A response from Huwaida Arraf of the International Solidarity Movement

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Huwaida Arraf of the International Solidarity Movement wanted a chance to respond to David Bernstein's criticisms of ISM (see here and here); and I'm happy to oblige. David might respond in turn in a later post. Here is Ms. Arraf's response:

In an April 13, 2015 article, "'Equity and Inclusion' at Connecticut College", http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/04/12/diversity-and-inclusion-at-connecticut-college/, David Bernstein referred to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an organization that I co-founded with Palestinian and Israeli colleagues, as a "pro-terrorist organization." He went on to libelously, and quite outrageously, suggest that we support killing students and faculty! After a concerned communication from me to the blog's editor, Bernstein updated his post http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/04/17/is-the-international-solidarity-movement-pro-terrorist/ to include weak arguments purporting to support his mischaracterization and appalling suggestions.

Mr. Bernstein originally wrote:

"Speaking of the anti-Israel speakers, one of them, Fida Qishta, is the former Gaza coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-terrorist organization. More specifically, its mission statement proclaims, 'We recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle.' Do you [Dean Sandy Grande, Interim Dean of Equity and Inclusion] believe that bringing such an individual to campus furthers the goals of inclusion and diversity, especially with regard to Israeli students and faculty, whom the ISM believes are legitimate targets of 'armed struggle,' i.e., murder?"

Recognizing the right to legitimate armed struggle (as the United Nations has done in numerous General Assembly resolutions, and as does the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions) does not equate to supporting the killing of civilians. By specifying "legitimate" armed struggle, we distinguish between armed struggle that adheres to the laws of war, i.e. refrains from targeting noncombatants, and that which does not. Furthermore, the ISM has always been quite clear that, even though we recognize the Palestinian people's right to legitimate armed struggle, we only support nonviolent means of resistance. All of this information is clearly spelled out on our website: http://palsolidarity.org/about/faq/. As such, it is troubling that Mr. Bernstein deliberately chose to so egregiously misrepresent our organization. In his follow-up post, Bernstein does not dispute any of the above, but rather argues that "'Palestinian armed struggle' in practice is overwhelmingly directed against Israeli civilians" and, therefore, ISM's recognition of the right of Palestinians to use legitimate armed struggle against their occupiers equals support for terrorists. Yet the fact remains that the ISM has never manifested any support for attacks on civilians. Bernstein, on the other hand, has sought to minimize the impact of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians as he did last August when he disputed figures coming from the United Nations on the number of civilians being killed in Israel's assault on Gaza and argued instead for putting faith in the figures coming from Israel—the very government killing hundreds of innocent men, women, and children.

Bernstein references the ISM's social media advocacy on behalf of Samer Issawi, whose alleged crimes include attacks on civilians, to support his claim that ISM is "pro-terrorist." Perhaps Bernstein also considers Amnesty International, who also campaigned for Issawi's release to be "pro-terrorist"? ISM did join a social media campaign calling for Issawi's release from an Israeli prison following his initiation of a hunger strike that put him on the brink of death, and indeed we referred to him as a political prisoner. I cannot comment on whether or not Issawi is guilty of the crimes that he was charged with. However, it is not surprising that he was convicted. Israel has an apartheid, two-tier justice system which subjects Palestinians and Israelis living in the same territory to different laws. Palestinians are subjected to Israeli military law where they are denied basic protections as well as the right to a fair trial. For example, a Palestinian can be held for up to eight days before being brought before a judge, whereas in the civilian courts, an Israeli can only be held up to 24 hours before seeing a judge. Palestinians can be held for up to 90 days without access to a lawyer and regularly face torture and ill-treatment during the arrest, interrogation and detention phases of their incarceration, whereas Israeli civil laws protect Israelis from such abuse. In Israel's military court system, the prosecutor and the judge are members of the Israeli military, and the burden of proof required to convict Palestinians is minimal, resulting in a conviction rate of nearly 100%. Therefore, unsurprisingly, Issawi was convicted of the crimes he was charged with, without ever having a fair chance for any other outcome.

Notably, however, Issawi was released in a 2011 Egyptian-negotiated prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas. The campaign for his release referenced by Bernstein was initiated when he was rearrested, not for any kind of violent act, but for simply leaving the city of Jerusalem to go get his car fixed in the West Bank. When Issawi began a hunger strike to protest his re-arrest and imprisonment, we joined the calls for his release. In a system where Palestinian lives and their freedom of movement is controlled by the Israeli Occupying Power, Issawi, as most Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails—many held without charge, others held for various forms of political expression—are indeed political prisoners. While some might understand the term "political prisoner" narrowly, we, like Amnesty International, adopt a broader definition, which includes persons accused or convicted of a crime carried out in a political context. According to Bernstein's logic, Nelson Mandela—who co-founded the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC)—should not have been referred to as a political prisoner and those who called for his release should also be called "pro-terrorist."

