At a time when few tourists are coming to Jerusalem and fewer people than ever are demonstrating support for the Palestinian cause, a group known as the International Solidarity Movement has organized 62 tourists to come to Jerusalem at this time to organize political demonstrations for the PLO cause.
The Israeli host of this new kind of “solidarity Mission”, the the Alternative Information Center, located at its new office at 4 Shlom Tzion Hamalka Street opposite the Israel Ministry of Interior, acts a clearing house for more than a dozen Israeli left wing organizations.
The IRS tax deductible Firedoll Foundation in California, an organization that helps Arab human rights organizations, provided subsidies for participants on this mission.
The AIC director, Sergei Yani, says that he supports the solidarity movement’s activities because of what he defines as the “right of oppressed peoples”
The person spearheading the effort is a 24 year old woman, Huwaida Arref, born in Michigan to a Palestinian American family and trained in the art of grass roots community organization.
This is not the first project International Solidarity Campaign Last summer, the campaign brought over one hundred volunteers to work in summer camps that demonstrated support for the PLO cause,.
The first agenda item of the Inaternational Solidarity Movement this week was the organization of a civil disobedience orientation seminar which took place at the three kings hotel in Jerusalem. According to Huwaida, this is where the guest protesters learned the art of non-violent resistance to potential confrontations with Israeli troops.
After two days of training sessions, Huwaida led the group on a bus trip to Ramalla where their solidarity mission’s first activity was to get out of the bus and to lie down in front of IDF tanks that sit on the southern outskirts of the city. Young IDF officers, looking at the group incredulously, simply escorted the group to the nearest checkpoint.
Liad Kantorowiscz, the head of the “1948 solidarity group based in Tel Aviv, who is also hosting the visiting delegation, explained that the reason why their delegation lied down in front of the tanks was that the IDF will not harm or even arrest foreign nationals. An IDF spokesman explained that indeed, the IDF cannot arrest foreign nationals, and that they can only detain them and perhaps hand them over to the police.
Kantorowiscz, 23. in welcoming the delegation, told them that that the 1949 lines of Israel were internationally recognized borders, which was not the case,. that Gilo was part of Beit Jalla, and that. half of the Arab refugees today were Arabs who fled the west bank. When confronted with the fact that UNRWA camps comprise the descendents of the Arabs who fled Israel in 1948, she said that she did not know that
Well, the IDF did not arrest the delegation when they sat down in front of the tanks. Instead, the surprised young IDF officers simply escorted the delegation back to their bus, where they went off to greet Yassir Arafat.
In their meeting with Arafat, the delegation issued a statement following their meeting in which they lauded Arafat for his support of a “just, comprehensive and lasting peace” based on UN resolutions.
Two of the delegation leaders, Charles Lenchner and Joshua Ruebner, who work with new US-based groups known as “Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel:” and the “Jewish Unity for a Just Peace”, said that they were not aware of Arafat’s speech the day before their visit with Arafat in which the PLO leader endorsed suicide attacks to kill Jews in Jerusalem even though they said that they had read the Jerusalem Post that morning which had headlined that speech
Instead, the delegation informed the PLO leader that they were coming as the first American Jewish delegation to the PA after the September 2000 intifada to call for an end of to the Israeli military occupation of west bank, Gaza, AND East Jerusalem.
Lenchner said that he explicitly called for Israel to withdraw its troops from the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jersualem.
Since the delegation endorsed all UN resolutions pertaining to the conflict, Lenchner was asked about whether he supported the UN resolutions that back the “right of return” to Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem that were overrun by Israel, Lenchner affirmed that that was implicit in his recognition of the “right of return” as a fundamental human right.
When asked about whether the Jews in Bakka should therefore leave their homes and hand them over to Arabs. Lenchner and other members of the delegation said that the people living in Bakka should recognize the in principle right of return for Pal refugees.
AIC director, Sergei Yani, went a step further and explained that a justified solution for Arab properties in West Jerusalem would be for the people in Bakka to pay rent to the rightful Arab owners of their homes. Yeni does not fear the possibility of massive Arab return to Israel proper, however. The way he sees it, “if Israel absorbed a million Jews in the past year, it could also absorb a million Arabs.”
The next planned events of the solidarity delegation call for a few days of tree planting near Arab villages in the Shomron where allegations exist that Jewish communities had uprooted the trees. The delegation mentioned that it gets its information from the Rabbis for Human Rights. Although RHR had been mentioned on invitations to the solidarity delegation as a sponsoring host, RHR director Rabbi Arik Ascherman denied that, saying while some of their Rabbis may accompany their trip, that the RHR was may go along. Another key Israeli contact for the group is Neta Golan, a woman who has made it a full time avocation of gathering information from the PLO and handing it over to visiting journalists and diplomats throughout the past year. Neta works full time thanks to a $10,000 grant that she received from the Bat Shalom feminist peace group, which is a beneficiary of the New Israel Fund.
Neta, often the solitary source for human rights reports, has spent the better part of the past decade as an in-patient in mental health institutions in Israel and in Canada.
Neta was once suffering from delusions in a hospital ward.
Now Neta projects her imagination on to the media.
This weekend, the delegation plans to dismantle IDF checkpoints near the Arab village of Salfit. At the training seminar, the delegation practiced the art of confronting soldiers as “human shields” for the Palestinians, and then lying down to challenge the IDF do anything about that.. Liad Kantorowiscz explains that their purpose is to act against settlement outpost, and to remove roadlocks between villages, and to use the “internationals” as the way to do it.
When Kantorowiscz was asked how she would feel if a suicide killer got through because there was no checkpoint, She said that the killer would have gotten through any way.
The person expressing the greatest appreciation upon the arrival of this delegation was Ghassan Andoni of Beit Sahour, a PA offical who conducted various “non violent” activities over the past year, such as the placement of Palestinian flags near IDF bases.