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Compassionate Listening Project – in Israel and Palestine

Meeting with Adam and Huwaida of the International Solidarity Movement
Interview by Linda Wolf

Linda: You too just got married, yes? What a time and place to be newly weds! But life really does go on. Adam, you’re Israeli and Huwaida is Palestinian? Where did you meet and where are you two from?

Adam: Yes, we’re from the states. I’m Jewish, not Israeli. We both have US passports. We’ve both been working in Israel for a long time. We met when we worked together with Seeds of Peace.

Huwaida: I’m Palestinian. My parents are from here. I was born in the US and lived there most of my life.

Adam: She was conceived in Palestine!

Linda: I’m sure you must have heard this before, but when I arrived here, not even yet off the plane, and mentioned that I might be working with the ISM, someone called me a self-hating Jew.

Adam: Yes, I’m the ”King of self hating Jews!“

Linda: What is the philosophy behind your work with ISM?

Adam: The Philosophy behind, and the impetus for, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) developed out of the realization that many people don’t know that a Palestinian non-violent movement exists. It was not receiving attention or support domestically, internally or externally. And it needs the support of foreigners to help support it and be a resource for it, because when internationals are present the IDF is more on guard not to exercise violence when the people respond to the situation non violently.

Linda: This seems to be the most important reason.

Basically, when Palestinians try to go out and march, or protest their situation, or remove a roadblock to the entrance of their village, they face the possibility of extreme violence and intimidation from Israeli soldiers. Even before a stone is thrown, an action on behalf of Palestinians can be seen as violent, and the response of the IDF is often to fight back, starting with rubber bullets, and then going to live ammunition. But, when internationals are present, the dynamic changes. This brings the international media, who will take an interest even when it’s only a few Palestinians, if you have internationals there. But, for the past few months, the media has been limited in its extent to move in the West Bank, and we haven’t been getting as much media as we would like. The visibility is very important as it helps quell violent reactions.

Linda: We’ve been listening to a lot of people and it’s clear this is a very critical time right now. How are you dealing with all this?

Huwaida: I am the one who sends out the email alerts to the international community. I’m beginning to feel like things in this situation are so normal; everyday, I hear the same thing. Today, for example I was putting out an email alert, when I got call about an incident in one of the occupied villages – soldiers opened fire at a checkpoint where no internationals were and shot a 17-year-old girl in the head. Her uncle, a man I know, called it in. The sad thing is that this doesn’t surprise me anymore.

If you go to the Gaza checkpoint and see the way the soldiers treat Palestinians, as we saw when we were monitoring, they are herded like cattle. And if they don’t comply with the soldiers at the checkpoint, or if one person complains, one soldier can hold 50 people back from crossing, deciding their fate for the rest of their day. These people may have set aside 2 hours to get through the checkpoint and might have to wait many more, if they’re lucky at all, to get through that day. If they get restless and reactive, and ask questions, a soldier will toss a tear gas canister or concussion bomb. I have to ask myself so often, how can anyone have so little regard for human life and human suffering.

When you’re Palestinian, your life is totally determined by soldiers and the people with the power over you. What the Palestinians see is that even if they are in the right, there is no one there to hold the soldiers accountable. That’s what the importance of an international presence is for.

Linda: When we were in Gaza we met a group of ISM folks. I have to say they looked a little bored that day. I know what you’re doing is incredible work, but on this trip we’ve heard some criticisms of ISM, not from those folks we met, but from others in the ”peace movement.“ I say that in parentheses because the word peace has come to have a very different meaning to me since coming here.

We’ve heard three specific criticisms. One is that you won’t work with Israeli peace organizations. Another is that ISM international activists leave here only having had an experience of actions without having a strong contextual grounding, a good sense of history or broad overview. The last is that you are not balanced, you represent only one side of the picture – that of the Palestinian suffering – and leave out the Israeli point of view.

