In this first episode of the International Solidarity Movement podcast, we interview Abdel Karim – who has been with the movement since the early 2000s.
The ISM is a grassroots Palestinian-led organisation, with principles of non-violence , non-hierarchy, and anti oppression. It makes all of its decisions by consensus. Over the last 20 years it has been an important way for people internationally to get involved in the Palestinian popular struggle.
If you would like an explanation of the terms used in this podcast, you can find a useful glossary on pages 140-154 of Shoal Collective’s Ebook
(you can also see this by clicking transcript in the player above)
Hey, welcome to international solidarity movement podcast [followed by Arabic translation]
Hello and welcome to the first episode of the International Solidarity Movement podcast This podcast has been made by three volunteers who visited the West Bank in December 2022, to join the work of the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement. My name’s Tom – and I first joined ISM over 20 years ago now – In 2002. Since then I have been on many visits to Palestine over the years.
I made this podcast with my comrades Hazel and Nicole. We wanted to make the podcast to amplify some of the struggles that are happening right now in Palestine, and particularly to raise awareness of the work of ISM. We’re hoping that some of you who’ll listen might consider joining ISM in Palestine.
The three of us are involved in anti-repression organising in the UK – supporting prisoners, and people experiencing state repression. We wanted to learn about how people in Palestine support each other in the face of the Israeli occupation’s prison system, and many of our interviews touch on this subject.
We’ve recorded a series of 14 interviews. This first interview is with Abdel Karim, who’s an amazing Palestinian friend and comrade who has been with the ISM since almost the beginning. We asked him some questions about himself and what drew him to working with the International Solidarity Movement. The ISM is a grassroots Palestinian led organisation, with principles of non-violence , non-hierarchy, and anti oppression. It makes all of its decisions by consensus.
First a note about the way the use of the term non-violence in this interview. ISM is part of the Palestinian popular ‘non-violent’ unarmed. resistance against the occupation (a resistance which – I should add – is met by extreme militarised armed violence by the Israeli forcesand settlers). In contrast to many strands of European pacifism’, ISM does not see non-violence as the only legitimate tactic against Israeli colonisation. Instead the ISM points out that the Palestinians have the right to use force to resist. However, the goal of ISM is to use non-violent tactics as a way of furthering the Palestinian struggle. And now I’ll pass over to Nicole and Abdel Karim:
Hello, thank you for joining us today. Please can you share a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with ISM? Nicole: What was it that led you to ISM? What do you think is the role of internationalists who come?
Abdel Karim 02:33
Hello. Welcome and I’m happy meeting you and working with you. I am Abdel Karim, [I am] Palestinian. Now I’m a freelance journalist, but I used to be an activist and also a human rights defender [for] last, like 30 years, after [my] release from the prison.
I have been a student in Turkey, as a mechanical engineer. During a vacation coming back to visit my family I was arrested, accused to do [illegal] activity – at that time in ’80s to be a member even in the student union – the Palestinian student union – or any political party, it is illegal according to the Israeli occupation security system, which is not a real system, it is an occupation system. So I spent like from 1984 until 1990 in prison – six years – sentenced first for five years for being an activist and for membership in a political party within the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation]. And after six months of being released I was arrested again and put in administrative detention. Because it was during the First Intifada, and they used to arrest Palestinians, even [though] I work[ed] as a journalist at that time, at the beginning. I [had got] engaged and [was] starting my new life. But anyway, they arrested me for six months, then they extend [an]other six months, accusing me that I do something even during while I was in prison, which is fake. Then I [was] released in 1990. Married, and now I have five children. I work[ed] as a journalist in Al Ayyam newspaper, as a reporter for that newspaper. And after 10 years, I quit and work as a Palestinian freelance journalist. As you may know, that ISM, the International Solidarity Movement, started in 2001 when some Palestinian activists and other international volunteers [were] here – found that during the Second Intifada when it started in 2000 – that there is a need to do something to protect the Palestinians, from the violence of the occupation forces at that time, when they invade all the Palestinian cities, making curfews, road blocks and killing a lot of Palestinians. So those internationals and Palestinian activists joined together to act and to participate in Palestinian non-violent direct actions against the occupation. So it started like this. They make their principles. As a journalist in Tulkarem, and in the hot areas that was in the North – Nablus, Tulkarem, Jenin and others – and there is a lot of international volunteers. So we [made a local] group of this movement, I joined this movement, because I like – I really convinced and like – the principles and the rules that they are working with. [I was] especially convinced with nonviolent direct action resistance, including boycott as the most active way to show our issue and to lead us for freedom. What made me like ISM in general, is because at that time, I [was] a member of different societies in Tulkarem, including the Red Crescent. And, and we hosted those international volunteers in our society, because they’re doing a great work for us. And as journalists… it leads me also to free movement because the Israeli’s occupation will put more obstacles against Palestinian journalists, even though we hold an International Press Card, we are mostly targeted. International volunteers [did] much moving [of] road blocks, breaking the curfews, joining the ambulances to rescue the injured people. This great work involved me.
