the history of the city, ISM fails to mention its importance in Jewish and Biblical tradition. It refers to it simply as a 'Palestinian city.'
5) The ISM is silent on Palestinian terror attacks, and the deliberately targeting of Israeli civilians, thereby tacitly endorsing these crimes against humanity.
The ideological and political agendas of ISM are camouflaged through the façade and discourse of human rights and the heritage of freedom fighters such as Martin Luther King. Although ISM does have the courage to criticize the Palestinian leadership and no doubt attracts many genuine volunteers, it does not promote an honest agenda. Its lack of acknowledgement of the suffering of both sides, its whitewashing of Jewish tradition and its endorsement of Palestinian terrorism prove the NGO is far from committed to universal human rights.