Bernstein's original post linked to a 2004 Telegraph UK article that quotes my husband and me as stating that, "The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both non-violent and violent." In his follow-up post, Bernstein goes on about how this article shows that we also endorse violent resistance. What the Telegraph article and Bernstein do not inform readers of is that we wrote those words as part of a longer article in which we respond to a prominent Palestinian journalist who argued that nonviolent resistance cannot work for Palestine. In arguing, yes it can, we drew an analogy to the US Civil Rights Movement, which included violent as well as nonviolent resistance. We invite everyone to read our article, "Why Nonviolent Resistance is Important for the Palestinian Intifada: A Response to Ramzy Baroud," for themselves. Bernstein chooses to twist our words in order to make it seem like we advocated violent resistance, when, in actuality, we were using the language of those who champion violent resistance to argue for the use of nonviolence instead.

Since 2001, the ISM has been supporting Palestinian civil resistance by providing international accompaniment, media support and solidarity. A number of our volunteers have been seriously injured and even killed by Israeli forces, with little to no accountability by Israel. In 2003, 23-year-old American, Rachel Corrie, was run over by an Israeli soldier driving an armored Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to prevent the Israeli military from demolishing the home of her host family in Gaza. A few weeks later, Tom Hurndall, a 21-year-old British photography student was sniped (later dying as a consequence of his injuries) in the back of the head as he tried to move two Palestinian children out of the line of Israeli fire. Brian Avery miraculously survived being shot in the face while standing in plain view of Israeli soldiers with his hands raised (hands up, don't shoot!). In 2009, Israeli forces shot American peace activist, Tristan Anderson, in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister that decimated his frontal lobe and left him physically and cognitively disabled even after numerous brain surgeries. In 2010, Jewish American student Emily Henochowicz—approximately one third of our volunteers are Jewish—lost her eye when Israeli soldiers shot a tear gas canister at her face during a demonstration at the Qalandia checkpoint. And the list goes on.

Despite the danger, volunteers from all over the world, ranging in age from 18 to 85 have continued to join the ISM to stand with Palestinian civilians and Israeli peace activists in calling for an end to Israel's brutal occupation and apartheid regime. The international volunteers then go back to their home countries with eyewitness stories, personal photos and videos to share in an effort to educate people about what is really happening in the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel supporters such as Bernstein would rather not hear our message nor have us be heard, and frequently resort to calling us "terrorist supporters" in an effort to silence us.

We have had problems over the last 14 years with a handful of volunteers who have violated ISM principles, but these incidents can be explained by ISM if provided the opportunity. If the ISM really supported terror, Israel would have declared us an illegal organization and moved to prosecute our members, myself included, by now. But this has not happened.

We are all-too-frequently harassed, beaten, arrested, deported, and many of our former volunteers are barred entry into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory by the Israeli authorities. Nevertheless, we continue to operate. The ISM has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is not because we are "pro-terrorist" but rather because we are pro human rights and pro justice. In our movement, Jews stand alongside Muslims and Christians, Palestinians alongside Israelis and people from all over the world to say "end the occupation, freedom now!"

Mr. Bernstein overlooks the real facts about ISM and the overall situation in his desire to make the case for Israel. But disregarding the subjugation Palestinians have endured for decades is working less and less with young Americans, particularly American Jews and people of color who increasingly know the realities Palestinians live. Strikingly, according to a recent Pew poll, 68 percent of liberal Democrats now sympathize "some" or "a lot" with Palestinians while just 60 percent sympathize with Israel. American viewpoints are changing very quickly now that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so clearly been exposed during the recent election campaign as harboring bigoted views of non-Jewish citizens of Israel and antipathy to a two-state solution with Palestinians—not to mention one state with equal rights for all. Mr. Bernstein, rather than spending most of his time defending Israel's occupation and war crimes, should think through what Israel can do to end its subjugation of the Palestinian people, a prerequisite for any kind of peace in the region.

In the event that I am not again provided the opportunity to respond to further distortions that Bernstein is likely to put across in response to this post, readers are invited to follow the work of the International Solidarity Movement and judge for themselves.