Is the International Solidarity Movement "pro-terrorist?"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Last week, I offhandedly referred to the International Solidarity Movement as a "pro-terrorist" organization, noting its support for the Palestinian right to armed struggle. ISM has consistently endorsed this right in a context where "Palestinian armed struggle" in practice is overwhelmingly directed against Israeli civilians, whether by suicide bombings, lone wolf attacks, or missiles coming from Gaza.

Eugene received correspondence from ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf, who objected to that characterization. She wrote, "recognizing legitimate armed struggle (as the United Nations has done in numerous General Assembly resolutions, and as does the First Additional Protocol to the Fourth Geneva Convention) does not equate to supporting the killing of civilians. Furthermore, the ISM has always been quite clear that, although we recognize the Palestinian people's right to legitimate armed struggle, we only support nonviolent means of resistance."

Despite some disclaimers about its opposition to terrorism on ISM's website, I stand by my characterization of ISM as pro-terrorist.

Consider ISM's support for Samer Issawi, a terrorist affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Israeli authorities arrested Issawi at the height of the second intifada in 2002 for crimes that "included four shootings, between July 2001 and February 2002, in which Issawi and his partners fired on police cars and buses travelling between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem. In one attack, a policeman was injured and required surgery. On October 30, 2001, Issawi, together with an accomplice, fired at two students walking from the Hebrew University campus to their car in a nearby parking lot. In another case, Isawi provided guns and explosive devices to a squad, who fired on a bus. Finally, in December 2001, Issawi ordered an attack on security personnel at Hebrew University, providing a squad with a pistol and a pipe bomb. Two of the squad members tracked security personnel but opted not to execute the attack."

Issawi was freed as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap in 2011, then rearrested for violating the terms of his release. He then began a hunger strike that received international attention.

In January 2013, the ISM website published a very sympathetic article on Issawi, containing no acknowledgement of, much less disapproval of, his terrorist activities. In March, it printed a statement from him.

I haven't seen that ISM, or anyone else for that matter, has denied that Issawi was guilty of the 2002 acts that led to his conviction. ISM nevertheless tweeted a suggestion that Issawi was a "political prisoner."

Even more egregiously, in April, ISM tweeted, "Samer Issawi: Freedom Fighter #FreesamerNOW". I'll put that firmly in the category of "pro-terrorist."

What about Arraf's claim that ISM "has always been quite clear that … we only support nonviolent means of resistance?"

In 2002, with Palestinian terror groups engaging in brutal attacks that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians and wounded thousands, and ISM in its early days, Arraf and ISM co-founder Adam Shapiro wrote an article, reprinted on the ISM website, that endorsed nonviolence as an additional tactic Palestinians could use along with terrorism, not as a replacement for it.

The authors began by emphasizing "we do not advocate adopting the methods of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.," but rather advocate nonviolence as "a strategic element of resistance as part of a larger Intifada."

The authors go on to argue that violence is absolutely necessary to a successful "liberation" movement:

The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics—both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement—in India militants attacked British outposts and interests while Gandhi conducted his campaign, while the Black Panther Movement and its earlier incarnations existed side-by-side with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

What did the ISM co-founders mean by "violent" resistance? They provided an example: "Violent resistance is when an armed Palestinian fighter shoots an Israeli who is oppressing him." Note, not an "Israeli soldier" but any Israeli deemed to be "oppressing" a Palestinian.

After several paragraphs in which the authors explain why it would benefit Palestinians to develop a nonviolent resistance movement, they then quote Malcolm X, "'we declare our right on this earth, to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, in this society, on this earth, on this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.' Palestinians too should use any means necessary, and that includes the use of nonviolent direct action."

Can we say with a straight face, then, that it "has always been quite clear" that ISM "only support[s] nonviolent means of resistance?"

Note that I'm not arguing that ISM is itself a terrorist organization, nor questioning its commitment to nonviolence as a tactic, nor I am suggesting that everyone affiliated with ISM now or in the past approves of terrorism. But I stand by my characterization of ISM as "pro-terrorist."

UPDATE: For further elaboration on the points discussed above, see my followup post here.