Written by The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a network founded by extreme American leftists and part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel. In the second intifada it specialized in hindering IDF counterterrorism activity, indirectly supporting terrorism. Its senior figures founded FGM, which plays a central role in the Gaza Strip flotillas. 1
Israeli demonstration held by ISM activists in Britain (indymedia.org.uk website). The ISM participates in anti-Israeli activities all over the world, usually without identifying itself.
1. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a network of anti-Israeli activists founded in the summer of 2001 by a group of young, extreme leftist Americans. They were joined by leftist Palestinian activists (primarily Christian) and several extreme leftist pro-Palestinian Israelis. The founders recruited volunteers from various Western countries, some of them Jews, on a platform of hostility to Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians.
2. The ISM's stated objective is to give international support to the Palestinian cause and to demonstrate solidarity by using non-violent tactics which it refers to as "direct action" (a term taken from the lexicon of extreme leftist revolutionary and human rights movements).
3. Between 2001 and 2005, the years of the second intifada (the Palestinian terrorist campaign), ISM volunteers who came for short periods of time waged intensive activities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (the Palestinian Authority-administered territories, henceforth the territories). The volunteers began arriving in December 2001. They did not merely make do with helping the Palestinian population, but specialized in hindering IDF operational activities.
4. Their activities included: participating in Palestinian protest demonstrations and rallies, serving as human shields for terrorist operatives wanted by the Israeli security forces, locating themselves near IDF roadblocks throughout Judea and Samaria, providing the Palestinians (including terrorist operatives and their families) with financial, logistic and moral support, hindering the razing and sealing of houses of suicide bombers, holding protests along the security fence from Jenin to Jerusalem, etc.
5. Two of what they considered their peak activities (according to the movement website) were sending activists to serve as human shields at the entrances to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and to Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah (in April 2002, during Israel's anti-terrorist Operation Defensive Shield).
6. After the second intifada senior ISM activists moved the center of their operations to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas was gaining a foothold before its violent takeover in June 2007. Four senior American ISM activists were key in founding an international pro-Hamas umbrella organization called the Free Gaza Movement (FGM),2 which currently focuses on sending ships to the Gaza Strip for the stated purpose of "breaking the siege," but in fact their actual objectives were to strengthen the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip and intensify the delegitimization of Israel.
7. Since 2008 senior ISM figures have devoted their time and energy to promoting FGM flotillas to the Gaza Strip, as well as engaging in routine organizational activities. The highlight of the project and particularly successful in FGM-ISM eyes was the last flotilla to the Gaza Strip, led by the pro-Hamas Turkish organization IHH, which ended in a violent confrontation between IHH operatives and IDF soldiers (May 31, 2010). Since then the FGM (and the ISM through it) has been preparing an upgraded flotilla as a new political-propaganda project to challenge Israel.
ISM activists in London demonstrate in front of a store selling Israeli Ahava cosmetics (ISM website, March 14, 2010).
8. Besides its involvement in the flotillas, since the end of the intifada the ISM has been active in two main fields:
A. Sending volunteers to protest demonstrations at focal points of Palestinian-Israeli friction, such as Bila’in: The activities are held in conjunction with local Palestinian popular committees and sponsored by the Palestinian Authority. At the sixth Fatah conference, held in August 2009, the Palestinian Authority adopted a policy of "popular resistance," which it has employed since. The "popular resistance" is represented as non-violent, but in reality it often employs well-organized, "soft" violence, such as throwing stones at and physically assaulting IDF soldiers, and the occasional Molotov cocktail. In many instances there have been casualties among both demonstrators and Israeli security forces. The "softly" violent activities are committed by Palestinians, but the presence of ISM and other foreign activists at the friction points heightens the tension, whips up emotions and encourages the demonstrators to violence, making it difficult for the Israeli security forces to act.
B. Participation in anti-Israeli activities in the United States and European and other countries worldwide: The activities include calls for boycotting Israel and its products and protests against its policies toward the Palestinians (especially a demand to lift the so-called "siege" of the Gaza Strip and to destroy the security fence). In protest demonstrations in various countries, Israel is repeatedly represented as racist, oppressive and employing a "policy of apartheid," done to demonize Israel, subvert its legitimacy and turn it into a pariah state. Anti-Israeli activities include demonstrations in various cities, agitation on campuses, initiating pro-Palestinian "cultural" events and attempts to influence the centers of political power in various countries. ISM activists engage in anti-Israeli hate propaganda in the visual and digital media, via the Internet, and in books and plays.
