Too close for comfort: Protesters who cosy up to terrorists make Mideast peace less likely
The Ottawa Citizen
May 9, 2003
Every year, the United Nations ranks the world's countries according to
criteria such as political rights, press freedom and civil liberties. The UN
report is illuminating reading, especially for students of the Middle East.
Israel is awarded first-world rankings, while its neighbours are near the
One aim of terrorism against Israel is to derail democracy in the Jewish
state by forcing Israelis to choose between being blown up, pizzeria by
pizzeria, or enacting such harsh security measures that they lose their
democratic bearings. Every suicide bomb carries a message to Israelis: What
good is your democracy if it can't protect you?
So opponents of Israel
believed they had scored a propaganda victory last
week when Israel said it would begin restricting their movement. Israel is
especially concerned about the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a
loose-knit group with branches on university campuses across North America
and Europe. ISM's strategy is to make the Palestinian issue the cause
celebre of the protest community, the way East Timor was for many years. The
group's members believe an Israeli crackdown on the ISM will allow the group
to paint Israel's government as illiberal and illegitimate.
In fact, it is
not Israel but the ISM that has been exposed as harbouring
illiberal tendencies. The ISM publicly advocates non-violence, which
accounts for its appeal to idealistic western undergraduates. But the fine
print on the group's Web site makes it clear that "Palestinians themselves
will always have, and ought to have, a primary and determining role in ISM's
actions and decisions on the ground." The meaning of that became apparent in
March when Israeli troops raided an ISM office in Jenin and captured a
senior Islamic Jihad member who was hiding there.
Meanwhile, the two bombers
who attacked a Tel Aviv pub last month are
believed to have attended ISM events, although the ISM denies they had ever
been members of the group. The bombers had been able to penetrate Israeli
security because they carried British passports. In its recruiting materials
aimed at foreign volunteers, the ISM talks of using "the relative privilege
of our passports," and putting "our bodies on the line."
(One ISM member
from the United States, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, was
killed in March while trying to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer flattening
an area Israel says was used as a staging ground for arms smuggling.)
ISM admits there "is no central body which dictates policy or activities
on the ground" and there are "few restrictions or criteria for becoming a
delegate to Palestine." This loose, cell-like structure is convenient,
allowing the organization to maintain deniability for the actions of its
more radical members.
The sheltering of Islamic Jihad members and playing
host to suicide bombers
suggest that the ISM is getting careless. This was inevitable. Groups such
as this have never accepted a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. Their advocacy for a Palestinian "right of return" to Israel
proper means the end of Israel as the Jewish homeland.
Israel has no choice
but to scrutinize "activists" more closely when they
appear at the border. Those who genuinely believe in non-violence, but now
find themselves barred entry, should direct their anger not at Israel, but
at organizations that have blurred the line between legitimate protest and
support for terror.