Doug Saunders' front page article "Israel Vows to Deport Peace Activists" (Globe & Mail, May 3, 2003) repeats Israeli government insinuations that the two British citizens involved with the recent Tel Aviv suicide bombing had "links" to peace activists, including the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The article refers to an alleged "meeting between so-called human-shield activists and the British suicide bombers," and then goes on to quote Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jonathan Peled saying "When we find them [unspecified peace activists], we will take the necessary legal action to deport them." Saunders goes on to write: "The ISM said Asif Mohammed Hanif, the suburban-London 21-year-old man who killed himself and three other people on Wednesday, had met activists recently at a memorial service for Rachel Corrie, a young American who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer."
One minor problem with the article, however, is that the statements are flat-out false, and Mr. Saunders, if he actually conducted the interviews or read the official ISM statements which are referred to in the article, must know they are false. The article tries to cover itself by saying that Israeli officials claimed there was a "meeting" between unnamed "human-shield activists" and the "British suicide bombers." But not even Israel or the Israeli military has gone so far as to assert this in any official statement, preferring to insinuate that there are indirect or circumstantial "links" between ISM activists and "terrorists." Not even Israel's leading daily newspaper Ha'aretz has printed such nonsense. But Saunders then goes on to claim that the ISM itself has openly admitted to such a "meeting," as if the non-violent ISM peace activists chatted with the two accused over coffee about the best means to kill Israeli civilians. This is deliberate falsification, slander, and libel.
It seems clear that Israel is using this absurd allegation to further justify the arrest and wholesale deportation of international peace activists throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is merely the latest excuse to carry out a long-standing policy of restricting international observers, human rights activists, and journalists who deign to document the truth about Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. No doubt other organizations who engage in similar human rights work as the ISM, such as the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron, will be smeared with the same brush, and face similar deportation and obstruction measures. No doubt journalists will continue to be shot and killed for the simple crime of photographing or filming the daily collective punishment that is "the Occupation," or for documenting the daily resistance of ordinary Palestinians as they attempt to assert their basic dignity and humanity.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media in the West has continued its tradition of giving prominence to Israeli government allegations, while ignoring, downplaying, mocking, or burying perspectives which challenge the Israeli occupation or affirm Palestinian human rights (such as the right of return and self-determination). In some cases, as the Globe & Mail article indicates, the media has gone even further and printed outright lies, seemingly of its own origin. The mainstream media in Canada is suddenly very interested in these allegations, calling up the Montreal office of the ISM asking for statements and responses about Israeli claims. But when U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie was deliberately crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16th, no such phone calls were made. When British ISM activist Tom Hurndall was shot in the head, and declared "brain dead," no such calls were made. When U.S. ISM volunteer Brian Avery was shot by an Israeli APC, losing part of his cheek, no such calls were made. Articles in the Globe & Mail and other Canadian newspapers were either non-existent at the time, or buried in the back pages, and written in a way that cast doubt upon the victims' motivations.
Now, all of a sudden, when Israel insinuates that a suicide bomber may have "links" to the ISM, there is great media interest. Suddenly, the "story" is front-page news, and rampant speculation and innuendo becomes the norm. But actual, verifiable, news about the targeting and murder of Palestinian journalist Nazeh Darwazeh in April, or British documentary filmmaker James Miller on May 2nd, does not make the front page.
The same day that it devoted a front-page article to Israeli propaganda about alleged peace activist "links to terror," the Globe and Mail mentioned Miller's killing by Israeli soldiers in a tiny clip on page A16, where few will ever find it. The very next day, however, the Globe & Mail online edition posted a prominent and lengthy Associated Press wire story (by an unnamed staff writer) entitled "Inquiry Called Into Shooting of Reporter" (May 4, 2003 posted at 9:34 AM EST). In a total reversal of the previous day's perspective, and now given top-page prominence, the Globe and Mail article began by saying that Miller "was hit from behind, raising the possibility that he was killed by Palestinian fire and not by Israeli troops, the Israeli army said Sunday." The AP wire article went on to give extensive quotes from various Israeli government and military spokespersons, making the standard denials and fabrications about Palestinian "gunmen" and "crossfire." In complete reversal of its own prior marginalization of the story — when it was unfavorable to Israel — the Globe and Mail article made Israel's denials of responsibility more prominent than all the other eyewitness testimony, including video footage taken by journalists accompanying Miller at the time. Even Ha'aretz has posted a more balanced article, giving some prominence to eyewitness testimony, and acknowledging the basic fact that IDF troops "shot dead" the British film-maker (see Arnon Regular, Amos Harel and Agencies, "IDF Shoots Dead British Cameraman in Gaza," Ha'aretz online, May 4, 2003).
