By Joshua Ostrer
In response to recent feedback on this article, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify our intent. This article summarizes what Huwaida Arraf said at her talk on 3/7/11, and should be read as such. The Concordiensis itself does not and will not take any official stance on Arraf’s ideology or past actions. Any readers who would like to weigh in on their personal views on Arraf, her organization, or the decision to invite her to speak at Union are, as always, welcome to submit a Letter to the Editor at [email protected]
Aviva and AjayEditors-in-Chief
This Monday at 7 p.m., Huwaida Arraf, leader of the Free Gaza Movement, spoke in Nott Memorial before students and teachers, as well as Middle Eastern natives, about her life and the numerous campaigns of her Solidarity Movement.
Arraf, who is Palestinian-American, was raised in Michigan and attended University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Arraf began her activism by founding a Jewish-Arab talk group at Michigan before going to Jerusalem to do the same. Arraf believes in nonviolence, and emphasizes the importance of youth in any social movement. “I have a real big faith in the youth,” said Arraf.
In 2001, Arraf helped found the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The movement, inspired by lacking progress from violence in the area, sprouted as a group that would practice complete nonviolence. The movement was brought about by asking the question “What might make things different?”
The ISM has four main objectives: to provide protective accompaniment for Palestinian movements and marches, believing that the presence of internationals provides relative safety; to draw attention to the battle between justice and injustice, and away from the Jewish and Palestinian conflict (“It’s not about Jews versus Palestinians, but freedom,” said Arraf, whose organization is 30% Jewish); to provide an “alternative media” by means of members spreading the word upon returning home; and finally, to boost the morale of the Palestinian people.
“When people come with the simple message, ‘I see you’, it is important, it gives hope,” said Arraf.
Arraf mentioned one situation in particular, where a man whose house was about to be demolished called her. “He said, I can see your people can’t help, but I see them outside, and I thank you,” said Arraf.
During the movement’s first protest, where Arraf “hoped for a massive civilian army,” only about 50 attended. The movement marched on checkpoints and took down roadblocks. In the movement’s second campaign, in Dec. 2001, 70 people attended. The members began to march on bulldozers and strap themselves to olive trees. By the last ground campaign, the movement had over 7000 participants from 30 countries.
In March 2003, the movement encountered a setback. In just a few months, three supporters were killed, including the controversial case of Rachel Corrie. In response, the Israeli government intensified the regulations on the ISM’s access to the Gaza strip. With the increases in security, the ISM was no longer granted access to the Gaza strip by land.
As a result, multiple humanitarian violations occurred, including lack of luxury foods, lack of adequate school supplies, lack of toys, and insufficient supplies for hospitals, including medicine. There was also an increase in malnutrition, unemployment, and stunted growth.
This inspired Arraf to look into the ISM’s next campaign: boats. “We didn’t think that we’d get to Gaza, we thought we’d expose that the [naval] blockade had nothing to do with safety,” said Arraf.
The movement, after fundraising from 2006-2008, gathered 44 people, ranging from ages 21-84. Journalists, professors, and doctors from 17 countries began training for the campaign. “[We were] people that firmly believed in the power of what we were doing.” said Arraf.
The boat was allowed past the blockade. “It was the only situation that wasn’t planned for,” said Arraf. The boat, carrying only balloons and a few hundred ear buds, was greeted by many enthusiastic Palestinians. The boats did not carry humanitarian supplies. “The mission had to be repeated,” said Arraf.
By December 2008, the movement had already organized five trips. However, in the fifth campaign, Arraf’s boat was rammed three times by an Israeli vessel, but managed to stay afloat long enough to reach a Lebanese port.
In 2010, Arraf began the next phase of the ISM’s campaigns, a flotilla. “Giving in meant admitting military force beats what we stood for,” said Arraf. Through contributions, the flotilla amassed seven boats, three cargo boats, and four passenger boats. The boats were donated from six various organizations. Off the coast, the 700 people aboard the flotilla encountered Israeli ships. The encounter concluded with nine deaths and 50 injuries aboard ISM vessels.
Despite the results of the past flotilla, Arraf insists that it will not be the last, and that the ISM is currently planning a second one. “[The flotilla is] not just aid. We are standing up for people’s human rights. The attacks did not scare people away,” said Arraf.
Arraf’s visit was not without contention. Following a short film which included a father depicting the death of his two-year-old daughter, which occurred in front of his eyes, Arraf fielded questions. “If you want to end this [violence], you have to attack the root cause, [injustice],” said Arraf. “We need to work on a rights-based approach.”
However, Arraf does believe that youth reign supreme in making a difference in the conflict. “Throughout history, college campuses have been the hotbed for social reform,” said Arraf. For anyone interested in being involved, check out freegaza.org and palsolidarity.org.