JENIN — At 12:30 this afternoon, more than 20 Israeli military vehicles drew up outside the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in Beit Sahour in the West Bank. Dozens of border guards, soldiers, and intelligence officers poured out of these vehicles and raided those offices. They took computers, discs, papers, every piece of data they could lay their hands on.
They also arrested the three women who were in the office at the time. One, a Palestinian, works for the Palestinian peace organization "Rapprochement" whose offices ISM shares. She has since been released. The other two women, both foreign nationals, are still being held pending their deportation. One volunteers for ISM while the other works for Human Rights Watch and is in Palestine doing research on home demolitions. She was visiting the ISM offices at the time of the raid.
In bare numbers, the loss to the organization is six desktop computers, three laptops and countless discs, an investment of $10,000 and more than two years work. They don’t expect to ever have the computers returned to them.
George, the Palestinian coordinator in Beit Sahour, told me the information is of no value to the Israelis, but of course the loss of the observers’ office will have a temporarily paralyzing effect on the organization. He affirmed that they will not stop working to observe and prevent army atrocities.
How is it that an organization with 60 people volunteering in the Occupied Territories has managed to invoke such fear in the Israeli Defense Forces, the fourth most powerful army in the world? What exactly is the IDF afraid of?
In less than two years of ISM’s presence here, the movement has welcomed over 1,000 observers from all over the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. Almost 20 percent of the volunteers have been Jewish. The average age is over 30 — many are over 50, and there have even been volunteers in their 70s. They come from all walks of life to support justice. Israelis, too, have worked with ISM and have faced the same levels of violence from soldiers and settlers. It is this disparate collection of concerned individuals who have caused such consternation in the corridors of power in Tel Aviv.
Daily news confirms the suspicion that Israeli authorities want no more foreign witnesses to their actions in occupied Palestine. On Thursday a new policy went into effect that all foreigners entering the Gaza Strip must sign a waiver to absolve the Israeli army of any responsibility should they be killed or wounded while there, in effect giving the Israeli soldiers permission to shoot them. Three foreigners have been killed or critically injured by the Israeli army in the last two months.
Now if we wish to go there we have to sign a piece of paper allowing the army to kill us. The vast majority of foreigners entering the territories are U.N. or NGO relief workers, teachers and journalists. One wonders how long before this policy goes into effect for the West Bank, too, and how many of those relief workers and university teachers will decide to leave rather than give the army carte blanche to target them.
It seems difficult to escape the conclusion that the Israeli government is scared of nonviolent resistance, scared of witnesses to their crimes. Speaking to ISM representatives in Jenin and Beit Sahour Friday evening has been fascinating. Obviously downcast by the Israeli actions, they are still able to see the positive side of this development. Yousef, the Palestinian coordinator based in Jenin, is hopeful that this may result in a positive shift in Palestinian thinking toward the option of active nonviolent resistance. After all, if such a small organization can have such a powerful effect and cause such disquiet among high-ranking Israeli officials, it must be doing something right. "Why?" Yousef asked me this evening, "Why are they afraid of peaceful resistance? We are not fighting, we are just writing."
Sixty international observers and 10 Palestinian coordinators have scared the world’s fourth-most powerful army into taking draconian measures to try and stop them. It’s testimony to the effectiveness of their work. They will keep coming.
Brattleboro resident Andrew Hockley is currently teaching at a West Bank university.