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Daily Star staff: Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement comes to Lebanon

Ecumenical, non-violent opposition group organizes civilian convoy to South

By Jim Quilty for The Daily Star
Thursday, August 10, 2006

BEIRUT: “We’ve been told the situation here is different from Palestine,” says Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. “In Palestine you have Israeli soldiers on the ground actively brutalizing civilians. Here, they’ve been brutalizing civilians from the air. That certainly is a tactical difference. But the brutal aggression, the terrorizing of civilians is the same. The war crimes are the same. The impunity with which Israel carries this out is the same. The dehumanization of the other is the same…”The way they expel you from your land is the same and, if you try to stay and resist, you’re terrorized and dehumanized and killed – that’s all the same as in Palestine.”

It seems you don’t have to be a Hizbullah militant to shame the Israeli and US governments.

Arraf, her husband Adam Shapiro and a handful of other activists co-founded the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in 2001. The ISM is a Palestinian-led movement devoted to applying non-violent direct action to resist the Israeli occupation. ISM aims to provide Palestine’s popular resistance with two resources: international protection and a voice to resist Israel’s military occupation non-violently. Its activists argue that Israel’s occupation, oppression and domination of the Palestinians must be dismantled through people’s action.

“The occupation,” as their mission statement says, “can be defeated by strategic, disciplined unarmed resistance, utilizing the effective resources Palestinians can mobilize – including international participation.”

An ISM advanced team made up of Arraf, Shapiro and a couple of other Americans have been in Lebanon for little over a week, planning actions to confront the month-long Israeli campaign against Lebanon. Still in formulation, the ISM program will be a multifaceted one that ranges from reportage – to counter what they describe as a pro-Israeli bias in the international media – to more direct activism.

“Israel and the United States are trying to separate the Lebanese from Hizbullah, which we completely reject. Since we’ve been here, it’s been obvious this war isn’t just against Hizbullah. It’s against all Lebanese. We need to stand up to it. The ways we need to do that is to work with Lebanese civilians to break down this media message that the Israeli military tries to put out there – that it cares about Lebanese civilians.”

In their first action, ISM has asked to participate in a Lebanese initiative – a civilian aid convoy to the Southern town of Tyre. The convoy has been set to depart on August 12, the one-month anniversary of the Israeli offensive and the date chosen for the beginning of an international day of protest against Israeli aggression. So far the action has been endorsed by more than 200 Lebanese and international organizations. “The object is to … bring needed supplies to one of the villages that’s been cut off from relief,” says Arraf.

“Israel’s tactics here are different than in Palestine, but I think that the solidarity and the unity of the people that’s needed to confront this can be the same, though our tactics may be different. With this campaign for instance, we are actively challenging two things.

“First, the argument that Hizbullah is somehow separate from the Lebanese people. This convoy is an all-Lebanese initiative joined by the international community. Everyone that’s going in on this is saying that we are all the resistance and we are all resisting Israel’s aggression.

“Second, Israel is actively trying to clear out the South of her people, to make it impossible for them to return. There have been people that have stayed, that have been withstanding this brutalization. We want to be able to get to them as an act of solidarity, as a rejection of this effort to get people to leave. “If we are able to do it successfully with this convoy we’ll follow with a second convoy, and more. We may have to escalate our actions to the point of people starting to return to their homes. If that’s possible, we can let the world know that Israel is attacking civilians, that this is Lebanese land and it’s the right of Lebanese to be on it.”

War reduces normally nuanced loyalties to black-and-white terms, and one of the challenges facing Lebanon’s NGO and civil society activists for the last month has been association with Hizbullah, whose policy goals do not necessarily correspond to their own, beyond opposition to Israeli invasion.

Arraf is aware of the same dynamic from Palestine. “One of the things that ISM has been very clear about and we worked very hard to maintain is that we will not get involved in internal politics. We have to work with everybody. Israeli aggression is so massive and one of the ways they succeed is by trying to divide the people. We need to be united. A lot of people talk about unity, but it often isn’t really translated on the ground very well. ISM refuses to be too closely affiliated with any one party. We work with everybody across the political spectrum, as long as we all have the same goals. We’ve taken a lot of flak for this in the US because we refuse to say that we won’t work with Hamas or Islamic Jihad. If they’re willing to struggle in the way that we can struggle we will work with them. We’re trying not to get caught up in the same thing here. We all need to work together. We can’t force anything on the people here but it has to be known that we will work with anyone here and won’t be used for those kinds of political purposes.

“All our efforts have to be directed to Israel’s aggression against civilians. What I would love to see is thousands of Lebanese, displaced or not, marching on the South, defying Israel, insisting upon reclaiming their land.”

For more information on the International Solidarity Movement’s work in Palestine and Lebanon, see www.palsolidarity.org and www.lebanonsolidarity.org