Describing itself as “an umbrella group of Palestine-related groups, primarily on campuses, across North America,” the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) was started by Snehal Shingavi, the radical activist who had co-founded Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UC Berkeley in 2001, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada. To launch his new initiative, Shingavi organized a February 16-18, 2002 conference, again at UC Berkeley. Co-sponsored by SJP and the San Francisco chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, this gathering (which became known as PSM’s First National Conference) resulted in the adoption of a resolution affirming the new Movement’s emphatic support for the Palestinian Intifada: “We, the national student movement for solidarity with Palestine, declare our solidarity with the popular resistance to Israeli occupation, colonization, and apartheid.”
Specifically, the Berkeley conference adopted the following:
PSM also called for “ending U.S. aid to Israel,” and it endorsed “education, public demonstrations and rallies, and non-violent direct action for the purpose of encouraging awareness of Palestine issues.”
Further, the Movement endorsed the “Declaration Regarding Caterpillar Violations of Human Rights,” a document impugning the U.S.-based Caterpillar Corporation for selling its machinery to the Israeli army, which in turn used that equipment to demolish Palestinian terrorists’ homes and bases of operation. This Declaration characterized the Israeli actions as malicious and unprovoked acts of indiscriminate destruction and, in some cases, murder. The document read, in part: “The Caterpillar Corporation’s machinery is directly implicated in grave abuses of human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli army … causing widespread economic hardship and environmental degradation in rural areas of Palestine … leaving tens of thousands of men, women, and children homeless.”
Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), stated that PSM and ISM were essentially the same entity by two different names. When the individuals affiliated with these organizations were engaged in activism within the United States, said Shapiro, they went by the name PSM; when they were in the West Bank and Gaza, they called themselves ISM. Like ISM, PSM had no central leadership or formal membership list. Rather, it was an alliance of groups and activists sharing the same pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel agendas.
Because of its heavy focus on U.S. college campuses, PSM was in essence the student arm of ISM. Student PSM members commonly demanded that their respective schools “divest from Israel all financial holdings until Israel ends its system of occupation and apartheid in Palestine.”
PSM typically declined to condemn acts of terrorism against Israelis, stating that “as a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.” This position was consistent with ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf‘s infamous assertion that: “The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics—both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement.”
During October 12-14, 2002, PSM held its Second National Conference at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. An honored guest at this event was former University of South Florida Professor Sami Al-Arian, who at that time was awaiting trial on charges (for which he would later be convicted) that he was intimately tied to the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Guest speakers called for the destruction of Israel; promoted the notion that “Zionism is racism”; and shouted “Itbah Al Yahud!” (Arabic for “Slaughter the Jews”). Moreover, representatives of Al-Awda sold t-shirts bearing the inscription “Intifada! Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.”
In October 2003, PSM held a major conference at Rutgers University in North Brunswick, New Jersey. Hosted by New Jersey Solidarity—Activists for the Liberation of Palestine, the event was supported by Al-Awda and the Islamic Association for Palestine. At this gathering, PSM adopted resolutions reaffirming its commitment to the anti-Israel divestment campaign; supporting the Palestinian Right of Return; demanding the cessation of “Israeli occupation of … all Arab lands”; and refusing to denounce Palestinian terrorism. As PSM conference organizer Charlotte Kates said: “Why is there something particularly horrible about ‘suicide bombing’—except for the extreme dedication conveyed in the resistance fighter’s willingness to use his or her own body to fight?”
In November 2003, PSM held its Third National Conference (hosted by the local Committee for Justice in Palestine) at Ohio State University. Registrants for the event were forced, as a prerequisite for admission, to sign a document in which they agreed unconditionally to the Palestinian Right of Return. The scheduled presentations at this conference were designed to teach those in attendance how to: link the Palestinian cause to the environmental movement; combat negative public opinions about suicide bombings in Israel; help ISM activists gain positions of influence in college administrations; convince others that the Jewish state is an illegitimate entity; infiltrate Jewish campus organizations like Hillel to undermine their mission; equate Zionism with racism; and promote a positive image of the “freedom fighters” battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In October 2004, PSM held its Fourth National Conference at Duke University. One attendee, Stephen Miller, subsequently described what he witnessed there:
“During one of the workshops I attended at the conference, eager students were fed outrageous lies about Israel by ISM representatives, which then tried to convince students to join the ISM, attend a one-week training session in Palestine, and then begin fighting the evil Israelis, by building human walls in front of IDF Bulldozers, interfering at security checkpoints, and tearing down the security wall. Naturally, the bulldozers were not described as targeting terrorists and bomb-making facilities, but the homes of innocent Palestinians to ‘even out demographics.’ The security checkpoints were described not as being used to prevent explosives for suicide bombers from getting into Israel, but for the purpose of ‘humiliating and degrading Palestinians.’ And the security wall was described not as for keeping out terrorists, but for maintaining ‘an apartheid state,’ which, as we were told during the conference’s opening lecture, was actually not a fair comparison, as what the Israelis were doing was far worse than the South Africans.”
In one particular training session at the Duke conference, ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf freely admitted that the International Solidarity Movement (which, as noted earlier, was essentially the PSM by a different name) cooperated and worked with Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Said Arraf: “There are elements out there that try to say, you know, we support terror. We don’t refuse to work with anybody. So, often times I am asked if, you know, ‘What’s our position on Hamas or the Islam Jihad?’ We’re willing to work with anybody, 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.”
Also at the Duke PSM conference, ISM operative Abe Greenhouse said that the International Solidarity Movement was using Gaza and the West Bank not merely as venues for its anti-Israel activism, but also as training grounds for anti-American campaigns that the American Anarchist Movement was planning to eventually stage along the U.S.-Mexico border.[
Other highlights of the Duke conference included the International Socialist Organization discussing “strategy” for the future of the pro-Palestinian movement, and Brian Avery denouncing the Jews’ alleged control of American foreign policy. On the final day of the conference, PSM formally rejected a proposed resolution that, if passed, would have condemned suicide bombings as a tactic of resistance. When PSM’s decision to reject the measure was announced, attendees responded with a standing ovation.
The next significant PSM conference took place in 2006 on the campus of Georgetown University, with Huwaida Arraf acting as the main organizer. But attendance was disappointingly low, and PSM dissolved later that same year.