[The ISM, whose offices were closed by military order today, was initiated by Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, two former workers of a US government funded organization known as Seeds for Peace, run by former high-ranking US State Department officials Aaron and Lindsey Miller. According to the ISM spokesman, their funding emanates from the Menonite Church and the American Friends Service Committee. The spokesman for the ISM also said that their work is coordinated with the Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions, Peace Now and Gush Shalom, adding that the ISM was brought to the middle east and trained by the Christian Peace Makers Team in Hebron -David Bedein]

“Friends,” begins the web site of ISM, an international movement that works against Israel in the territories. “Friends, it’s great that you will be coming to join us in nonviolent, direct-action resistance to the occupation of Palestine.

Hopefully the following information will be helpful to you in making your travel plans.

“There are three ways to come to Palestine — via the Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv, via Amman, Jordan or via Egypt. We believe that it’s less suspicious if you come through Israel but you have to have a really good story about why you are coming, and must not mention anything about ISM or knowing, liking or planning to visit Palestinians. You must play it as though your visit is for other, Israel-based reasons, like tourism, religion, visiting an Israeli friend, etc. So do a little bit of research and put together a story that you’ll be able to answer questions about. For example, if you say you are visiting a friend in Jerusalem, you should have the name and phone number of a real Israeli person. If you are coming for religious purposes, have a book or two on religion and travel in Israel; have an itinerary, etc.

“All in all, it’s much easier to fly right into Tel Aviv. The main benefit of coming through Jordan or Egypt is that they are a little less stringent at the border. They’re pretty strict and suspicious at the airport, though quite a few people get lucky and most of our activists get in as long as they play it right.”

Raphael Cohen, a young Jewish man from England who is one of the leaders of ISM, tried to convince me last week that his organization works only in the framework of the law. I asked him how that fits with his organization’s recommendations for the phony traveler. “I haven’t read the web site,” he brushed me off. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He spoke to me with thinly repressed hatred, just as a true man of peace should speak to a war criminal.

This spring, peace tourism stopped being a children’s game. Rachel Corrie, one of the organization’s members, was killed confronting an IDF bulldozer in Rafah. Three other members were seriously wounded by gunfire, two in Rafah, one in Jenin. The two British Moslems who went to blow up at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv had spent time earlier in Rafah with the peace tourists. This tourism, it appears, kills and gets killed.

IDF commanders from the chief of staff on down would like the government to expel pretty much all people who define themselves as peace activists. It would seem that their efforts are unnecessary: the number of young people volunteering to defend the Palestinians from the wrongs of the occupation has miraculously dropped over the past few weeks. Perhaps because it turned out that this exciting adventure could end in a coffin. Perhaps because parents are scared, and they convince their children to stay home. Perhaps because of fears that death-addicted lunatics will take over the movement’s activities.

Perhaps because of the Iraq war. On the eve of the war it was reported that hundreds of young people, citizens of Western countries, had arrived in Baghdad. They promised to serve as “human shields” for Saddam’s palaces. The commanders of the US forces did not get excited. They announced that they would continue their plans as usual. If American citizens are killed, it is their problem.

Afterwards, when the bombing started, it turned out that the human shield had disappeared and was gone, or perhaps had never existed at all. No-one showed up. No-one was hurt. It was all a PR balloon. The human shield idea lost its effect in one fell swoop. Not only in Iraq, but here too, in the territories.

Their Ministry of Tourism

This week Raphael Cohen called a press conference in Jerusalem to explain. On April 25 he was in an ISM apartment in Rafah along with 15 others. Two of those invited were the British terrorists who would later attack the Tel Aviv promenade. Tea was served, of course. “I asked if they belonged to any organization. They said no, but said that they had arrived in the framework of alternative tourism. We spent 15 minutes in the apartment. From there we went to the place where Rachel Corrie was run over. We laid a flower on the pile of dirt. Then we parted.”

“Alternative tourism” is the name of an organization that works against the occupation, parallel to the ISM. The two organizations were born in the small Christian town of Beit Sahour, which during the first Intifada declared a non-violent, and very effective, tax revolt against the occupation. Both organizations include Israelis from the fringe of the fringe of the Left.

Michael Warschawski has been carrying the fringe of the Israeli Left on his shoulders since the days of the Matzpen movement. He has two characteristics which are rare in this branch of the Left: he is pleasant, and he is reliable. With endless patience he explained the situation to me this week.

“Alternative tourism is political tourism,” he said. “It is very accepted in Europe now. The organization of this name was established in 1995 in Beit Sahour and worked for the most part with Christians. The idea was to present pilgrims who arrived here with political material against the occupation. The motto was: Tourism is not just stones. My organization (Alternative Information) cooperated with them.

“And then the Intifada began, and there were no more tourists. There was no-one to whom to explain. Ghassan Aduni, who was one of the founders of the organization, established a new organization three years ago, called ISM. This organization consists of Americans, Britons, and Irish. There are also Jews involved in it.

“They are not my cup of tea. The vast majority have very good motives, but there is no filtering process. Some of the activists are adventurers who I would not want to party with. Some of them are looking for trouble. Some want to be human shields, despite the fact that the organization officially denies this.”

Why specifically our occupation, I asked. And if ours, why do they go to Rafah? Why do they not make do with protesting opposite the Israeli embassy in London, for example, or the White House?

“That is part of globalization,” Warschawski said. “The assumption is that the whole world belongs to all of us. This occupation is bad not only for the Palestinians, but for the whole world.”

But why get killed, I asked.

It is all a misunderstanding, Warshawski explained. “The IDF does not behave like the Russian army in Chechnya. On the ground there is a feeling of normalcy. This is very misleading: people who come from the outside, peace tourists or journalists, interpret it wrong, stick their head out, and get killed.”

What are kids from good Jewish homes in America and England doing in the Rafah refugee camp? They are doing what Jews have always done: saving the world. With holy innocence. With anger. With hate. And they are very jumpy. Palo Rozovski, the spokeswoman for ISM, agrees to reveal her family name to me only after heavy pressure. Raphael Cohen is convinced that Israel wants to kill him and his friends. “We are in Palestinian territory. Our presence here is none of your business. The problem is the occupation. Get out of here, fly out of here, and then there will be no problem.”

[David Bedein asked Cohen how he defined “occupation”.
His answer: “So long as the Zionists rule anywhere, this is ‘illegal occupation'”.]

This piece ran on May 9th, 2003 in Yediot Aharonot