The International Intifada: Foreigners stand in the line of fire in Palestine, Muslims and Christians United for the Holy Land
By Rhonda L McCarty and Mazin B. Qumsiyeh
Q News September 2001
Almost a year has passed since the latest Palestinian uprising against the occupation started.600 Palestinians killed and 17,000 injured (a third of them children).Palestinians continue to struggle to survive and resist by means available to them. Heroic stories are so many that books are being written about the occupation and its aftermath. Here we wanted to shed some light on one aspect of the story, the international solidarity and non-violent resistance.
When Israel refused the presence of International monitors, civilian activists around the
world recognized that they did not need to wait for their governments to take action. Mass non-violent action was initiated to support and defend Palestinian rights and shield them from the aggression by Israeli forces. Many Israeli peace groups struggled with identity and sense of purpose but a few true activists became more determined to join the Palestinian people in non-violent resistance.
The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement, with the support of Italian activist and European Parliament member, Luisa Morgantini, called for a week of non-violent direct action in mid-April with marches to Israeli military bases near peaceful Palestinian towns. Israeli Occupation Forces were not prepared initially for this kind of resistance. As time passed by, Israeli authorities intensified their aggression even on peaceful demonstrators.
Israeli activists like Neta Golan began acting as human shields offering Palestinian farmers protection while doing their farming chores. Other key players in these early actions included Bat Shalom and the Womenís Coalition for a Just Peace in Israel, Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Women in Black.
In the U.S. activists began serious work to coordinate mass gatherings of internationals for the purpose of providing tangible support to the Palestinians. Rev. Thom Saffold scheduled a delegation for August. The objectives of this mission were to offer protection, show solidarity, and draw attention to the realities on the ground. Israeli American activist Charles Lenchner gathered a delegation for an overlapping trip. The program, dubbed Olive Tree Summer, specifically recruited Jewish Americans. Both Thom and Charles voiced some concern initially that they may not be fully welcome in their pursuits. Palestinian activists and organizers such as Ghassan Andoni, made it clear that they welcomed this support..
Jewish, Muslim, and Christian organizers carefully planned all aspects of the campaign logistics, media coverage, training, and specific actions. Involved Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans discussed at length, the needs of the community and the impact that each action would have on it. Organizers agreed on other important components such as, a complete devotion to nonviolence, and a focus on ending the occupation, that the campaign must be ongoing, clear messages to the media, and flexibility in planning and carrying out actions.
The umbrella framework for this 10 days of action is the International Solidarity Movement and the Campaign Against the Occupation. The participants call on their respective governments to cease active support of Israelís aggression against Palestinian civilians and pressure Israel to comply with International law and UN resolutions.
21 Americans, 8 Italians, 4 French, 4 British, and 1 Danish participant joined existing International, Israeli and Palestinian activists for the inauguration of the campaign. Additional activists joined the following week, including a group of 25 Italians and 8 French delegates.
The group put all other plans on hold to address the closure of the Orient House by the Israeli occupation forces. For the next 4 days, the international, interfaith team of 30-40 in number would conduct non-violent protests. Holding signs calling for an end to the occupation of the Orient House, an end to violence and justice for all people, and Palestinian flags, each day they formed a line at the police barricade. Each day they were consistently true to their non-violent approach. Each day they were exposed to the violence of the Israeli police. Members of the International team, journalists, and other witnesses can only speculate about how severe the treatment of Palestinians is when they are not present. They see the treatment that they received as non-violent Americans, Israeli citizens and foreign visitors as a clear attempt to undermine any non-violent movement on behalf of peace in the region.
On Saturday, August 11, eleven were arrested, 7 foreign civilians and 4 Palestinians. The Palestinians detained were observers and not participating in the International demonstration. The majority of those arrested were American, two of which were Palestinian American women. Two activists with remaining charges, Mahmoud Q. Mahmoud and Andy Clarno, are being defended by the Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel. Thus, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew stand up to the racist legal and military Israeli system. They will not be alone.
Activists on the ground derive strength from support by thousands of individuals all over the world. Those who could not go and join them are working hard in their respective countries to educate people about the violence of the occupation, an occupation that is fast becoming the longest military occupation still standing. On June 8th, women in 150 cities around the world held vigils calling for an end to the occupation. Demonstrations continue to be frequent in hundreds of cities around the world. International networks like the Palestine Right To Return Coalition (Al-Awda.org) are expanding in every city, state and country. An intensive International campaign is planned for September (month of solidarity with the Palestinian people). Collectively these international campaigns will continue to grow and accelerate until Palestinians achieve their national and individual human rights.