And also the rules, ISM have – used to have – three main principles. First, the Palestinian-led organisation. Even though it includes both Palestinians and internationals, but [it is] Palestinian-led. Which means that we, as ISMers – as a movement, as volunteers, believing in non-violence, will follow what the Palestinian grassroots organisation, what the grassroots needs, and what they’ve learned. Palestinian-led means also that the international activists are not initiating any kind of activity, They are just participating, being in solidarity, stand[ing] hand-by-hand with the Palestinians in direct non-violent actions. So, the other principle is non violence, we believe in non violence as a power, of nation, of people against the oppression. So, non violence, it is not a tactic, it is a strategy of ISM and the strategy of a lot of liberation movements, for example like India, South Africa and other places. The other thing that attracted me was that in the past, I was a member in a political party, which depends on hierarchical – I don’t know this exactly in English – a hierarchical system. And ISM is uhhierarchical. So, there [are] no leaders, all the volunteers, all the members in this organisation are having the power of making decisions together. No leaders, and no power – no one tell us what to do. We are doing what comes from the grassroots, what are the needs from the community. So we are here for like joining the Palestinian nonviolent struggle being like a protective presence, and documenting the violations from the Israeli occupation forces and settlers – colonial settlers, illegal settlers – [who are] here acting against Palestinian people, land, and their homes. [We are] against the system of ethnic cleansing… house demolishing and confiscating land and uprooting of trees, and everything [that]’s happening from the occupation forces. And we are believe in this also, ISM believes that the Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation, according to the international law – in every ways. But ISM like use the nonviolent strategy in that struggle. So people are appreciated those internationals, which gives hope. Yeah, the issue is, in general, also, there is two other issues which attracted and encouraged people to join ISM. First of all, ISM volunteers are self-funded. So we are not under an umbrella of any political party, or any conditional funds come from any side. So we have our independent policy. And also most of all, they are not related or connected to any political party. So we are connected to the needs of the Palestinian movement, with the Palestinians. So this gives the respect for ISM volunteers [in] the Palestinian community in general.
What sort of things do people do like day to day? And obviously, you know, it’s been going a really long time – what are some of the kinds of successes you’ve seen of like the power of ISM here?
Abdel Karim 12:11
Yeah, there’s a lot of successes, I said that seeing international volunteers presence here in solidarity with Palestinians gives the hope of Palestinians that we are not alone, we will not lose the hope. Also ISM – in the past – when they started building the apartheid wall against West Bank, we managed to stop it and highlight how it affects the Palestinian life. And in the past also ISM activists when they are in solidarity with Palestinians who[se] homes will be demolished, stay… at home resisting the demolition order, either to [stop it], or delay it until the people can reach the court and stop it. We have a lot of succe[ss] in this issue. Nowadays, maybe the increasing of the violence from the Israelis, and they didn’t care about the international volunteers Or even about the human rights, even in this case, the highlight of the Palestinian case with volunteers, human rights activists joining ISM in their countries because most of the work for the international volunteers when they are seeing in their eyes, what’s happening here and participating and feel what’s happening here, when they return back they make a lot of activities for Palestinians within their countries. They managed to change a little bit public opinion in those countries, to put pressure on their governments who usually – specially European countries, United States – usually, like supporting and still supporting Israel… so Palestinians reach many succe[ss] in the field of highlight[ing] whats the life under the occupation, and make a public opinion [that] the Palestinian goals should be solved. The Palestinians should have their rights for freedom, return and justice.
It’s been like a real pleasure to meet you here, and have training from you, and have little moments of conversation with you about your life. And I think for people listening from other countries it would be amazing if you can share a little bit more about your background – if you feel comfortable – like what politicised you?
Abdel Karim 14:54
This is not only me. It is it’s happening for every Palestinian, like students or even children, when they live under the occupation for this long time. I [was] born – I am 60 years old, 65 actually, today is my birthday [laughter] – Yeah 65 years old. I [was] born before the occupation of ’67. And my family used to be from Yaffa [Jaffa], from ’48 [The name given to the territories taken by Zionist forces in 1948]. But we are not registered as refugees, we are living in Tulkarem, and we have homes in Yaffa. So we lost most of our land. So Palestinian people in general are very connected to politics because of their cause. So as a child – nine years old born under the occupation and in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s [there was] a lot of resistance because we thought that this occupation should be ended – so I involved in politics, as a child in the school – because at that time [in the] ’70s there is a lot of military forces in our lives, in between our homes every day. We are facing them, [they] invaded our schools, killing… and we are involved in demonstrations – and most of the time, from ’67 until ’93, when the PA [Palestinian Authority] established there is no armed resistance inside the West Bank and Gaza. It is only like non-violent resistance, maximum throwing stones to express our anger, our rights. So in this environment I was, and then I become like, turn to the let’s say, [the] communist or leftist strategy.