9. The following conclusions regarding ISM emerged as a result of this study:
A. The ISM is a network without a formally defined hierarchy: Like other umbrella organizations which belong to the global anti-Israeli coalition, the ISM is a network without an established organizational structure. It has a hard core of senior activists who formulate policy and direct the anti-Israeli campaigns activities of its supporters and volunteers in the territories and around the world. The ISM does not receive government funding and its volunteers pay their expenses out of their own pockets (except for large projects like the IHH-led flotilla, in which ISM activists were part of a coalition which exploited Turkey's political capabilities). Its activity is based in and focused on the United States (primarily the West Coast), the territories (Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Beit Sahour and Gaza City), several European countries (especially Britain, France and Sweden), and Australia and Canada. The ISM's website has a list of 22 "support groups" in many countries, but most of them are small and have a limited number of members.
B. It has an anti-Israeli ideology: The ISM frequently represents itself as against violence and in favor of human rights, as respecting international law and UN resolutions, and as striving for a "just peace." However, an examination of its official papers and the statements made by its senior figures indicates that its orientation and ideology are anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist, adopting the Palestinians' most extreme demands. Its hostility to Israel is often based on a critical worldview of the United States and its policies, especially regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks. The ISM not only rejects the policies of every Israeli government ("the Israeli apartheid in Palestine"), but also the existence of Israel as a national homeland for the Jews. Publications and statements of ISM activists stress the implementation of the Palestinian refugees' "right of return" to Israel, reject the Oslo Accords, and make no mention of a two-state solution. However, the ISM is often somewhat vague about its basic positions, which makes it easier to find a common denominator with human rights and peace activists, including Jews, some of whom do not deny Israel's right to exist but strongly oppose its policies toward the Palestinians.
C. The concept of "non-violence" as opposed to the ISM's justification of a Palestinian "armed struggle:" In its internal documents, on its website and in statements made by its senior figures and activists, the ISM continually stresses that it is in favor of non-violence. The media often call its activists "peace activists." While ISM activists do not directly participate in terrorist attacks against Israel, both in its manuals and in statements its senior figures have justified the Palestinian's armed campaign, even at the height of the Palestinian suicide bombing attacks (during the second intifada). In addition, an analysis of ISM activities on the ground showed that ISM activists sheltered a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative involved in suicide bombing and shooting attacks, and in laying IEDs. They also hindered IDF counterterrorism activities, including the detonation of an explosives laboratory where bombs used in suicide bombing attacks were made. Moreover, in addition to activities to support the Palestinians, ISM activists participated in events which included "soft" violence where both Palestinian demonstrators and IDF security forces suffered casualties. ISM activists, fully aware of the risks involved, carried out activities in war zones where the IDF was operating against Palestinian terrorists, risking their own lives. In 2006 several ISM activists holding weapons were photographed arriving in Judea and Samaria. In our assessment it was an exceptional event which did not reflect the organization's policies.
D. Deliberate violation of Israeli law: On several occasions, ISM volunteers in the territories, deliberately and in accordance with briefings they had received, broke Israeli laws. They attempted to deceive the Israeli authorities when they entered the country, entered areas declared closed military zones and methodically worked to hinder IDF counterterrorism activities. Internal ISM manuals show that activists sent to the territories had participated in workshops where they received security briefings about ways of deceiving the Israel authorities (they implemented the instructions in the manual by pretending to be simple tourists, changing personal details on their passports and denying links to the ISM). They also received legal briefings about how to behave with the Israeli security forces and in Israeli courts. An examination of the indictments brought against ISM operatives detained by Israel indicates that they applied what they had been briefed to do.
E. The links between the ISM and the other bodies and organizations in the anti-Israeli coalition: The ISM is joined at the hip to the FGM, one of the central umbrella organizations in the coalition responsible for launching some of the flotillas to the Gaza Strip. The FGM was founded by senior ISM figures in 2006. Three ISM founders and senior figures currently hold top positions in the FGM: Huwaida Araf (an American citizen whose father is an Israeli Arab and whose mother is a Palestinian), her husband Adam Shapiro (American and Jewish) and Greta Berlin (American). Another ISM/FGM co-founder is the American Paul Larudee, who left the FGM after quarrels and founded the Free Palestine Movement (FPM). The FPM operates on the West Coast and also plans anti-Israeli projects, currently focusing on an upgraded flotilla and sending a plane to the Gaza Strip. Since the last flotilla senior FGM figures have apparently been investing their efforts in organizing the upgraded flotilla and other showcase projects intended to challenge Israel, to a certain extent at the expense of their ISM activity. The line between ISM and FGM activities is not always clear even to the two organizations' activists.
