Born in 1976 to Arab Christian parents in Detroit, Huwaida Arraf earned degrees in Arabic, Hebrew, Judaic Studies, and political science at the University of Michigan. She subsequently worked at the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC, and obtained a JD from the American University Washington College of Law, where she co-chaired the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
In the spring of 2000, Arraf served as program coordinator for a Jerusalem-based youth center affiliated with Seeds of Peace (SoP), a nonprofit organization promoting “dialogue and interactions between young people in regions of conflict”—in this case, the Palestinians and Israelis. There, Arraf met the youth center's director, Adam Shapiro, whom she would marry in 2002.
In 2001, Arraf and Shapiro collaborated with Ghassan Andoni, George Rishmawi, and Neta Golan in co-founding the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)—“to help draw attention,” said Arraf, “to the human rights abuses suffered by Palestinians as a result of Israel's occupation.” By Arraf's telling, “The Palestinian Intifada, the ‘uprising for freedom,’ has got to be an international struggle … for freedom [and] basic human dignity and human rights.”
Arraf served as an ISM organizer from July 2001 through August 2004. Functioning also as a spokeswoman for the group, she cleared most ISM communications personally through the organization’s media office; she frequently led demonstrations in the West Bank and addressed anti-Israel audiences in the United States on behalf of the PLO; and during her visits to the U.S. she recruited people to go to the West Bank as ISM “internationals” to interfere with the anti-terrorist activities of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Arraf counseled her fellow ISM activists to use the lexicon of “nonviolence” when discussing the organization's intentions in public. For example, ISM training materials—in language approved by Arraf—said: “Instead of HUMAN SHIELDS, we refer to ourselves as INTERNATIONAL PEACE ACTIVISTS or PEACE ACTIVISTS/WORKERS.… When TERRORISM is mentioned, emphasize STATE TERRORISM. Instead of APARTHEID, say ISRAELI APARTHEID.... Instead of OCCUPATION say MILITARY OCCUPATION.... When possible say ETHNIC CLEANSING.” (Emphasis in original)
Arraf extolled the virtues of nonviolent resistance when speaking to audiences in the United States, but away from Western cameras and microphones, she promoted a very diferent message. In January 2002, for instance, she and Shapiro 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, Arraf and Shapiro 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 had the potential to be “[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, Arraf and Shapiro 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, Arraf and Shapiro entered the compound to stand in solidarity with him.
In May 2002, Arraf was one of ten international activists who slipped past Israeli security forces and entered Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity to bring supplies to, and act as human shields for, Palestinian terrorists who were holding the clergy and staff as hostages inside.
Arraf has stated, on record, that ISM works collaboratively with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—all designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department. “We’re willing to work with anybody,” she said at an October 2004 national Palestine Solidarity conference at Duke University, “but we’re not willing to engage in military assistance. We’re not going to win that way, but Hamas are some of the key forms of organizers, the PFLP, anyone who wants to organize and help us in our struggle really is our friend and we’ll work with.”
In 2006 Arraf spent three months as an Ella Baker intern at the Center for Constitutional Rights. In 2007 she served four months as a legal intern in the office of Democratic Congressman James Moran, where she prepared memoranda and talking points to support the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. And in 2007-08 Arraf worked as a clinical legal supervisor at Al-Quds University's Human Rights Clinic in Jerusalem.
In June 2007 on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, Arraf spoke at a rally commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War. In the course of her remarks, she said that America's pro-Israel policies constituted “the most egregious historical error this country has made.”
In 2008, Arraf became chair of the newly formed Free Gaza Movement (FGM), a pro-Hamas entity that sent numerous flotillas to Gaza in an effort to break Israel's “siege” of that city's seaport. “It is crucial that we continue sending boats to Gaza to challenge Israel's criminal closure of the strip” and its efforts to “deliberately deny an entire people their human rights,” Arraf said in 2009. In an FGM flotilla that sailed that summer, Arraf was aboard the boat Spirit of Humanity and was arrested by Israeli commandos who boarded the vessel when it was about 25 miles from Gaza. And in May 2010 she was aboard one of the smaller boats in yet another flotilla whose refusal to cooperate with Israeli authorities infamously resulted in a deadly conflict with Israeli commandos. Undeterred, Arraf in October 2011 said: “[W]e will keep coming, wave after wave, by air, sea, and land, to challenge Israel's illegal policies towards Gaza and all of Palestine. Our movement will not stop or be stopped until Palestine is free.”
From September 2008 through August 2012, Arraf served as a consultant and board chair for the F.G. [Free Gaza] Human Rights Project, providing legal advice on international law issues related to “the status of occupied territories, jurisdiction, and human rights and humanitarian law matters.”
Since August 2011, Arraf has worked as an independent consultant in the areas of “international law, human rights, grassroots organizing, nonviolent resistance, public advocacy, [and] Palestine.” In 2012-13 she was a consultant and program advisor with the Al-Quds University School of Law's Human Rights Clinic. And in 2013-14 she served as an appellate court attorney with the New York State Supreme Court.
Over the years, Arraf has also served on the advisory board of KinderUSA and the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. She was once on the list of speakers that Global Exchange made available for politically oriented events. And she has been arrested more than a dozen times for participating in anti-Israel protests in the West Bank and Gaza.
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