The Israelis arrested another "International" yesterday, Patrick O’Connor of New York City. Was he a terrorist? No. Suicide bomber? No. Spy? No. Mr. O’Connor is a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an organization for which I have boundless admiration and affection.
I do not pretend to be impartial where ISM is concerned. I sent them a pre-Christmas donation of $500. But if I had a son or daughter who wanted to join this organization, a nonviolent group of peace activists who is driving the Israeli Wehrmacht crazy, I would be a proud parent indeed.
Israelis have targeted ISMers for assassination. An Israeli sniper shot Tom Hurndall. "Accident," the murderer said. An American-made bulldozer from Caterpillar in Peoria slaughtered Rachel Corrie. Both of them died just days before I returned to the Middle East in 2003 to enter Baghdad and see the latest handiwork of the American imperium.
I vividly remember joining a group of Israeli peace activists helping pick olives in the West Bank. Soldiers were there to protect us from homicidal maniacs, called "settlers" in Israel, some of which come from Florida and Illinois. As I explored the hills for a better view of the murderers’ den ("settlement") out from behind the rocks popped an "International," a ruddy-faced young woman from the neighborhood where our London bureau is located.
She was composed, and fearless, in the faces of Israeli death squads that roam the West Bank seeking to make Palestine safe for "settlers." In Florida and Illinois, violent psychopaths are sent to prison; only in Israel is a thief honored with a state subsidy, a private road and the appellation "settler".
The ISMers are a diverse group. Recently, a lesbian activist from San Francisco, Kate Bender, was arrested. Another threat to the Israeli state. Actually only a Jewish American peace activist.
Why do the Israelis fear nonviolent people? Why are Internationals driving the murderers in the Israeli government crazy?
Because the ISM is my eyes, your eyes, our eyes into occupied Palestine, where Israeli atrocities are a daily occurrence and where no one would know if these brave young people were not there to bear witness. As long as Israeli atrocities are witnessed and reported to the world, Israel cannot pretend to be either a "democracy" or a civilized nation.
Every day Internationals report on the violence, the abuses, the terror committed by young Israelis. Israel is the only state in the world that wants to be considered "civilized" and yet is systematically destroying its own future by brutalizing its young people (recently enlisted by President George Bush to be his Gurkhas in Iran [better Israel’s youth, than America’s, but why not peace?]).
Are all Israelis bad? Violent thugs? Not by a long shot. Most Israelis favor peace. The Sharon regime has also alienated an increasing share of young American Jews. In time, Israel’s youth will also rebel. Today, opposition, whether by a "refusenik" or air force officer, is still unusual. But Internationals are there to lead the way, peaceful pathfinders against the unbelievable, unspeakable repression of occupied Palestine.
The convoluted Israeli electoral system (which would not be recognized as "democratic" by most Americans) creates hydraulic pressure for an endless military dictatorship that is refreshed through occasional "elections" and "coalitions" with a civilian hem line.
Internationals were in Jenin when Israelis stored the city and sought to annihilate resistance. They were in Jerusalem during the recent Palestinian "election," where Israelis prevented Palestinians from voting. In fact, Internationals are everywhere. And that drives the Israeli government crazy.
The Israeli security services devote an inordinate amount of energy and resources to spying on ISMers, trying to identify them, jailing them, and trying to deport them. But there is a constant stream of young people from all around the world who are idealistic enough to risk their lives to peacefully witness the struggle for freedom by the Palestinian people. I wish one of them were my kid. I would be proud.
Internationals are in constant danger. In Israel, to be for Palestinian freedom marks you as an enemy of the state, a fit subject for target practice by a sniper’s bullet or a bulldozer’s blade.
What is particularly inspiring is that some of these brave young people are Jewish. They have not bought into the Bush-orchestrated hysteria, backed by Christian fanatics and pro-Israel fellow travelers, that America must conquer the world, using our new Gurkhas, Israel’s young soldiers. When I was a young military cadet, our service’s motto was "Peace is our Profession." Today war is America’s avocation.
Regrettably, Bush is not making the world "free." He is enslaving both America and other nations that become the object of his obsession. Iran, Syria, you’re next.
And so, if you are inclined, please send the ISM a contribution [web site: Palsolidarity.org]. Your money will be well spent in the cause of nonviolence and peace. President Bush has declared war on "terror." But the most dangerous terrorist state in the Middle East today is Israel. More and more Americans are beginning to recognize that fact, and that America’s support of Ariel Sharon is toxic.
But as America slowly awakens to its self-destructive foreign policy, Internationals are out there in the cities and villages, hills and olive groves of Palestine, every day, unarmed, nonviolent, seeking to protect innocent civilians.
Each day, as a new day begins in the Bush-Sharon free fire zone, occupied Palestine, ISMers are there to witness, to protect, to organize and to disseminate the news of a malignant occupation that is consuming both the occupier and its chief sponsor: the United States of America.
To ISM, we owe a great debt. The eyes and ears of the civilized world in a part of the world where evil is powerful, Satan rules, and America has played the role of Pontus Pilate, washing its hands of its own American taxpayer-subsidized atrocities in Palestine.
Now you know why ISMers are driving the Israelis crazy. A job well done and truly God’s work, whatever your religion or political affiliation. And remember, these young people are not armed, do not engage in violence and work only through peaceful methods in the cause of peace.
What about it President Bush? Why not send aid to the ISMers instead of the Israeli army? Make America proud. Instead of making Americans ashamed of the atrocious acts we are committing and subsidizing in the name of "freedom." Ah, yes, freedom. Freedom, but freedom, please, before there is "nothing left to lose."
And to my good friends on the Christian right, I can only say that if there is a God in heaven, truly Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall are sitting in his presence.