Accusations of the ISM's alleged "links" to "terror" have become about as routine — and ridiculous — as the charges of "al-Qaeda links" on university campuses throughout North America. It is clear that support for Palestinian human rights and self-determination, on campuses and in communities at large, elicits storms of outrage from those individuals and organizations who support the Israeli State. In the absence of arguments, they throw mud and resort to lies and slander. In an attempt to divert attention from the real issues – such as the brutal nature of Israel's 36-year occupation for example, or the fact that Israel is in violation of dozens of UN Security Council resolutions, or the fact that some thirty Palestinians (including a number of babies) have been killed by Israeli forces in the last few days alone — they concoct outrageous stories of ISM violence and terror.
Of course, anyone actually familiar with the ISM's history and principles knows that the organization is committed to non-violent direct action to challenge the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Anyone with even a shred of honesty is welcome to read the official ISM statement on the recent bombing in Tel Aviv, and the organization's unequivocal denial of any link to the individuals in question (reprinted on the Electronic Intifada website at http://electronicIntifada.net/v2/article1421.shtml). That the Globe & Mail printed statements attributed to the ISM which the organization and its members never said, and which cannot be found in any official ISM material, is at best shoddy journalism, and at worst, deliberate slander.
In any case, it is clear that Israel has long-wanted to rid itself of the nuisance of outside, independent observers. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), which recently released a report putting Israel/Palestine in the "top ten" list of worst places for journalistic freedom and safety, can attest to this (see http://www.cpj.org). A recent Ha'aretz online article by Amos Harel and Aluf Benn ("Israel to bar pro-Palestinian activists from entering country") states that "The IDF charges that many of the self-proclaimed peace activists are 'provocateurs' and 'riot inciters' who deliberately interfere with the IDF's work, with the goal of blackening Israel's image." Of course, black South Africans and internationals in solidarity with the ANC were also labeled "provocateurs," "riot inciters," and "terrorists" who only wished to "blacken" the image of the white supremacist Apartheid regime (no pun intended). The truth has always been a public relations nightmare for aggressors, occupiers, colonizers, tyrants, fascists, oligarchs, kings, emirs, and other elites – which is why one of the greatest threats to Israel's occupation of lands stolen in 1967 comes from ordinary Palestinian civilians who refuse to lie down and quietly die, from the hundreds of Israeli refusenik soldiers who say "not in my name" and get thrown in jail, and from independent journalists, Christian human rights workers, ISM volunteers, and many others motivated by a deep commitment to social justice. These people are a threat not only because they speak the truth, but also because they resist the injustice of the occupation directly, and their very existence is an embarrassment to the State of Israel.
Israel has been stating for weeks its desire to expel all foreign peace activists from the Occupied Territories. It has been targeting and killing international volunteers with the ISM, journalists, Palestinian civilians, and even United Nations relief workers with total impunity. And now it is attempting to use the recent suicide bombing in Tel Aviv to further justify a policy of closure and media control which it has always attempted to pursue. In the same article by Harel and Benn, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson named Yaffa Ben-Ari is quoted as saying: "Since Israel has the sovereign right to decide who can enter Israel and who can't, we have the right to prevent groups who we know ahead of time are coming to demonstrate and cause provocation in places where Israeli soldiers are fighting terrorism."
Nevermind the fact that the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem do not
constitute "Israel," and under international law Israel is obligated to withdraw all soldiers and colonists from the Occupied Territories. Nevermind the fact that under international law it is the Palestinians who have the right to determine who comes and goes on their soil. And nevermind the fact that Israel's use of "wholesale" state terror has resulted in the deaths of over 2,200 Palestinians since late-2000, far surpassing the number of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian "retail" terror during the same period. This stated policy expressed by Ben-Ari is nothing new. But it is clear that Israel plans to use any means at its disposal (including outright falsification) to justify further restrictions on entry into the Occupied Territories, and to justify the removal of any international witnesses to the daily state terrorism carried out by its armed forces and "settlers" outside its own recognized international borders.
The ISM and others involved in Palestinian solidarity work are committed to continuing the necessary and dangerous work of opposing Israel's illegal and brutal military occupation of Palestinian lands. A necessary component of this is monitoring such systematic media bias in favour of Israeli government perspectives, and challenging and condemning wholesale fabrications such as have appeared in the Globe and Mail and other corporate media sources. But it is also critical that independent observers, peace activists, and journalists continue to have access to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and continue to relay their first-hand testimony, photographs, and footage of life under Israeli military occupation. Israel's attempt to "link" the ISM and other peace activists to the agenda of suicide bombers is spurious, outrageous and disgusting — and would also be laughable if Israeli forces weren't already killing peace activists and journalists with total impunity. The Western media's sudden interest in these insinuations, and its willingness to give them prominence, is shameful — but sadly not unusual. Anyone wanting to know the truth about the ISM and its principles is encouraged to check out the Canadian support website at http://www.ismcanada.org or the official ISM-Palestine website at http://www.palsolidarity.org, and encouraged to get in touch with one of the many peace activists who have joined past ISM campaigns, or engaged in similar work in the Occupied Territories.