Adam: We all feel we have not been as active as we want to be, or as some expect us to be, in terms of direct action; especially the last few months, because the situation is so grave. Curfews, and invasions, checkpoint closures make it harder to be active. A lot of what people are doing here is, yes, helping ambulances and medical personnel, these kinds of things, but a lot have spent time sitting and talking to families and community leaders and community activists and learned a lot. I’ve listened to people, who have been here working with ISM, give talks in the US, who have spoken brilliantly, not so much about themselves but giving voice to those they heard. This is very valuable. I know from living in the US that the Palestinian people don’t have much of an identity in the US except as terrorists. By coming here, working and witnessing what is going on, talking to the people, and going back home and sharing what they’ve seen and heard, ISM people have a very important role in helping people get a broader sense of what it is to be Palestinian. They can describe their situation and explain how it is for them to live under occupation.

About not working with Israeli peace groups: Having worked with Seeds of Peace, I’m very aware of many of the Palestinian and Israeli organizations, and the focus of most Israeli peace groups is different than ours. Ultimately, the focus of ISM is peace, but in the immediate, our focus is freedom. These are two different concepts and not well understood. In my assessment of the way I think Palestinians see it, Palestinians are looking for freedom and peace and Israelis are looking for peace and security.

Linda: Or security and peace.

Adam: The dynamics used to achieve freedom are different than the dynamics used to achieve peace. I don’t know if, for the most part, Israeli peace groups have internalized this concept in their work.

Huwaida: The ISM has been portrayed as an internal peace group and in that sense Israeli peace groups would ask why we don’t want to work with them, but speaking as a Palestinian womanÉI believe in the power of the people to affect change, and non-violent direct action as means of liberating ourselves and bringing an end to the occupation. There are so many reasons why Palestinian people feel disenfranchised from non violent ways of action. Non violence has been tried in so many forms and what they see and experience is that it has been met with so much violence, so it’s hard to believe that non violence will work. There has been no indication it will work.

I am a firm believer, as are the people who are involved in ISM in nonviolence. We are calling other people to join us, based on a resource we can use which is international solidarity. If we call on good people, by-pass all the resolutions which are resolutions that aren’t being adhered to, forget the governments that aren’t upholding justice, like the US, that aren’t respecting our rights, but calling on average citizens from all over the world, regardless of race and religion, people with an inherent belief in the freedom of all people, to come stand with us, this is a way to extend our voices and work with the power of the people against injustice.

So the International Solidarity Movement is a Palestinian led movement, against occupation, which actively calls on people from all over the world, including Israel, to join us. As people, not as organizations. We’ve seen the phenomena of international solidarity. It is increasing and spreading, and to answer the question why don’t we work with Israeli peace groups, we do work with them, whenever they want to join us as people. When we call for an action, anyone can join, but this movement is a Palestinian movement for freedom and peace, and being such seeks to work with Palestinian people, who feel disenfranchised, people who don’t believe.

Linda: What I hear you saying also, is that sometimes you leave it up to the Palestinian community as to whether they want Israeli activists to join in with them or to not.

Huwaida: It’s left up to the communities whether Israelis are welcome. For the most part, by their own governmental laws Israelis can’t go into the occupied territories, it’s illegal for them. There’s a sensitivity that dates back to Oslo and the whole peace process. During the 7 year peace process Palestinian groups worked with Israeli peace groups, and steps were taken towards normalization of relations which were seen as benefiting only Israelis. While the whole world was talking about peace, the Palestinian economy was going downhill, check points were being instigated, homes demolished, settlements built… So Palestinians believe that they were mislead by this peace process and the Israeli peace groups were in it for how it would benefit them, without achieving justice and freedom and an end to occupation.

In general, this is a lot of what people are sensitive about. Sometimes, you encounter cynicism. People ask, are you a peace worker, because the word peace has come to mean something different. Palestinians think organizations of peace had their eyes shut to what was really happening. When you have your home demolished, and you have no one to cry to, you become cynical to the word peace, and peace doesn’t mean justice.

