Palestine and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)


The second intifada began in September 2000 and since then over 2,500* Palestinians have been killed and 41,000 have been wounded. These stark figures alone do not tell the full story of the subjugation and the brutal oppression of the people of Palestine. The Israeli occupation forces have engaged in the systematic destruction of the infrastructure of the Occupied Territories. They regularly carry out punitive raids using explosives and bulldozers that result in residential areas being reduced to a lunar landscape of rubble.

Then there are the daily indignities and humiliations at the checkpoints and roadblocks that are used to enforce curfews and restrict people's movement. Arrests without due process and beatings in custody are commonplace. Since September of 2000 an estimated 28,000 Palestinians have been detained. Over 5,000 of these detainees remain imprisoned and 1,600 of these prisoners have not had a trial. These measures have wrought havoc on the Palestinian economy and almost three quarters of the population have to subsist on less than $2 a day

Palestine also has the misfortune to be in an area of strategic interest to the US state. As we know the wretched of the earth come a poor second to the success of North America's grand geopolitical plans. The US State Department does not care how high the corpses pile up as long as the great game is played to their advantage. So the US continues to foist unworkable and unjust "Peace Plans" on the Palestinians while pouring military and financial aid into Israel.

Given all this, there would seem to be little reason to hope that international solidarity could interfere with the complex and massive machinery of domination developed and maintained by Israel and the world's sole remaining superpower. Nonetheless, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a Palestinian led movement made up of Palestinians and international volunteers, is attempting to do just that.

At the start of the current intifada Palestinians called for independent international observers. This proposal was vetoed by the US and international volunteers began to fulfil the role of international observers instead. It was found that the presence of foreign nationals often kept the worst excesses of the IDF in check. These volunteers also began to document and disseminate information internationally about the situation in Palestine. Following this the ISM was founded and they organised their first campaign in August 2001.

Since then ISM volunteers have continued doing this sort of solidarity work in a series of themed campaigns. The most recent of these focussed on the free movement of people and the current campaign is centred on protecting farmers harvesting their olives, who have experienced harassment and intimidation in the past. The ISM is also trying to publicise the construction by Israel of the "apartheid wall", an 8 metre high wall in the Occupied Territories that will strengthen Israeli military control over the territories and will be used to defend the illegal settlements that are mushrooming on Palestinian land.

The ISM has had a good deal of success in helping out in some of the day to day situations faced by ordinary Palestinians. More spectacularly, but perhaps less importantly, volunteers managed to break the respective sieges around Arafat's compound in Ramallah and around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In response the IDF has used lethal force to intimidate the ISM. Volunteers have been shot at and in two cases they have sustained serious head injuries. In March the IDF purposefully ran over and killed an activist with a military bulldozer. Paradoxically, these events have led to an increase in the number of volunteers travelling to Palestine. Similarly, the efforts to turn away activists at the Israeli border have backfired as 20,000 tourists have been deported along with the 1,000 or so correctly identified ISMers.

The ISM's political demands are limited to calling for the implementation of the relevant UN resolutions and the proper observance of international law in Palestine.

The organisation is committed to the tactic of non-violent direct action. Although the ISM does recognise the right of Palestinians to resist the occupation through armed struggle ISM volunteers are forbidden from taking part in any violent action - even stone throwing. To this end every volunteer undergoes a short period of training in non-violent direct action and working and decision making within an affinity group.

The work and the politics of the ISM are clearly not anarchist and the region has no tradition of libertarian politics. Anarchists are critical of nationalist politics and of the corrupt political elite that rule the Palestinian Authority and would regard international law as an unsound basis for any political programme. However, given the dire nature of the conflict, the work of the ISM is important and necessary. It is worth noting that the tactic of non-violent direct action has been used by libertarians in Ireland during the recent anti-war and anti-bin tax campaigns and at the protests at Sellafield and the Falsane nuclear base. The logic behind this approach is to devise tactics and events in which a broad cross-section of people will participate. The evidence from Palestine is that a broad campaign using non-violent direct action can be useful, in a small and limited way, even in the face of severe repression.

Dec McCarthy

More about the ISM
Several people from Ireland have already served as volunteers with the ISM. You can find out more about the ISM at

*the death toll since 2001 has been 2537 Palestinians and 743+ Israelis killed.

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.

Print out the PDF file of this issue

This edition is No78 published in November 2003