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Solidarity Intervention

Monique Jo Beerli

3. Passages to Transnational Engagement in the West Bank: The Transition from Ideas to Actions

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“Who we are raised to be is relatively consistent with the broader social world we encounter as adults.”
– Doug McAdam, Freedom Summer

1According to social movement theorists, globalization and internationalism have been said to afford certain conditions upon which transnational activism may flourish. The spread and contagion of ideas, the expanded reach of campaigns and causes, and the exchange of know-how and forms of contention from one activist network to another are among the primary mechanisms which support the establishment of a wider range of political opportunities and potential spaces of intervention for “challengers” (Tarrow 2005). Yet, the facilitation of transnationalism is not sufficient to explain the variability of transnational interactions. How can we understand the augmentation of social movement organizations involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the second Intifada? Why did similar organizations not exist before? Furthermore, while similar organizations exist in other settings—such as in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, etc.—how can we understand the intensity of engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What factors permit the success of these TSMOs? As suggested by Bob (2005), structural factors have a significant role in the distribution of aid and services; for every group whose cause attracts the attention of people around the world, a cast of other appeals is disregarded. In addition, what motivational factors encourage individuals to become volunteers? As the majority of volunteers participating in Palestinian solidarity activism neither share a collective identity with the Palestinian people nor will directly benefit from the results of their efforts, how can we understand their engagement? To what extent are their motivations altruistic?

2In an attempt to understand both the particularities and generalities of transnational solidarity activism in Israel/Palestine, I will begin by rendering a framework of the political opportunity structure within the West Bank which has laid a foundation and given rise to incentives for international actors to become engaged in Palestinian solidarity activism on the ground, incorporating micro-structural and motivational elements which encourage international actors to action. As stressed by McAdam, “neither a strictly structural nor an individual motivational model can account for participation in this or any other high-risk/cost activism” (1986: 88). As a single approach is not adequate to treat such a dynamic phenomenon, I will incorporate both structural and motivational models in order to account for transnational engagement in high-risk/cost activism in the West Bank (McAdam 1986; Passy 1998).

3.1. The West Bank and Political Opportunity

3When considering the emergence of Palestinian solidarity organizations following the dissolution of the opportunity for peace, the standing political structure and its evolution from the year 2000 until the present day have supported the rectification of transnational links. In order to give perspective to the emergence of transnational social movement organizations supporting nonviolent Palestinian resistance, I will outline the conditions within the West Bank—as it has been the territory of focus—which have provided for the rectification of such organizational structures. The aim is to establish how a demonstrated formation of transnational networks developed within the West Bank, as opposed to Gaza Strip and other conflict areas in the world. As argued by many political opportunity and resource mobilization collective action theorists, collective action is not merely the consequence of grievances or cleavages. Instead, to act collectively requires activists and supporters to become cognizant of and go after accessible prospects, gather resources, formulate their interests in a manner which encourages partnerships and membership, and target mutual opponents as well as objectives (Tarrow 2005: 6; see also McCarthy and Zald 1977; McAdam 1999).

4In the midst of the failed peace agreement and renewed clashes between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli army, a number of transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) dedicated to peace and concerned with the protection of unarmed Palestinian civilians set up grassroots operations in the Occupied Territories. While examples of international protection teams providing support for Palestinian civilians existed during the first Intifada, such as the teams mandated in January of 1988 by UNRWA to provide limited protection in UN-sanctioned Palestinian refugee camps through the Refugee Affairs Officer (RAO) program (UNRWA 2003), constrictions on international organizations prevented the proliferation of similar programs prior to the 1990s.

5Empowered by internationalism and the space it provides for international and domestic actors to form alliances (Tarrow 2005: 25), TSMOs versed in the principles of non-violence, justice and civil disobedience aimed to establish a nonviolent international peace corps, predominately in Area C. Their hope was to actualize a long-term international physical presence to prevent or at least minimize the frequency of house demolitions, forestall the expansion of settlements, stop the construction of the Separation Barrier, and limit exchanges of violence in solidarity with the anti-occupation effort.

6In the “post-second Intifada years” (Norman and Hallward 2011: 2), the unwillingness to wait for negotiations to recommence and pessimism towards the possibility of peace in the near future has incited a grassroots approach, as pointed out by a solidarity activist:

  • 1 Interview with Participant D., held March 15, 2012.

“Politics are not really realistic. It takes a lot of time and a lot of pressure. And I don’t think the pressure is there yet to change that. So, first, you just have to start with people, people who are already slightly interested in it [ending the occupation], and start telling it to their friends, and their friends again. Like some kind of snowball effect.”1

7Thus, there was a sense of urgency to support Palestinians to resist against the changing “facts on the ground” which themselves were slowly eradicating the physical and geographical feasibility of creating an independent Palestinian state and, furthermore, taking away the livelihoods of Palestinian civilians who refused to leave their land. Yet the presence of transnational solidarity activism in the West Bank cannot be understood without underlining the importance of the political context in Israel/Palestine and the local leaders and grassroots movements who have essentially played an active role in the soliciting of and partnering with international activists and volunteers.