A lot of people became skeptical. Not all, but this was especially poignant. The Palestinian system of NGOs cut relationships. They issued decrees of no more contact with Israeli groups, unless they specifically, outrightly advocated the implementation of the UN resolutions, including 194, the right to return. This laid out what most people were feeling. We don’t want a cooperation with Israeli organizations that only benefits one side. Israeli peace groups felt hurt by that. They complained about the fact that Palestinians were cutting relationships with them, and making it harder for them to work in their community and accept peace and justice, what we’re all working for. But again, this was the stance of Palestinian civil society, this what we found. It wasn’t against Israeli civilians, but asked, under what banner do they stand? The banner of Peace Now, when I know Peace Now is a Zionist, and doesn’t believe in Palestinian right to return.

All Palestinian organizations and villages say, you’re welcome as individuals, no matter what religion, to join us in our struggle, but don’t come under the name of your group, because we don’t agree on guidelines, and I don’t want my situation to benefit your organizations mission.

Linda: What I’m understanding has to do with what Adam said, that for the Palestinians freedom is the first requisite for peace and any group or person who wants to join the Palestinian people in their struggle has to have this first and foremost as their primary intent. Including pushing for implementation of the UN resolutions, which thus far Israel has not implemented.

Adam: The Palestinian position is if they accept the 1967 borders, which is 22% of the land (they are giving up 78% of their land), they are willing to negotiate, willing to the adjust the green line in exchange for West Bank, where there are settlements.

Additionally, they are seeking to solve the refugee problem. They are asking for Israel to acknowledge the Palestinian peoples’ right of return. The PLO recognized there was also the question of how many people would be allowed to exercise that right. There are a whole list of options that are being talked about; some refugees accepting to go to a 3rd country, like Canada, to resolve issues, or to stay in whatever country they find themselves in now, like Lebanon, but at least from the negotiating position of the Palestinians, the importance is to adhere to international law and UN resolutions which means giving back lands, including lands that have been taken over illegally. And there is the question of compensation for the refugees. Settlements are an issue as well. It’s technically a war crime to establish settlements in occupied lands. So, the Palestinian position is 22% of the land, resolution of refugee problem that is fair and equitable, and to share Jerusalem.

I think most people would find the Palestinian position reasonable, and I think that is the answer to all Israeli critics out there. Now, the catch phrase these days is, Palestinians must make the painful decision to choose peace, but the Palestinians want to chose first is freedom and no one is laying that out for them. It is all wrapped up in accepting an Israeli peace deal, and it’s a shame that Palestinians are in such a weak position. All they are asking for is to uphold international law.

Linda: The Israeli position I’ve been hearing while I’ve been here has been that for the Palestinians to have their freedom and peace, they have to stop the terrorism.

Adam: The terrorism stopped for 4 years. I know for sure because I was here; in 1998 and 99 and 2000 there were no suicide bombings. This was a result of cooperation between Palestinian security agencies, Israeli security agencies and the CIA, and yet, you had a prime minister on the Israeli side in 2000 promising to deliver an end of conflict and making best offer, which didn’t even come closeÉand wanting to declare in Camp David, an end to conflict when they hadn’t even talked about refugees.

I spoke to my congressman when I was in the states, about activists being beaten up, having cameras broken, getting bloody eyes, for trying to deliver food to refugees in the camps. My congressman actually told me that we were being violent by failing to obey Israeli soldiers’ orders.

Linda: What I’m worried about is the day when one person in a group of internationals gets killed. It hasn’t happened yet, but when it does, everything could change.

Adam: There was a doctor already who has gotten killed.

Linda: But, not from lying down in front of a tank. You’re putting your lives on the line every time you do an action. We met with the director of a Palestinian organization working on a very grassroots level, putting people together for peace and understanding and he said there is a quote that goes something like First you resist with your body and if you can’t do that, you resist with your voice, and if you can’t do that, you resist with your heart.

Adam: I’m afraid of the way things are spun in the media, when they’re reported, that the mantra that’s put out is that we are aiding and abetting terrorists and if soldiers have to run us over, it’s because we’re the ones who are wrong. In these days, in America, most people would be willing to buy this, unfortunately.

