- Co-founder of International Solidarity Movement
- “Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both violent and non-violent.”
Adam Shapiro was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York in 1972. But as a self-proclaimed atheist, he says: “I have no religious feelings” and “I don't regard myself as Jewish.” Shapiro earned a B.A. in political science and history from Washington University (St. Louis) in 1994, an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University in 1996, and an M.A. in politics from NYU in 1998. He also pursued doctoral studies in international relations at American University from 2002-05.
Beginning in 1997, Shapiro worked for the New York-based organization Seeds of Peace (SoP), which aims to improve relations between populations in conflict—including the Palestinians and Israelis, which are of most interest to Shapiro—by giving young people from each group an opportunity to interact with their counterparts. When SoP established a youth center in Jerusalem in 1999, Shapiro went there to serve as its director. The young activist Huwaida Arraf joined this youth center as a program coordinator in 2000, and two years later Shapiro married her.
In 2001 Shapiro and Arraf collaborated with Ghassan Andoni, George Rishmawi, and Neta Golan to co-found the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a pro-Hamas activist group. In December 2001 Shapiro left SoP to become a full-time ISM volunteer devoted to “work[ing] with Palestinians in struggling against the [Israeli] Occupation.” Shapiro condemned “the violence, brutality, and humiliation” to which the Palestinians were purportedly subjected “all the time.”
In January 2002 Shapiro and Arraf co-authored an article for the Palestinian Authority’s mouthpiece, the Palestine Chronicle, advocating the strategic use of nonviolent activism—not because they deemed such an approach preferable to violence, but because they thought it was likelier to win public support: “While we do not advocate adopting the methods of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., we do believe that learning from their experience and informing a Palestinian movement with this knowledge can be quite valuable and of great utility.… [T]hose who maintain nonviolence and exploit the use of violence by the oppressor maintain control and power, which is something that can be manipulated to present a story, a case or an image.... [W]e accept that the Palestinians have a right to resist with arms, as they are an occupied people ... Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics—both nonviolent and violent.” In the same piece, Shapiro and Arraf wrote that certain nonviolent actions like “standing on a settler road and blocking it from traffic” could be “no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation,” and thus could constitute “[n]o less of a jihad” than such a deadly tactic. “If these [nonviolent protesters] were killed during such an action,” the authors added, “they would be considered shaheed Allah” (martyrs).
In the spring of 2002, Shapiro and Arraf sided with the Palestinians when Israel launched a military operation in response to a Palestinian terrorist's massacre of 30 Israelis at a Passover seder in the city of Netanya—an atrocity that was part and parcel of the violent Second Intifada that had been waged relentlessly since September 2000. While the Israeli military surrounded Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound and trapped the PLO leader inside, Shapiro and Arraf entered the compound to stand in solidarity with him. In subsequent interviews, Shapiro praised Arafat for his ongoing “struggle for freedom for the Palestinian people”; for his efforts to advance “freedom, dignity” and human rights for the Palestinian people; and for having consistently “condemned [the] loss of … civilian lives on both sides” in the aftermath of “every terrorist incident” and “every suicide bombing.” But as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America noted: “Arafat condemns violence against Israelis only under extreme duress, usually at the demand of the Americans and most often only in English. His overwhelming message to his people is exhortation to continuing violence.”
Also in 2002, Shapiro:
- likened Israel's “terrorist actions”—which he said were “funded … by the United States government”—to those of the Nazis;
- said that Israel's practice of demolishing the homes of (terrorist) Palestinians was reminiscent “of Kristallnacht during World War II when the Nazi government sought to erase all symbols and elements of Jewish culture and Jewish religion from Berlin”;
- accused the Israeli military of carrying out “summary executions”—a charge he was unable to substantiate when a reporter asked for proof;
- stated that “this government of Israel does not wish the world to see or know of what its forces are doing in the name of occupation—for silence is the greatest asset of oppression”; and
- said that Israel's “long-chanted mantra” that “the Arabs are seeking to destroy the Jewish state and to drive its inhabitants into the sea,” was nothing more than “a case of the kettle calling the pot black.”
In August 2002 Shapiro was arrested for demonstrating near the West Bank city of Nablus in defiance of a military curfew imposed by Israel, and shortly thereafter he was deported by the Israeli government. The deportation order was eventually lifted, but in 2009 Israel's Ministry of Interior issued a ten-year entry ban for Shapiro—a ruling he did not become aware of until March 2013.
In June 2003, Shapiro and Arraf toured a number of Arab countries to encourage residents “to join and support our campaigns whether it is by sponsoring another individual to visit Palestine or by contributing to the [ISM] foundation.”
In 2003, Shapiro acknowledged that the PLO had a strong influence over ISM—and that PLO plainclothes handlers were present at every ISM event in the West Bank and Gaza.
On November 26, 2003, Shapiro spoke as an “expert” witness at an International Relations Middle East Policy Forum on Capitol Hill.
In the early 2000s, Shapiro became active as a documentary filmmaker. In 2004 he helped produce About Baghdad, which centered around the Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon's return to his homeland to witness the destruction that the recent U.S. invasion had caused in Iraq's capital city. In an interview with Democracy Now!, Shapiro lamented that “what we’re seeing today in Iraq … tragically, is very reminiscent … of the tactics of the occupying forces that we find among Israeli forces.”
In 2006 Shapiro co-produced Darfur Diaries, which explored the history of the long and deadly war in Sudan's Darfur region. That same year, he spent some time in Lebanon assisting Hezbollah in its war effort against Israel.
When the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), a pro-Hamas organization, was founded in 2008, Shapiro served a stint on its board of directors. He also participated in some of FGM's flotilla voyages to Gaza in 2009-10.
In 2009 Shapiro produced Chronicles of a Refugee, a six-part film series about Palestinian refugees worldwide, which was broadcast on Al Jazeera.
Since September 2011, Shapiro has served as the head of campaigns for Front Line Defenders, an organization that routinely accuses Israel of abusing the Palestinians.
Shapiro avidly supports international divestment from Israel and from corporations that conduct business with the Jewish state. He staunchly supports the Palestinian “right of return” and opposes the so-called Road Map to Peace.