International Solidarity Movement
Previously Aired On: Wednesday, June 11, 2008 – Listen to the Show!
Adam Shapiro is an American co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a pro-Palestinian organization, the stated mission of which is to bring civilians from around the world to resist nonviolently the Israeli occupation of West Bank and previously the Gaza Strip. He became famous for visiting Yasser Arafat in his Mukataa (government center) in Ramallah while it was besieged during the March 2002 Israeli military operation in the West Bank and Gaza.
Shapiro was born in Brooklyn, New York, brought up in a non-observant Jewish home, but he does not consider himself an adherent of Judaism. Both his parents are public school teachers, and his brother and family spokesman is an attorney.
Shapiro received his A.B. in political science and history from Washington University in St. Louis in 1993. He subsequently spent a year studying Arabic in Yemen after receiving his M.A. in Arab studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He received his M.A. in political science from New York University. Shapiro is currently pursuing a doctorate at American University in Washington.
His interest in the Palestinian cause started with his involvement with “Seeds of Peace,” an organization that sought to foster dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian youth. There he met Huwaida Arraf, a Christian Palestinian American, whom he married in 2002. In 2001 they co-founded the International Solidarity Movement.
During the 2002 Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza, ISM members would ride in ambulances in the hope of expediting their passage through checkpoints. Shapiro, who was living in Ramallah, volunteered with Irish activist Caoimhe Butterly to ride in ambulances. He recounts hearing there were wounded in the headquarters of Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian National Authority, and “several members of the movement marched by Israeli tanks into the Palestinian leader’s office.” Trapped inside by Israeli fire towards the compound, they remained overnight and Shapiro had breakfast with Arafat. Shapiro was allowed to leave when a doctor took his place. By this time, the compound was virtually empty except for Arafat and a small entourage, including, “three advisers, his doctor, the head of the presidential guard and his official photographer.”
Shapiro’s visit to Arafat’s headquarters was reported in the American press. A New York Post columnist labeled him “the Jewish Taliban”, after John Walker Lindh, “the American Taliban” who was captured serving in the Taliban army in Afghanistan. Shapiro alleges that his life was threatened, supposedly by local chapters of Betar and the Jewish Defense League. He alleges that his parents were temporarily forced by their homes by threats.
Shapiro explained his actions to the New York Times: “I think there’s an incorrect supposition that someone who is Jewish necessarily has to stand with Israel, or that someone who is Arab or Muslim has to stand with everything the Palestinians or the Arab countries do. My philosophy is that we’re all human beings, and I don’t buy into ethnicity and sectarianism. I do what I think is right, and there are plenty of Israelis out there standing with me. Allowing the Palestinians to live in freedom is good for Israel and good for the Jews.”
In a May 2002 CNN interview Paula Zahn asked Shapiro about an article in which he wrote: “Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both violent and nonviolent. But most importantly, it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. Nonviolent resistance is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation.” According to Zahn, Shapiro’s writings could bring some people “to the conclusion that you were promoting suicide bombing.” Shaprio responded: “You have to deal with the reality on the ground. The reality on the ground is that Palestinians are living in a context of extreme violence. The occupation itself is violence.”
Shapiro told the New York Times that Israeli actions regarding the Palestinians reminded him of Kristallnacht, during which 36 Jews were killed in Nazi Germany and hundreds of Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed. Despite the controversy, he insists that the comparison is valid.
According to a 2003 profile of ISM in the Jordanian newspaper “The Star,” Shapiro “justifies the Palestinian armed resistance against Israel as long as it is targeting Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
In an article published in the Palestine Chronicle, Shapiro and Arraf wrote: “What is needed is nonviolent direct action against the occupation…. Hamas claims it has many men ready to be suicide bombers – we advocate that these men offer themselves as martyrs by standing on a settler road and blocking it from traffic. This is no less of a jihad. This is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation. And we are certain that if these men were killed during such an action, they would be considered shaheed Allah.” They continued: “Let us reiterate, we accept that Palestinians have a right to resist with arms…”
On a subsequent trip to Israel, Shapiro was arrested, jailed, and ordered deported after he and others chained themselves to a checkpoint. Shapiro stated that he left Israel of his own accord, and vowed to appeal, though he stated he was starting a doctoral program at American University. According to Shapiro’s Israeli lawyer, little can be done to stop the deportation as Israeli law gives the Minister of the Interior broad discretion to issue deportation orders. Israeli government spokesman Capt. Joseph Dallal stated, “It’s unfortunate that time has to be spent on removing people who are there just to cause provocation.”
In 2004 Shapiro was part of a collective that released About Baghdad, the first documentary after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It features the return to Baghdad of the poet Sinan Antoon. In a Democracy Now interview Shapiro said: “I think it’s hard to compare although what we’re seeing today in Iraq, unfortunately, and really tragically, is very reminiscent and of the tactics of the occupying forces that we find among Israeli forces.”
In 2006 Shapiro, with Aisha Bain and Jen Marlowe, released “Darfur Diaries.” Filmmakers explored the history of the conflict in Darfur and interviewed refugees and displaced persons, particularly victimized women and children. Shapiro explained his interest in a Democracy Now interview, saying: “Just looking around and seeing what I had been doing in the Occupied Territories, the recent film I had done in Iraq, I realized that if nobody else was going to do it, then it’s incumbent upon us as individuals to try to do whatever we could.”
Shapiro’s next documentary, “Chronicles of the Refugee,” is a six-part Arab language documentary series about the experiences of Palestinians worldwide. Shapiro conducted 250 interviews in 16 countries. It was filmed for Palestinian and Arab audiences. He was inspired by his experiences with the International Solidarity Movement trying to find homes for Palestinians escaping Iraq and having troubles finding new homes.