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 New York University 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 particular 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 organization. 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.” He condemned “the violence, brutality, and humiliation” to which the Palestinians were purportedly subjected “all the time.” In subsequent years, Shapiro acknowledged the Palestine Liberation Organization’s strong influence over ISM—noting that PLO plainclothes handlers were generally present at ISM events in the West Bank and Gaza.
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 … can be quite valuable and of great utility. The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics — both nonviolent and violent…. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement…. [I]n India militants attacked British outposts and interests while Gandhi conducted his campaign…. [W]e accept that Palestinians have a right to resist with arms, as they are an occupied people upon whom force and violence is being used.”
Shapiro and Arraf also wrote a 2002 article called “Why Nonviolent Resistance Is Important for the Palestinian Intifada,” which encouraged would-be Hamas suicide bombers to engage in “nonviolent direct action against the occupation” by means of such tactics as “roadblock removal, boycotts, refusing to obey curfew orders, blocking roads, refusing to show ID cards or even burning them.” Noting that some of those protesters would undoubtedly “get killed and injured” in the process, the authors wrote: “[W]e advocate that these men offer themselves as martyrs by standing on a settler road and blocking it from traffic. This is no less of a jihad. This is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation. And we are certain that if these men were killed during such an action, they would be considered shaheed [martyrs] Allah.”
In the spring of 2002, Shapiro and Arraf sided with the Palestinians when Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, a military 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 against Israel 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 at the time: “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:
In August 2002 Shapiro was arrested for demonstrating near the West Bank city of Nablus in defiance of a military curfew that had been imposed by Israel, and shortly thereafter he was deported by the Israeli government. The deportation order was eventually lifted.
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. As journalist Lee Kaplan wrote in the Canada Free Press on August 9, 2006: “Adam Shapiro … has teamed up with Northern California ISM’s Leader, Paul LaRudee, to create a program for ISM ‘activists’ to act as human shields for Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
When the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), a pro-Hamas initiative, was founded in 2008, Shapiro and his wife both served for some time on its board of directors. He also participated in some of FGM’s flotilla voyages to Gaza in 2009-10.
Also in 2009, Israel’s Ministry of Interior issued a ten-year entry ban against Shapiro—a ruling he did not become aware of until March 2013.
Since September 2011, Shapiro has had a leadership role with Front Line Defenders (FLD), an organization that routinely accuses Israel of abusing the Palestinians. Today he serves as the head of FLD’s Communications & Visibility department.
While Shapiro avidly supports international divestment from Israel and from corporations that conduct business with the Jewish state, he laments that the impact of such tactics has been somewhat limited. “[W]hile there is much to laud about alternative methods, such as unarmed resistance and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement,” Shapiro wrote in 2014, “the pace of such activity in terms of yielding a meaningful change in the reality on the ground is agonisingly slow.”