September 29, 2003 | Op-ed

ISM: A False Personification

By Ensieh Sarrami

However benevolent intentions may be, actions can very well prove otherwise. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a prime example in which good intentions set aside, its actions call for skepticism, and even maybe fear. What good can come out of promoting violence and instilling hatred? On ISMers' path to bringing an end to the “illegal occupation of Palestinians”, they make many mistakes by serving as human shields and physically hiding terrorists. They not only fail in helping the Palestinian cause, but also aggravate it by fomenting anger on both sides.

As a Palestinian-led organization, ISM works to raise awareness of the struggle for Palestinian freedom and an end to Israeli occupation. The means through which it proceeds are claimed to be nonviolent, direct resistances to encounter and defy “illegal” Israeli occupation forces and policies. At the same time, followers recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via “legitimate armed struggle.” In other words, ISM advocates violence in response to violence even though it claims to encourage nonviolent methods of resistance.

Furthermore, ISM declares that it will actually provide “training” to educate people on how to enter Israel illegally and break Israeli law. It instructs those interested to try to look less suspicious, and not to mention ISM. But by advising ISMers to appear less suspicious, the organization admits that there is reason to be distrustful of it. As stated on its website, “So do a little bit of research and put together a story that you'll be able to answer questions about.” In other words, ISM members enter Israel posing as tourists when in fact they transform themselves into terrorists, or support and harbor Palestinian terrorist organizations around the West Bank and Gaza.

Fortunately, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is starting to bar these so-called “peace activists” from entering the country. This was due to the fact that two terrorists, who were also British citizens with alleged ties to the ISM, infiltrated Israel through the Gaza Strip in the beginning of May 2003. These men were involved in the suicide bombing at Mike's Place, a favorite bar in Tel Aviv, April 30. In addition to taking part in direct terrorist activity, ISM is a safe haven for the three main terrorist organizations in Israel: Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Recently, a member of the ISM group was detained by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza refugee camp of Rafah for sleeping in a house suspected of concealing one of the tunnels used by terrorists to smuggle arms from nearby Egypt.

True peace activists are concerned about establishing peace and security on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Peace is hindered as ISM falls short in comprehending its actions. It is bad enough that Hamas leaders and other terrorists serve as mentors to Palestinian children, teaching them hate and violence. If foreigners begin to do the same, hate and violence will become trivial and sooner or later, legitimate. But wait, I thought the message was to mimic Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Finally, ISM neglects the consequences of its actions for Palestinians, Israelis, and Muslims. For the Palestinians, foreign human shields confirm and justify their need for terrorist activity. ISM human shields galvanize the Israeli fear that terrorism is spreading because some choose to harbor it. The added concern that terrorists could try to enter Israel under the guise of being “peace activists” will just give the Israelis more reason to stiffen their policies towards the Palestinians. And, as if Islam has not been misinterpreted enough, this solidarity movement encourages suicide. While Islam prohibits suicide and the killing of innocents, ISM inspires Palestinians to blow themselves up in order to become “shuhada” (martyrs).

Promoting a cycle of violence and hatred will never resolve anything. Instead, educating the Palestinians will have farther-reaching consequences. In trying to achieve Palestinian freedom, ISM needs to recollect that teaching nonviolence requires much greater courage than standing in front of Israeli bulldozers in order to protect Palestinian tunnels through which weapons are smuggled. Voices will never be really heard if actions misconstrue intentions.

Ensieh Sarrami is an Undergraduate Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.