In his CiF piece of January 20th Seth Freedman bemoans yet again what he terms ‘occupation tourism’ and specifically that of the International Solidarity Movement. The latter seemed none too pleased by Freedman’s article and posted the following rebuttal on CiF.
21 Jan 2010, 12:36PM
“In Palestine, solidarity not tourism”
Rebuttal statement on behalf of ISM London
By Pete Jones
As volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement, London we were disappointed to read Seth Freedman?s highly misleading description of the non-violent protests by the Palestinians of Bil?in, and the ISM’s support for them (“Palestine’s occupation tourism”, Comment is Free, 20th January).
Blaming the victim, Freedman bizarrely berates Palestinian participants in the unarmed weekly protests against the Israel occupation army for ?aggression?. This reverses reality. It is the Israeli army that invades the village at night, the Israeli army and settlers that are occupying over 50% of the village’s land. Israel is the aggressor.
As someone who lived in Bil?in for almost two months and participated in a number of demonstrations, I witnessed the leaders of the Popular Committee regularly calling for stones not to be thrown during demonstrations. These calls are made both during the march if the youth (shabab in Arabic) are seen preparing to throw a stone, and in announcements during the week. There is plenty of video footage of Bil?in demonstration organisers asking shabab not to throw stones.
The ability of the leaders of the Popular Committee to make such calls may have been diminished recently — considering the fact that two of them, Abdullah Abu Rahmeh and Adeeb Abu Rahmeh were kidnapped by the Israeli army and are still being held prisoner, and a third, Mohammed Katib has been banned, by Israel, from the village during demonstrations.
It is true that these efforts are not always successful and some hot-headed youth end up throwing stones at the soldiers after the main demonstration, usually after they have been attacked with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas (which sometimes result in death, such as in the case of the late Basem Abu Rahmeh, a peaceful Palestinian protestor murdered by an Israeli soldier in April of last year). Freedman does not live in Bil?in and does not have to live with the regular night-time raids of the Israeli army, in which teenagers as young as 13 are seized, and therefore has no right to dictate the method of resistance to the Palestinians.
Israeli occupation forces have even gone to the extent of infiltrating stone-throwing “mistarvim” (Israeli forces disguised as Arabs) into the protest (see “Gandhi Redux” in Haaretz, 6th September 2005).
Freedman’s claim that ISMers are ?occupation tourists? is also false. In fact the ISM has had an ongoing presence in Bil?in since the villagers’ struggle began in 2005. It is telling when Freedman claims that “activists and NGO workers who have been operating in the region for years can be relied upon to update the watching world on the state of play in the village [without the need for ISMers]” and yet does not name a single one of these mysterious NGOs or activist organisations. The reality is that the ISM has an ongoing and long-term presence in the village. Volunteers often live in an apartment, many staying for months and forging long-term friendships with the people of Bil?in.
ISM volunteers are obliged to attend an intensive training course before they are permitted to work with the organisation. This training ensures ISM activists know the principles which guide the organisation?s work: non-violent action only, Palestinian-led action only and group action only. Freedman seems to scoff at the idea that ISM?s work should be Palestinian-led.
No ISM activist has the authority to tell a Palestinian how to run their resistance. We are not in Palestine to teach non-violence — in fact the Palestinians’ own long tradition of non-violent resistance has a lot to teach us all, from the protests and strikes against the British occupation in the 1930s onwards.
Freedman’s description of this central principle as an attempt to “absolve” ourselves “of any responsibility for the aggression emanating from the Palestinian side” is a typically orientalist attitude based on the false assumption that we westerners know what’s best for the Palestinians and should lead them.
On the contrary we in ISM view our role as witnessing the occupation so that we can raise awareness in our home countries while at the same time making the environment a little safer in Palestine. As a former Israeli solider, Freedman might know that the Israeli army has different rules of engagement at Palestinian protests when internationals or Israelis are involved in them. Live ammunition is not supposed to be used when they are present, but is allowed when Palestinians are alone.
Freedman has written some excellent CiF articles about the Israeli occupation of Palestine in the past, but shifting away from a colonialist point of view is often a long and difficult process. We wish him a speedy progression.
Oh dear; not pleasant. Not very historically accurate either on the subject of ‘the Palestinians’ own long tradition of ‘non-violent resistance’ . Mind you, they’re pretty busy bees down at ISM London, so accuracy will obviously be doomed to taking a back seat. Keep the last sentence of that rebuttal in mind – we’ll come back to that rather condescending and patronising statement later.
