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.
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