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Israel Raids ISM Headquarters & Bars Peace Activists from Gaza

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On Friday, Israel forces raided the West Bank offices of the International Solidarity Movement, an nonviolent organization that often organizes international volunteers to act as “human shields” between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Israel has decided to deport two activists arrested during the raid: 28-year-old Christine Razowsky of Chicago and Australian Miranda Sissons, who works for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Twenty-two-year-old Palestinian Fida Gharib was also arrested.

The raid began when more than 20 Israeli army jeeps surrounded the ISM offices on Friday before forcing entry into the building. They confiscated computers and documents.

In recent months, several members of the group have been killed and wounded during Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza strip. In March, an Israeli bulldozer crushed Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old from Olympia, Washington, when she tried to prevent it from demolishing Palestinian homes. Last month the Israeli army shot an unarmed British peace activist from the group in the head. Twenty-one-year-old Tom Hurndall remains in critical condition. In early April, Brian Avery was shot in the face in Jenin.

Also, the British government has demanded an investigation into the shooting death of British cameraperson James Miller, who was killed last week while shooting a documentary in a Gaza refugee camp. A recent autopsy confirmed that he was almost certainly killed by an Israeli soldier, despite the army’s assertions to the contrary.

Foreigners entering the Gaza Strip are now required to sign waivers absolving the Israeli army from any responsibility if the army shoots them. Visitors must also declare that they are not peace activists and not connected to the International Solidarity Movement. Foreigners are also being forbidden from approaching security walls near Jewish settlements and from entering parts of Rafah, which the Israeli army considers to be a military zone.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Israel and the Occupied Territories. On Friday, the Israeli military raided the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank. More than 20 Israeli army jeeps surrounded the ISM offices before soldiers broke into the building. They confiscated computers and documents and arrested three people. Two international activists are expected to be deported. They are 28-year-old Christine Razowsky of Chicago and Australian Miranda Sissons, who worked for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Twenty-two-year-old Palestinian Fida Gharib was also arrested.

The raid came just hours after the Israeli military announced it would begin requiring foreigners entering the Gaza Strip to sign waivers absolving the Israeli army from any responsibility if the army shoots them. Visitors must also declare that they are not peace activists and not connected to the International Solidarity Movement. Foreigners are also being forbidden from approaching security walls near Jewish settlements and from entering parts of Rafah, which the Israeli army considers to be a military zone.

In recent months, several members of the International Solidarity Movement have been killed or seriously wounded during Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In March, an Israeli bulldozer crushed Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old from Olympia, Washington, when she tried to prevent it from demolishing Palestinian homes. Last month, the Israeli army shot an unarmed British peace activist from the group in the head. Twenty-one-year-old Tom Hurndall remains in critical condition. And on April 5th, Israeli forces shot 24-year-old Brian Avery in the face. He, too, remains in critical condition. The British government has also demanded an investigation into the shooting death of British cameraman James Miller, who was killed last week while shooting a documentary for HBO in the Gaza refugee camp of Rafah.

We turn right now to Adam Shapiro. Adam is the founder of the International Solidarity Movement.

Adam, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you start off by responding to the Israeli military’s announcements and raids?

ADAM SHAPIRO: Well, the ISM has sort of expected the repercussions by the army. On April 16th, the chief of staff of the Israeli military, General Ya’alon, said that they would start uprooting the ISM. Now, it’s almost ironic in that the reason that they’re giving for removing the ISM is that we block the military’s freedom of ability to move. Certainly, this is what we do, because the military is operating in civilian areas, in Palestinian civilian areas. The refugee camp where Rachel was killed, where the BBC correspondent James Miller was killed, where Tom Hurndall was shot in the head, this is a civilian area. This is where regular people live. This is where they have their homes. And, in fact, this is where people who have suffered tremendously in their lives, the refugees, live. So we feel it’s important for us to be there to get in the way of the military in order to prevent more civilian deaths. Over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed. Over 80% of them, in reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have been civilians. So we feel it’s important for us to be there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And why do you think that — the ISM has been in the Occupied Territories now for quite some time in the process of the Intifada developing. Why now do they seem now more zeroing in on ISM members?

