Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

International Volunteer Groups Share Goal of Ending Israeli Occupation

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

International Volunteer Groups Share Goal of Ending Israeli Occupation

Article excerpt

As "Marjorie," a long-term activist with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), walks through the crowded market area of downtown Hebron wearing her customary red CPT baseball cap, people recognize the red cap and make way, whispering approvingly, "CPT, CPT."

It's clear that the CPT, a disciplined group of solidarity activists from the United States and Canada, has strong credibility among the Palestinians of Hebron district. What makes it possible for Palestinians to trust these people, when most foreigners, if they come to Hebron at all, come to abuse the local residents and steal their land? This was one of the fundamental questions I posed last fall to activists from CPT, the ISM (International Solidarity Movement to End the Occupation), and several other organizations working against the Israeli occupation from both sides of the Green Line.

Significant differences in style and approach between CPT and the ISM illuminate the nature of anti-occupation solidarity work and witnessing. The commonality in the work of both organizations is obvious: members of each regularly participate in such actions as monitoring and joining protests against human rights abuses committed by Israeli settlers and the Israeli army (IDF); accompanying children to school to protect them from settler/army violence; sleeping overnight in houses under threat of demolition, and many more similar activities.

Back home, returnees from both organizations work to educate their countrymen about the occupation and to galvanize action in support of the Palestinians. Both the ISM and CPT explicitly promote nonviolent direct action as the favored tactic in the struggle against the occupation.

At first glance, both CPT and ISM members are international activists who come from abroad to live with the Palestinians and work alongside them. Both take leadership from the Palestinians, trying to fit sensitively into the community and to enhance resistance to the occupation in a nonviolent way. CPT, however, is a compact group with a base in North America and a long history of activism both in Palestine (having first established their presence in Hebron in 1995) and other countries. The ISM was founded by Palestinians more recently, in 2001, to promote a nonviolent movement against the occupation. The internationals who participate in the ISM are perhaps the most visible component of the organization-Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death in Gaza in May 2003, was an ISM volunteer. They, however, are not the leaders of the organization.

Another difference between the two organizations is that the CPT is a "faith-based" group whose members come from the church community. The CPT finds inspiration in the scriptures; its members consider that they are "doing the Lord's work" when they witness and provide support to Palestinians under siege. One of their fundamental tenets, articulated by Mennonite leader Ron Sider, reads, "If soldiers are willing to die for peace, why can't we civilians do the same?" CPT members take this wisdom to heart and stand on the front line of nonviolent action in Hebron district.

The ISM, meanwhile, is a solidly secular organization that takes its inspiration from humanist and progressive values, with the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. taking a prominent place in their vocabulary of nonviolent action.

Returnees work to cote their countrymen about the occupation

This difference does not create a conflict between the two organizations, however; indeed, the CPT provided valuable help in the founding of ISM, providing nonviolence training and other support in an ongoing manner. In any case, although the CPT is rooted in Christian ethics, it reaches out to and welcomes cooperation with Muslims and Jews alike.

Size is another prominent difference between the two organizations. The CPT brings at most several dozen activists per year, primarily from the United States and Canada, to one district in the West Bank. …

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