Freedman’s article produced some interesting comments below the line. There were those who simultaneously played down violence on the part of the ISM, whilst exaggerating IDF reactions, provoking some of Freedman’s famous ‘fire fighter’ tactics.
20 Jan 2010, 10:59AM
Let?s hope those tourists give a wide berth to any Israeli army bulldozers in the vicinity ? a smart move as Rachel Corrie will confirm (that is, if she hadn?t callously been crushed to death by one)
20 Jan 2010, 10:34AM
Despite billing the march as “nonviolent resistance”, the organisers do nothing to ensure the event lives up to such criteria, and by taking no action hand to the army on a plate the perfect excuse to fight fire with fire.
Since when does the IDF need an excuse to fire on unarmed demonstrators? Do you think that, in the absence of stone throwing, the IDF wouldn’t start lobbing tear gas the moment they saw the protest march approach?
To pretend the IDF don’t have orders to disperse non-violent protesters as violently as they do stone-throwing ones is to pretend that the IDF isn’t there to entrench and expand the occupation. And that does a great disservice to the IDF’s code of conduct and ethics – they will fire on anyone Palestinian, at any time, for any reason. No matter how small, innocent, or otherwise undeserving…
20 Jan 2010, 10:53AM
sorcey – “they will fire on anyone… at any time, for any reason. No matter how small, innocent, or otherwise undeserving…”
pathetic comment. think you’re getting the idf confused with suicide bombers.
Freedman also reacted to suggestions that ISM violence is somehow justified.
20 Jan 2010, 10:25AM
Groups such as International Solidarity Movementattempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the aggression emanating from the Palestinian side, declaring that since the resistance is “Palestinian-led”, they are not going to tell the locals what they can and can’t do in the name of fighting the occupation.
Considering that ISM has had many of its members murdered and seriously injured by IDF thugs, I doubt they’re likely to make a big deal out of some rocks thrown at the tanks of a brutal occupying force. You can’t seriously expect total nonviolence,Seth. There will always be a few people who can’t control their justifiable rage.
20 Jan 2010, 11:06AM
Plus, is throwing rocks at an occupation army really so bad? If I were Palestinian, having a foreign army telling me what to do as they steal my land, throwing rocks would probably be the least I would do!
[recreated from sethfreedman 20 Jan 11.16 am post]
20 Jan 2010, 11:16AM
boblondon – “Plus, is throwing rocks at an occupation army really so bad? If I were Palestinian, having a foreign army telling me what to do as they steal my land, throwing rocks would probably be the least I would do!”
true colours shining through bright as day. another wannabe warrior straight out of ism special forces.
as for the futility of throwing rocks at heavily armed soldiers, i’ve written about the issue here – for all that ism/etc think they’re helping the palestinians by encouraging the violence or saying nothing in opposition to it, they’re doing the exact opposite
finally, the quotes below may be of interest to anyone wondering what ism/psc are all about (the ‘now not an option’ line being of particular interest)
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do we condemn the suicide bombers?
Yes, we condemn ALL violence on all sides, but PSC seeks to understand causes and means of prevention. For example, Palestinians do not have the sophisticated weaponry of the occupying forces. Suicide bombing is their only weapon, it is a last resort of a desperate people who see no alternative way of defending their homeland. Extreme injustice breeds extreme responses.
2. Does PSC recognise the State of Israel?
Yes we recognize A State of Israel with the borders that existed before the 1967 six day war. The continuous extension of those borders by war and occupation have been condemned by numerous UN Security council resolutions (beginning with number 242 in November 1967). Individuals can comment on the right or otherwise of the land grab which created the state of Israel in the first place and its biblical justification, but we must emphasize that PSC, like Arafat, accepts the inevitable presence of the Israelis and that pushing them all in to the Mediterranean is now not an option.
In fact, Freedman seemed altogether unimpressed by ‘boblondon’ the apparent ISM volunteer:
20 Jan 2010, 12:11PM
boblondon – “And it certainly isnt my place as an outsider to critice the tactics of those living under occupation”
“That would be different, as they would have no right to do that, either morally or under international law”
your second comment seems to contradict your first. what gives you the right to criticise some tactics and not others? the great bible of international law? your own sense of right and wrong? or what?
boblondon – “Im a bit unsure about how you would go about stopping a gunman in the first place though”
well, you and the other ism sas try and stop idf soldiers firing at palestinian protesters by providing an international presence alongside the palestinians, don’t you? so would you go and stand alongside an israeli civilian to try to prevent a palestinian gunman shooting at them?