Then I finish my school and there is no university here – for the capacity of most of the Palestinian students – so I study outside, I went to Turkey – to Jordan first – and to Turkey.[inaudible] In Turkey I [was] involved in politics through the Palestinian Students Union, and with the political parties. So this gives me the power when I come here and – because of my activity outside – which is just telling people what’s going on here, and joining some protests here in the vacations. So I was arrested here while I’m coming to visit, at the border between Jordan and the West Bank, which was under the control of the Israelis, and charged for five years for memberships [of political organisations]. When I was released in 1989, it was the First Intifada, which is the big uprising for Palestinian people. It is normal to participate in it. Of course, because [it was] forbidden to travel to continue my study forever, at that time. So no hope for going back to Turkey, or even [to study] in the West Bank. I involved in to change my… work. Because being in prison for like five years, we are very sociable people, and involved in politics. And when I married, she [my wife] asked me what I [would say] to [our] family [about what my occupation would be]. I told her, tell [them] he is a journalist. And then I go to the media, take some workshops, then study [media] in Bir Zeit [university], and I was involved in media work. This is what happened. But we continue [through] the uprising – the First Intifada – the Second Intifada, and the ’90s. All the time [I did] media work as a journalist, and as an activist seeing… a lot of violations – I continue my activity besides my work, and besides [I was] a family keeper, or whatever. So it is normal – and this is the story of every Palestinian of that generation. And it is the story of every Palestinian in this generation also, living under this environment of road blocks, killing, confiscating, demolishing homes – it involved every Palestinian. It involved even international human rights volunteers here. What about Palestinians? And yeah, we feel that as a Palestinian. I feel, and all the Palestinians feel that we will not develop our country, we will not get good economic situation without being free, or hav[ing an] independent state- of this longest occupation, which [is] like doing everything in order to take us out, [already] half of our nation, or more than half – as Palestinians are 14 million now. Maybe six, millions living in Gaza, and the West Bank, East Jerusalem and in what we call Israel, or ’48.
So you know, we’re here in December 2022. And there’s been some clear elections of very right wing politicians in ’48, in Israel. How do you think this is going to affect things in Palestine? And what’s your perspective the necessary direction for liberation of Palestine in the future?
Abdel Karim 21:18
It is not the new that the right wing – or fascist – parties are winning the elections. Because always the Israeli governments are from right wing in general, and continue the project of Zionist in general. The bad issue is from the Palestinian side. Today, for example, it is 2023 – more than 30 years old since signing [the] Oslo Agreement, which is called the ‘peace process’. And most of what happens in this 30 years [is that] that more land is confiscated, more expanding of settlements, more violence created, either from Israeli occupation forces or the colonialist settlers – [now there are] maybe around 800,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank – they are taking the land. And on the other side, the weakness in Palestinian political parties, PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] the division between Gaza and the West Bank. This [has] weakened the Palestinian political leadership, including [the] establish[ment of the] PA [Palestinian Authority] – it goes on the condition of funds, and also affected by very big corruption issues, that make the Palestinian cause very weak.
But on the other hand, the new generation – or the population – which suffered from the occupation, I think they are about to explode against all the[se] system[s]: Israel’s occupation first, and also the PA. Without a big mass of resistance, and the only type of resistance, strategy of resistance [that] can gain is participating as much as population. I have hope, because of the public opinion in the West, like, especially to international activists, international volunteers, international human rights organisations who see in their eyes – that they can a little bit make some changes [to] the public opinion because we need [it]. The Arab Palestinian media, and Arab media is very weak compared to the Zionist media… so that those activists or volunteers coming here and move it or send our message to the European media, making activity in solidarity with Palestinians are chang[ing] the power of the Israeli media, and at least in the communities in Europe – not for the government, because the government are dedicated to supporting Israel as a base for controlling the area in the Arab countries. So I think nowadays, it is up to the Palestinian 14 million nation to do something. Even the ones who are outside – specially in Syria, Lebanon and the refugee camps are facing very bad situation, which gives them no power, just for fighting for living, not supporting. So it depends on how much the people are steadfasting here, how much [we] refuse immigration. Because what happened in ’48, shouldn’t happen again. And it will not happen again.
So finally, one of the aims of this podcast is to encourage people to come. What would you say to people that are maybe thinking about it but are not sure?
Abdel Karim 25:55
I told you that the Palestinian cause now depending on the pressure putting on Israel by the United Nations in general, and the European countries who support Israel. And [they] will not change their policies if they haven’t pressure from their community. So I think that also Palestinians didn’t want to feel left alone. So when they see more internationals coming in solidarity with them, it gives them hope, because they know that [they] are very supportive to them. So I encourage as much volunteers, and people – normal people – to come here and see [the situation] on the ground, in order to face the Zionist media. This is first, and also to support the Palestinians and give this power for the Palestinian to continue their struggle for their rights, justice, freedom and return.