F: The ISM's media policy: The ISM regards broad media coverage of its anti-Israeli activities as extremely important, and its internal documents deal with the issue extensively. Its volunteers in the territories are routinely accompanied by media activity directed by media coordinators in the ISM office in Ramallah. To inculcate its messages and whitewash its support for Palestinian terrorism and violence, ISM launders the vocabulary it uses in its training workshops, which are compulsory for volunteers leaving for the territories.3 For example, they are instructed not to use the word "violence," but rather "resistance" (the terrorist organization euphemism). They are taught not to use the word "terrorism," which refers to the Palestinians, but rather the expression "state terrorism," which refers to the State of Israel (For details of the ISM glossary, see Appendix V).
10. Analyzing the nature and activity of the ISM presented certain methodological difficulties. One resulted from the organization's discretion, which generally keeps it from publicizing concrete, reliable information about its structure, activists and methods. There is also an enormous discrepancy between the way the ISM publicly represents itself (through its website and statements made by senior figures) and the way it operates on the ground. In addition, there is a lack of reliable and detailed information about the organization during its different periods of activity. Its publications or publications about it often suffer from various forms of tendentiousness and bias.
11. To overcome the difficulties, a comparison was made between the information the ISM has made public about its activities and the way it actually operates in the territories. The study used the ISM's internal publications, which contained information not meant for release to the public. It also used a variety of other sources. A glimpse into the way ISM activists think and act was found in the book about Rachel Corrie published by her family.4
12. In preparing this study the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center used three manuals from training workshops given to ISM activists in the territories and abroad. One was given to a journalist by an ISM activist in East Jerusalem at the end of 2010. An American journalist named Lee Kaplan, who has spent several years exposing the ISM, gave the ITIC manuals used in training workshops in California (2004) and London (2005). There is a great deal of overlap among the three.5
13. The study examines the ISM and its activities as follows:
A. Appendix I – The ISM's ideology and modus operandi
1) Hostility to Israel
2) Opposition to American policy: the case of Rachel Corrie
3) Slogans of "non-violence" vs. support for the armed Palestinian campaign
4) Direct action methods
5) ISM awareness of the high risks involved in direct action
B. Appendix II – The ISM's personnel
1) General description
2) Portraits of senior ISM figures
C. Appendix III – The ISM's modus operandi since its founding
1) Training activists
2) Funding activities
3) Activity on the ground during the Palestinian terrorist campaign (the second intifada)
4) Participation of ISM activists in Bila’in-style protests at focal points of friction after the second intifada
5) Involvement in flotillas
6) ISM modus operandi through the looking glass of the Israeli legal system
D. Appendix IV – ISM deployment and its support groups
2) ISM presence in Judea and Samaria and its links with local organizations
3) ISM support groups around the globe
E. Appendix V – The ISM's media policies
F. Appendix VI – Video featuring appearances by Huwaida Araf, senior ISM and FGM figure, briefing activists who took part in the voyage of the Challenger 2.
ISM training manual, given to an East Jerusalem journalist
by Palestinian activist Hisham Jamjoum at the end of October 2010.
1 Note: The full English version of the study is currently being translated and will be issued shortly. The full Hebrew version can be found on our website.
2 The four are Huwaida Araf (the central figure of both the ISM and FGM), her (Jewish) husband Adam Shapiro, Greta Berlin and Paul Larudee (who quarreled with the FGM and established a new organization on the West Coast called the Free Palestine Movement (FPM).
3 Every volunteer attends a compulsory two-day training workshop before leaving or immediately on arrival.
4 Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie, editedby the Corrie family, Norton and Company, New York and London, 2008.
5 There is no date on a manual received from East Jerusalem. However, the instructions and articles it contains are clearly updated to 2003 and apparently not since. There is a considerable amount of overlap among the all the manuals regardless of workshop date. In the body of the study they will be referred to as the East Jerusalem manual, the London manual, the California manual.