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Last Updated: Monday, 27 June 2005, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
The ISM's controversial activists
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

Rachel Corrie
The ISM's Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer
The trial and conviction of an Israeli soldier for the manslaughter of Tom Hurndall have highlighted the controversial work of the "human shields" of the International Solidarity Movement.

To the Western peace activists themselves, they are helping defuse the situation by using non-violent means to act as a buffer between Israelis and Palestinians.

They claim Israel allows its soldiers to shoot civilians and children, and believe they can protect these victims because the Israeli Defence Force will think twice before shooting at a group that includes Westerners.

The ISM has already lost two members - the American Rachel Corrie, killed by an Israeli bulldozer, and Tom Hurndall, shot in the head.

To the Israeli authorities, the activists of the ISM are misguided outsiders who are allowing themselves to be manipulated by Palestinian militants.

They say ISM members have met suicide bombers and helped gunmen, something the group vehemently denies. Some activists who left Israel have been prevented from returning.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in London says: "Israel has no objection to foreign nationals participating in legitimate protests as long as they take place within the law and do not endanger human lives.

"Nevertheless, over the past few months, the International Solidarity Movement has actively inflamed an already tense and volatile situation.

Contrast

"The ISM is a Palestinian movement using Western activists to present itself as an international peace movement.

"The ISM's radical anti-Israeli politics, combined with their illegal and provocative methods, stand in stark contrast to the behaviour of the other NGOs operating in the area."

The various arms of the ISM have been in existence since soon after the beginning of the latest intifada in September 2000.

Raphael Cohen, a British organiser within the ISM, says they are acting to prevent wanton killing.

"No-one goes there in the belief that they are going to be shot," he says.

"Our presence in itself means the army are curtailed in the level of violence they can use.

Thomas Hurndall
Tom Hurndall died after being shot from an Israeli watchtower

"They can't just start firing at a crowd when they know there are foreigners in there. Palestinian lives are held very cheaply.

"The rules of engagement for soldiers in the Gaza Strip have not been made available publicly."

He says the shooting of Tom Hurndall is a perfect illustration of the Israeli army's disregard for life.

"We were taking part in an action to set up a tent on the edge of the civilian settlement in Rafah, on an area where there has been a lot of destruction to property, to create a buffer zone between their military positions on the border and the populated area.

"They regularly drove tanks and would fire indiscriminately on the civilian population. Several people had been injured in the same week."

And Mr Cohen, who says he has been barred from entering Israel for "security reasons", vows that the ISM's work will continue.


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