The danger of sending American college students on Olive Tree Initiative trips to the West Bank was underscored by the recent discovery of 13 Hamas terror cells and a foiled suicide bombing plot in Jerusalem.
Since its founding in 2007, the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), a self-described non-partisan educational program, has been a lightening rod of controversy.
With chapters already operating on four UC campuses and more scheduled to open, the OTI has steadfastly maintained its mission is to bridge differences among college students on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through what it calls “civil discussion” and “open minds.”
To facilitate that effort, the OTI provides its Christian, Jewish and Muslim (and unaffiliated) student members a purportedly “balanced” speaker’s forum as well as an annual student “diplomatic mission” to Israel and the West Bank. Once there, students are called to “actively engage politicians and leading experts on many sides of the conflict and develop a more comprehensive view.”
Of course, it should be noted that some of the leading experts the students have met with include representatives of terrorist organizations. On a 2009 trip, the OTI student itinerary included a meeting with senior Hamas leader, Aziz Duwaik, an encounter in which students were later encouraged by OTI leaders to cover up.
Yet, despite its high-minded public aspirations and commitment to “neutrality” the reality is that the OTI has promoted a rabidly anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish agenda. The program creates a dangerous moral equivalency between speakers who seek to destroy the Jewish state and support terrorism and speakers supportive of mainstream Israel issues. Moreover, the OTI’s efforts have been aided by the support of a collection of overtly anti-Semitic, anti-Western groups, many with known links to terrorist organizations.
Chief among OTI’s nefarious terrorist supporters is the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and its various affiliates, such as the Al Awda, Palsolidarity, SUSTAIN, Wheels of Justice Tour and the Middle East Children’s Alliance.
Co-founded by George Rishmawi, a leading figure in the OTI and likely one of its founders; Huwaida Arraf; Adam Shapiro; and Neta Golan in 2001, the ISM touts itself as a “peace group” that advocates “nonviolent resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.” In reality the ISM is dedicated to the destruction of Israel through aiding terrorist attacks and other efforts by terror organizations to destroy Israel. They also endorse Palestinian terrorism.
To that end the ISM has openly admitted to working with Hamas; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ); Fatah; the PLO; and the Palestinian Authority.
Of course, the ISM leadership isn’t shy about admitting to the true nature of its agenda. ISM co-founder Adam Shapiro has recently said:
What we’ve been doing over the last ten years with the International Solidarity Movement, Free Gaza, and all the other outgrowth organizations and movements is to … ramp up the resistance. This is all part of a Palestinian movement to transform this conflict between the rest of the world and Israel.
In its efforts to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ISM has been linked to a terror attack in Israel in 2003 that killed three people and wounded 60, as well a series of suicide attacks in London in 2005 that killed 52 people and wounded over 700.
Senior ISM leaders have also been accused of harboring Islamic militants, including members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
Yet, the ISM’s most trusted and effective policy is recruiting activists to act as human shields for terrorist groups battling Israel by interfering with anti-terror operations of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
As such, the ISM was a prime organizer behind the May 2010 “Free Gaza Flotilla” in which ISM and other activists and militants provoked a confrontation with the IDF, a confrontation that left nine activists dead and seriously wounded 10 Israeli commandos. Most recently, the ISM was behind the unsuccessful July 2011 “Flytilla,” an effort to fly several hundred high-profile militant activists into the West Bank and which involved the participation of two OTI members.
In order to swell its ranks of activists, the ISM recruits worldwide, including at American universities. Once having established their presence on campus, the ISM and its affiliate groups then target unsuspecting or naïve college students. The students are mislead into thinking they will be participating in nonviolent demonstrations, unaware that the real purpose is to get them hurt or killed in confrontations with the Israeli Defense Forces.
In fact, frequent OTI campus speaker and ISM co-founder George Rishmawi (there are in fact two George Rishmawis involved in the OTI and both are co-founders of the ISM) has explained that the recruitment of American student volunteers is useful to the Palestinian Movement because “if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.”
That certainly was the case with American college student Rachel Corrie who, in March 2003, was accidentally killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza as she acted as a human shield for a weapons smuggling tunnel that was being demolished by the IDF. Other ISM activists have been maimed or killed, in some cases by Palestinians themselves.
In 2004 British activist Tom Hurndall was shot and killed in Gaza, and in April 2011 Italian Vittorio Arrigoni was kidnapped and later hung to death by a group of Palestinians in Gaza.
While ISM leaders publicly mourned all their deaths, a more accurate description of their feelings has come from ISM co-founders Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf who have written in the past:
The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both non-violent and violent. Yes, people will get killed and injured, but these deaths are no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation.
So, the question arises, if those allied with the ISM cause can be openly kidnapped and murdered, then what is the fate of innocent American college students traveling around the West Bank — led around by ISM activists like Rishmawi — to dialogue with a diverse collection of nefarious individuals and organizations?
These dangerous individuals even lurk in some networks in Jerusalem; networks which are likely connected to the ISM. Early in September, Israel’s Shin Blet security service foiled a suicide terrorist attack only 24 hours before the planned strike in a Jerusalem neighborhood. Discovery of the plot was part of a larger-scale operation carried out by Shin Bet against Hamas terrorists in the West Bank, an operation that led to the arrest of 13 separate Hamas terror cells.
The main Hamas cell, which was in charge of the planned suicide attack, was also responsible for a March attack in Jerusalem that killed a British tourist and wounded 47 others. Another terrorist cell exposed by the Shin Bet was operating from within Israel’s Ketziot prison where it had recruited around twenty militants whose prime objective was to kidnap an IDF soldier.
These arrests followed a similar operation in June by Israeli security forces in which they uncovered a terror cell belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP). In addition to planning the abduction of an Israeli soldier, the PLFP cell was also planning a series of shooting attacks in Israeli settlements around Ramallah; placing explosive devices in Jerusalem; and murdering those they determined to be Israeli sympathizers.
Unfortunately, the OTI’s links to groups that aid and abet such terror organizations has only served to heighten the potential danger students face when going to the Middle East on an OTI sponsored trip.
Yet, sadly, the OTI’s purposeful misuse of American students has been amply rewarded, not only through funding from the UC System but also through community support from various Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations. Moreover, that support has enabled the OTI to garner numerous awards and honors, including from the US State Department.
So as the dangers continue to mount in the West Bank and Gaza, perhaps, some of these benefactors may want to revisit their support of the OTI before the next student trip takes place in 2012.
For in depth information on the Olive Tree Initiative and how you can stop support for the organization, please visit Ha-Emet.com.