  • 2 This term refers to the area in the West Bank situated between the Green Line and the route of Isra (...)

8Crucial in its bearing upon the chosen action repertoire utilized by direct action anti-occupation groups, the shifting practices of the Israeli occupation have formalized a structure inducing a specific form of action. Increasingly since the mid-1990s, Israel has remodeled the way in which it administers the OPTs, unconcerned with the administration and management of the Palestinian population, with the exception of those living in the “seam zones”2 or passing through checkpoints, yet determined to continue the extraction of “nonhuman resources” such as land and water (Gordon 2008: xix). As thoroughly explained by Gordon, immediately following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel employed the following “bureaucratic-legal mechanisms” in order to ensure “de facto confiscation: (1) the construction of military bases; (2) the establishment of Jewish settlements; (3) the establishment of Jewish outposts; (4) the construction of bypass roads; [and] (5) the transfer of Jewish citizenry across the Green Line into the OT [Occupied Territories]” (Gordon 2008: 120). More recently, in 2002 the Israeli government authorized and began the construction of the Separation Wall along and within the West Bank, encircling Palestinian villages and cutting Palestinians off from their land. Thus, the culminating realization of the contradiction between Israel’s discourse on coexistence and peace compared to its actual practices on the ground initiated a new phase within Palestinian resistance.

9Unable to find effective means of change or protection through political and juridical institutions, some Palestinian activists and communities turned to an alternative form of contestation. Led predominately by local popular committees, which first emerged during the first Intifada yet fell dormant during the 1990s and early 2000s due to the forced centralization of political power within the PLO (Norman 2010: 36), communities and villages have become increasingly engaged in nonviolently resisting the “policy of separation” (Gordon 2008) either through protest, noncooperation, or intervention (Norman 2010). While the use of violent strategies such as suicide bombings and rocket attacks at the onset of the second Intifada and intermittently since have often dominated the narrative on Palestinian resistance, as stressed by Norman and Hallward, “nonviolent resistance did, and continues to, take place throughout Palestine in various forms” (2011:6). Furthermore, the stalemate between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities have prompted Palestinian actors, both the government and civil society, to resort to the international arena to circumvent a domestic deadlock, referred to as a “boomerang effect” (Keck and Sikkink 1998: 12).

10While examples of nonviolent resistance and transnational alliances predate the construction of the Separation Wall, the material visibility of the wall provided both symbolic and physical structures persuading Palestinians as well as Israelis and internationals to take action (Abdallah and Parizot 2011). The shock of such permanent structures have been essential in creating an “emotional shock” to mobilize local and global citizens (Mayer 2010: 237). As emphasized by other commentators, the wall itself has created a localized opportunity for Palestinians to contest “a visible aspect of the Occupation” (Pallister-Wilkins 2011: 1869), embodying a specific location where the evocation of oppression could be assigned. While the first example of anti-wall demonstrations occurred in the village of Mas’ha, approximately 37 kilometers southwest of Nablus, this model of contestation quickly spread to other Palestinian villages in the West Bank whose land had been expropriated as a result of the Wall, impinging settlements, the bypass roads, etc. Today, similar protest strategies are employed in the villages of Bil’in, Nil’in, Kufr Qaddum, Al Ma’asara, An Nabi Saleh, Kufr A-Dik, Beit Ommar, and a number of others, though less consistently.

11Although engagement at the national level poses more problems for Palestinian communities given the social and political cleavages within Palestinian society, organizing local collective action targeted at protesting predominately against the wall, as well as checkpoints, settlements and outposts, developed a space of convergence between actors which had previously not interacted, or at least on a very limited scale. For many villages, their resistance tries to address basic questions of survival, framing the anti-occupation struggle as “a social struggle as much as a political one” (Pallister-Wilkins 2009: 400). Perhaps unlikely to transform the current political situation, at least in the short-term, these acts of resistance are mostly symbolic in character, representing a now customary ritual between the two opposing sides.

12Furthermore, it is in the presentation of such a clear dichotomization between the two sides of the conflict, wherein the Israeli army and settler communities in the West Bank are juxtaposed to unarmed Palestinian civilians. TSMOs active in the Palestinian cause thus have little difficulty pinpointing an enemy or adversary. As opposed to other conflicts in which a number of non-state armed actors—such as rebel groups, militias, criminal organizations, warlords, etc.—may blur a separation between the “good” and the “evil”, this is less the case for international volunteers participating in nonviolent resistance social movement organizations fighting against the occupation. It is in fact the focus on and heavy criticism of the Israeli state that has in many ways empowered nonviolent civil dissidence itself.

