Breaking Curfew

Book review: "Peace Under Fire"
- Ed: Josie Sandercock; Radhika Sainath; Marissa McLaughlin; Hussein Khalili; Nicholas Blincoe; Huwaida Arraf; Ghassan Andoni.
Foreword by Edward Said
[Verso 2004; ISBN 1-84467-007-4, ISBN1-84467-501-7 (paperback)]

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) differs from the many other organisations involved in relief work in the Palestinian territories through its belief in non-violent, direct action to bring about an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Its work is also, however, to bear witness, revealing in the process the practical effect of Israeli government policies that seem to revel in the momentum of violence - a pretext for accelerating illegal appropriations of Palestinian land and natural assets. This book, then, is a narrative gripping in two senses - a compelling read; and an account of wrestling with the daily exigencies of survival under violent military occupation.

"Peace Under Fire" is arranged in three parts: the origins and aims of the Movement; volunteers' experiences in the field (simultaneously depicting the ISM at work and Palestinian communities' struggle for survival); and the Movement's response to the Israeli Defence Forces' (IDF) desperate attempts to suppress ISM activities.


A definition of what the ISM is about (p20-1) prefaces activists' communiqués, which are grouped by type of action: emergency responses to the IDF's assault on the occupied territories in April 2002; resisting curfews and restrictions on movement; mitigating the impact of army harassment of medical services; deterring settler attacks on villagers during the olive harvest; supporting families as their homes are demolished around them; campaigning against the construction of the separation barrier dividing the West Bank . . .

Despite its comparative youth, a strong case can be made for the ISM having worked harder for peace than any of the speculative proposals offered by Israeli politicians since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accord (itself lacking robustness as a blueprint for a lasting cessation of conflict). In forcing the world's attention to focus on the humanitarian dimension of Palestinians' struggle for self-determination, the Movement obliges recognition that there are 3.5 million partners for peace - instead of victimisation - in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A reader who has not followed closely political developments in the region will be struck, in ISMers' reportage, by the insidiousness of the Israeli presence - both settler and military - as it impacts in sadistic fashion on the social and economic minutiae of Palestinian daily life. But a more powerful impression is left by evidence of the grace and resilience of Palestinians under such grinding persecution - qualities that this reader found awe-inspiring.

The ISM is also about filling the void left by international politicians too cynical or too parochial to commit to implementing effective strategies for a just peace in the Middle East. The Movement is Palestinian-founded and -led, and self-financing, while geared by voluntary international participation in increasing numbers. The potential for ISM's strength is thus exponential, limitless . . .

"ISM is a threat [to the Israeli project of occupation, discrimination and apartheid-like rule] because we've created space for Internationals to see it, live it, and speak out about it. But Occupation is not going to be defeated by words alone; occupation, oppression and domination are going to be dismantled the same way they were erected, through the action of people - through civilian-based resistance." [Co-Founder Huwaida Arraf, 'Fighting the Conspiracy of Silence', p 292]

The book is the story of this struggle through to the summer of 2003, in volunteers' own words, giving a 'live-and-direct' feel to some harrowing accounts of confrontation and martial terrorisation, while avoiding the refractions and stereotyped distortions endemic to the news media industry. Once you've managed to put it down, consider lending your copy of the book to your elected government representative for a month or two . . . they should not be allowed to claim that they never knew.