I hope people in the US are questioning what happened in_____, the village in Afghanistan where US soldiers bombed a wedding party. Forty people, mostly women and children were killed, and 120, injured. Initial reports were that they were responding to enemy fire, hunting terrorists.

Huwaida: We very much believe and support active resistance and we invite people to join us. Some people believe the only way is to turn into a human bomb and attack the other side who is attacking you. We don’t believe this way. We believe in non-violence. I hear it so much, wouldn’t it be great if the Palestinians had a massive non-violent movement; what if Arafat was like Gandhi? You’d have your own state. The nonviolent community is small now, but it’s both of us, Palestinians and internationals, and we are going to persist and put our lives on the line. The International Solidarity Movement is critical also because how are you going to help Palestinian parents, families and communities believe that they can be non-violent and stand up and speak out for themselves when 17 year-old girls get shot in the head. What is going to give them the hope that they can keep part of a Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement?

We don’t provide any false hope or notion that we won’t be attacked or face violence. There are three options. People can continue turning into human bombs and sacrifice their children who are going out to attack innocent Israeli children, civilians, and non combatants, which I and everyone I work with is opposed to; or we can do nothing, or we can use our bodies and voices and call for other voices and bodies and continue to resist. We have a right to confront their might with the belief we have that the power of the people will eventually overcome.

We know there is more suffering to come, but we’re suffering as it is and we can’t just sit and do nothing. And I, we, don’t think anyone believes that we have the power or force of arms to confront the Israeli military; that is not an option. So we use what we have, ourselves.

Just so you know, back in December or January, some high official was asked what would you do if 10,000 people marched on a settlement. He said, “either we shoot them, or we let them go, and we’re not going to let them go.“ Palestinians have good reason to fear. But one thing I am adamant about not having portrayed is that the ISM is an international movement that has the notion that we need to teach Palestinians the nonviolent way. That’s one of the first questions I am asked: Are you coming to help them be nonviolent? Because, Palestinians are always labeled violent.

People see so much violence because of the occupation forces, and then you listen to news and hear Palestinians have been violent, it’s the Palestinians who are violent. I almost want to explode. I can’t stand to hear the term. Palestinians are so abused with this term. The majority of the struggle has not been violent, it has been nonviolent and we are so misunderstood.

The sad thing that they don’t realize is what they’re doing is creating more suicide bombers and more people willing to sacrifice life in this way. I called a kid I’d worked with at Seeds of Peace once recently. He was a member for four or five years. Lots of Israeli kids loved him and he stood for peaceful resistance. I had to argue with him on the phone. His city was invaded, I could hear the missiles as we spoke, they must have been 10 yards away from him. And he was saying, Sharon is killing us; he wants to wipe out of terrorists, but he’s creating people like me who are willing to sacrifice our lives. People are fighting for freedom, we don’t have bombs to drop on them, but we will turn ourselves into bombs if we have to. Either Palestine is liberated, or else ever Palestinian is going to being wiped out.

I don’t see what Sharon is doing now as elevating or providing more security for Israelis. Sadly, when we encounter Israeli soldiers, they aren’t going to provide security for Israel, because they’re teaching Palestinians to hate them more. Every Israeli soldier will tell you I don’t want to be here in this Palestinian city, I’m only doing my job, they say there are terrorists in this city and I am going to find them.

If you want to join us, come join in with our platform, to end the occupation. But don’t come with any other banner, come opposed to the occupation. That is the stand we take. The ISM is not an organization. It is people who are standing together from all over the world, for freedom. The freedom: to be able to live life without restrictions put on us by the Israeli military government; freedom to elect and chose our own government; freedom to move freely in our own future state, in our own lands; freedom to be able to pursue an education, make a living; freedom to live.

Right now freedom would be able to open door and go to local market, without being afraid of tanks coming down the street, and opening fire. Before, freedom meant going to another village; now it means just going down the street to the neighbor’s house.