ADAM SHAPIRO: I don’t think it’s because of anything that the ISM has done. I think it’s because of what the Israeli army has done. They have now killed an American citizen. They have now severely injured another American citizen and a British citizen. And I think the undue attention that Israel has drawn to itself by its very actions is the reason that Israel is now trying to absolve itself of any kind of responsibility, as we saw with this new diktat for Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break for stations to identify themselves. Then we’re going to go to Nablus to an International Solidarity Movement volunteer there. You’re listening to Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now! “Maybe Not,” Cat Power, here on The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we look at what’s happening now in the Occupied Territories and in Israel, General Powell just there over the weekend, the secretary of state. In our studio, we are joined by Adam Shapiro, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. Again, the latest news, Israeli military raiding the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank, more than 20 Israeli army jeeps surrounding the ISM offices before soldiers broke into the building, two international activists expected to be deported, the raid coming just hours after the Israeli military announced it will begin requiring foreigners entering the Gaza Strip to sign waivers absolving the Israeli army from any responsibility if the army shoots them. Also today, news of an Israeli who was killed in the Gaza Strip. Any word of that, Adam Shapiro?

ADAM SHAPIRO: Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to receive word about this.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined from Nablus by Hussein Khalili, who is a ISM coordinator in the West Bank town of Nablus. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Hussein.

HUSSEIN KHALILI: Hi. Hi, Adam. Hi, everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what is happening there and what the ISM’s response in the West Bank is to the latest Israeli military edict there?

HUSSEIN KHALILI: Actually, it’s a Palestinian nonviolent movement, and we are working against violence. The new Israeli policy, actually, they want — they don’t want witnesses. And there’s a crime here. We are working here as observers. We try to work against violence, and we try to find a way to have negotiating between the people and try to build the trust between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We are working with peace activists. More than 20% of the volunteers in the ISM and the founder, one of the founders, Jewish. So, we are talking about a movement to try to have a new kind of relation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We try to make the violence less. We try to have another kind of struggle against the occupation. The occupation is illegal. So, the nonviolence, it’s our, you know, philosophy here. But the Israelis’ policy now, they don’t want any witnesses. They shot a journalist and ISMers. I think they try to — they don’t want to have any people here to witness their crimes. Anyway, we are here. We will continue our work in West Bank and Gaza. We will not stop.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Hussein, what kind of day-to-day pressure are the ISM members under? Are you constantly under surveillance by the Israeli military, or are they a constant presence around your offices?

HUSSEIN KHALILI: Excuse me? I didn’t hear.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I said: What kind of day-to-day pressure are you under, are the ISM members on the West Bank under from the Israelis?

HUSSEIN KHALILI: Actually, you know about what happened in Beit Sahour. And the day before yesterday, they arrested three of our ISM members in Tulkarem area. Osama Qashoo, coordinator of ISM in Tulkarem, they arrested him from the street. And then they arrested Radhika — she’s an American citizen — and Charlotte — she’s Irish. They arrested them. Osama had beaten from soldiers, and they spent a night in the hospital. They released Charlotte and Radhika yesterday, but they are waiting for their train. It’s a kind of pressure that we are now really at risk to try to pass the checkpoints in West Bank or Gaza and risk to be in the houses that we are trying to prevent soldiers to demolish those houses. They really make our work really difficult. But what can I say? That we should continue.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam Shapiro, would you like to add a comment to that? And also, we are looking at what’s happened to the internationals there. James Miller, who is well known for the documentary he did on Afghanistan, Beneath the Veil, who’s worked for the BBC, for CNN, just came out of Iraq, headed to look at the effect of violence on Palestinian children, documentary for HBO, just shot in the neck. An investigation was done. And at first, the Israeli military said, “Well, it could have been a Palestinian sniper.” But now they are seeing that the bullet that went into his neck, in fact, does look like it was from the Israeli military.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Well, just on the first point about the ISM, we have had a number of activists arrested recently, though a number of them have been released from Israeli detention in Israel with orders that they are not to return to — and the wording is quite deliberate here — Samaria. It’s the Hebrew Israeli word for the West Bank, for the northern West Bank. And so, it shows absolutely no acknowledgment by Israel that it’s occupying this territory, that it recognizes that this is Palestinian territory. And so, we, our activists, will be — you know, they will not be abiding by these orders.