20 Jan 2010, 12:47PM
boblondon – “As for stopping it, aside from the sheer ridiculousness of the logistics involved in International supporters of Palestine taking up posts everwhere in Israel in the (these days) unlikely event of an attack by a Palestinian gunmen, Israeli receives plenty of International solidarity, you yourself only came to the region as a international volunteer with the Israeli army. Why should pro-palestine activists spend their time doing solidarity work with Israelis when there is far too much to do in palestine already?”
great obfuscation – yes or no would have done nicely though. not that i really expected you to be so candid – similar happened last time i posed an ismer that kind of question:
In among, we saw the usual type of CiF comments, ranging from the ever-popular ‘Giyus’ conspiracy theories to Nazi analogy.
20 Jan 2010, 10:30AM
And almost as soon as the blog appears – 5 pro-Israeli comments agreeing with it with high recommendations. Israeli Internet Defense Force (IIDF) at work?
You need to make it a bit less obvious lads (or is there just one of you?)
20 Jan 2010, 10:48AM
I like the way everytime there’s an article against the illigal occupation of Palestine CIF becomes submerged by comments of pro-israelis.
On top of it all, every article that may bring some criticism to Israel is often only commentable for 24h.
? Comments on this article will remain open for 24 hours from the time of publication but may be closed overnight
20 Jan 2010, 5:51PM
Spoken like a true Nazi.
Racial property rights uber alles eh?
The land “belongs” to your “race” doesn’t it.
Blood and soil eh?
Fiver says this post gets removed.
Fortunately, it was.
What I can’t work out is why Freedman seems to be surprised by this form of ‘tourism’ and why he cannot apparently see it for what it actually is; radical chic political activism at its worst. The ISM was founded in 2001 by Ghassan Andoni, Neta Golan, Huwaida Arraf, George Rishmawi and Adam Shapiro. With close links to the PFLP of George Habash, this is no ‘peace movement’, as repeated statements by its leaders and its founding charter testify. The ISM is heavily involved in the ‘Free Gaza’ movement and in 2007 three of its British activists were caught uprooting thousands of dollars worth of vines in Dolev.
Ghassan Andoni was also a co-founder in 1984 of the Alternative Information Centre, together with Michael Warschawski, former leader of ‘Matzpen’, aka The Anti-Zionist Revolutionary Communist League, who was jailed in the 1990s for publishing a PFLP pamphlet. The AIC, posing as an NGO and funded by several European bodies including Christian Aid and the Irish government, has a virulently anti-Israeli agenda including activism in the BDS movement. Warschawski is quoted as saying “one has to unequivocally reject the very idea (and existence) of a Jewish state, whatever will be its borders.” (The Haifa Conference for the Right of Return, June 2008). Readers will not be surprised by the fact that occasional CiF contributor Neve Gordon is among the AIC’s stable of writers.
The same Ghassan Andoni, together with fellow ISM founder George Rishmawi, also founded The Alternative Tourism Group in 1995. Many ISM volunteers use this company’s services to get to Israel and as one can discern from its web site, this is no ordinary tour company. It will come as no surprise either that the BBC has used its services.
The political gains of such tourist programmes, which have clearly tapped into the current fashion in the West for holiday destinations guaranteed to impress one’s ethically-minded ‘progressive’ friends, are not lost upon the organisers of such projects. Although later denied by the ATG, among those who claimed to have used its services were the bombers of Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv who also met with ISM activists and attended a memorial for Rachel Corrie in Gaza just days before their murderous attack.
Freedman bemoans the frivolity of these ‘occupation tourists’ and states that they should undergo ‘full and proper preparatory training beforehand’. Judging from the experiences of one man who did just that, he would be better advised to wake up and smell the coffee as regards the true nature of the ISM and its affiliates. The very fact that they claim to have refused his application for membership on the grounds that he served in the IDF should tell him all he needs to know about them, their aims and their ideology. An organisation formed by a cocktail of Trotskyite die-hards mixed with sympathisers of a Marxist/Leninist terrorist group with a one-state agenda is not going to further peace of any description in the Middle East, but its ‘as far on the radical Left as it is possible to be’ ideology certainly explains that rather nasty jibe above.
“Freedman has written some excellent CiF articles about the Israeli occupation of Palestine in the past, but shifting away from a colonialist point of view is often a long and difficult process. We wish him a speedy progression. “