As for the targeting of internationals — and this goes for journalists, as well, and there have been many journalists killed, both international and Palestinian journalists killed during this Intifada by the Israeli military. In James Miller’s case, at first, the very first report by the Israelis was that they did acknowledge that they shot James Miller. And it was only after the outcry and the attention that this received that they started to change the story, that it might have been a Palestinian gunman, even though all eyewitness accounts were to the contrary, that there was no firing from the Palestinian side. Now an autopsy, I think, has been done, and it seems that, indeed, the bullet was from an Israeli sniper.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is your sense that, in essence, that the escalated Israeli repression against the ISM is really a reflection of the increasing impact that your volunteers are having on the international reflection and view of what’s going on in the Occupied Territories?

ADAM SHAPIRO: I think in part. I think because we have international civilians coming back, normal people from all walks of life, not just the — unfortunately and tragically, younger people have been targeted by the army and have been injured and killed. But we have activists ranging in age up to 88 years old who join us in the Occupied Territories. And I do think it’s their voices that are getting out that are reaching to Americans and British civilians and French and Italian and whoever, and letting them know what’s really happening on the ground that’s making an impact. Additionally, I do think it’s because Israel has targeted these people and, by its own — very own actions by soldiers, has drawn the attention to itself and now just wishes to get rid of the problem entirely.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam Shapiro, you spent a good amount of time in the West Bank. You’re back here in school now in Washington, D.C., in graduate school. You got a lot of attention when you got into the compound, that the Israeli military had surrounded and was destroying, of Yasser Arafat and met with him. You are a Jewish New Yorker, part of the International Solidarity Movement, who married the Palestinian founder of the International Solidarity Movement. As you now return here, what is — what kind of perspective do you get here, or information or lack of information are you getting here that was different from when you were living in the West Bank?

ADAM SHAPIRO: There’s absolutely no reporting going on, with the exception of this show and a few others, of Palestinian life, of what is actually transpiring day to day in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. If we contrast that to what’s happening in Iraq, we do get reports, albeit not great reports, and certainly not with any sort of depth, from the mainstream media about what’s happening on the ground in Baghdad, at least in Baghdad. Other cities are being totally ignored. But we at least have a sense of what the events that are transpiring in Baghdad, in Iraq, of what occupation is, what the chaos is, how people have to live their lives. We hear about checkpoints in Iraq. We don’t hear about checkpoints in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We don’t hear about the home demolitions on a daily basis. We don’t hear about the massive roundups on a daily basis.

The difference, one major difference — and this shows the importance of having the ISM there — is that, in Baghdad, journalists basically have, more or less, free access all around, while the occupation forces in Iraq certainly would wish journalists not to end up reporting on what they are reporting. In the Palestinian territories, Israel is able to completely bar journalists from reporting from inside the Occupied Territories. They bar their own journalists from reporting there. Only one Israeli journalist reports from inside the Occupied Territories, who lives there, Amira Hass. And Gideon Levy, another journalist, makes occasional trips into the Occupied Territories to follow stories. Aside from that, any photos, any video has to go through an IDF censorship office, and so Israeli citizens don’t know what’s happening inside the Occupy Territories.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Adam Shapiro, we want to thank you very much for being with us, one of the founders of the International Solidarity Movement, in our firehouse studio.

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