  • 3 Dabke, meaning “stamping of the feet”, is a form of Arab folk dance common in the Arab countries of (...)

13Whereas Palestinian collective action during the first Intifada was framed as a nationalist struggle “not only a resistance movement against Israel but a nationalist movement for Palestine” (Norman 2010: 27), local grassroots collective action since the second Intifada up until today has been conceptualized differently. Though the nationalist element is undoubtedly in the background as many Palestinian civil society organizations and activists promote Palestinian self-determination, the focus has shifted towards a discourse on human rights, justice, dignity, and liberty while stressing the importance of non-violence and community organization. As observed in a conference held in Beit Ommar on civil dissidence, while Palestinian flags and dabke3 performances reinforce a Palestinian and more generally an Arab identity, the debate was focused on the human rights of Palestinians, the violation of which called for a nonviolent response by Palestinian civil society with the help of foreign partners. Unsure of the advantage and practicality of waiting for the day for the Palestinian political leadership to ameliorate the situation, thus taking the risk of missing a window of opportunity to act, political activists and grassroots leaders have stressed the importance for the Palestinian people to “do something” at the local level before it is too late. Even if their actions are primarily of symbolic value, the Israelis and the international community cannot say that the Palestinians did not resist.

14As opposed to focusing on the development of a truly nationalist movement, grassroots and community actions have been the dominant trend of Palestinian resistance since the second Intifada. The possibility of an active yet diffuse and relatively decentralized grassroots campaign could not be imaginable, however, without the technological and communication tools available in the 21st century. If internationalism has provided the structures and spaces for transnational activism, globalization has enabled greater access to tools which facilitate the spread and intensity of transnationalism. Computers and digital cameras, the Internet, email and blogs, the ease of creating a website, and social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have played a major role in extending the spatial limits and diversifying the number of opportunities available to Palestinian and equally Israeli activists interested in participating and soliciting transnational networks.

15In discussions with Palestinian activists, particularly those under fifty years of age, Facebook was often praised as an efficient and effective means to get the word and the image out from the occupation. For the most involved of the Palestinian grassroots activists, their Facebook pages are used as political soapboxes more than for apolitical netowrking. The choice of language, that is Arabic or English, also indicates who is the main targeted audience; for those looking for transnational resources, English would of course be the strategic language of choice. Youtube has also been a valuable tool where activists upload videos in an effort to expose the Israeli army and settlers, highlighting issues which are often ignored in the press. Posting pictures of demonstrations, videos of conflict with the army, fact-finding articles and reports, eyewitness accounts, etc. are in many cases easier than organizing direct action events.

16In addition to providing outlets for alternative information regarding the Israeli occupation, new technologies have also been essential in attracting international volunteers and sympathizers. First, internationals are able to find out about what is actually going on, should they take an interest. Second, opportunities to volunteer with solidarity organizations are easily found by interested parties using the Internet. As opposed to having to meet a former volunteer, potential volunteers can merely conduct a Google search, resulting in the presentation of related links. It is for this reason that it is important for Palestinian organizations and movements to set up their own websites to attract transnational resources. In addition, the same information outlets that allow Palestinian activists to spread an alternative vision of their lived reality is equally important for international volunteers seeking an outlet for their own experiences. While supporting the Palestinian cause, volunteers are able to publicize their own individualistic vision of the world and their efforts to make change. Thus, the technological and communication devices of today have provided Palestinian organizations in the post-Intifada years with the necessary tools to reach out beyond their local or even national community, striking a distinguishable difference between organizing during the first Intifada and the second Intifada.

17In the course of the last decade, the framing of the Palestinian cause among certain actors has thus transformed from a single-issue to a multiple-issue framework which allows the incorporation of a greater multitude of actors, both local and global (Esterovic and Smith 2001: 198; Marullo, Pagnucco and Smith 1996). As detailed by Esterovic and Smith, support for a local campaign is commonly constructed around “a shared set of transnational principles”, such as human rights, as opposed to merely the advocacy of a single individual’s case, such as an activist imprisoned for administrative detention without just cause (2001: 205). Yet, while the Palestinian cause and other similar campaigns are capable of ushering in transnational networks and resources, the likelihood of the movement conjuring “sustained mass mobilization” is unfortunately very improbable (Keck and Sikkink 1998: 200).

18The incapacity to mobilize the masses, both on the Palestinian and Israeli side, to contest the terms of the occupation has also contributed to the desirability of transnational networks. Though “strong external pressures from an unsympathetic, and occasionally repressive, dominant society have often been conducive to inter-group solidarity” (Marx and Useem 1971: 102), such as in the case of Palestinian-Israeli coalitions, the deficient number of Israeli citizens willing to participate in such coalitions hinders their strength and potency. Equally problematic on the Palestinian side, the inability of the various fractions within Palestinian society to unite against the occupation has hindered the force of the movement. While international involvement is thought to provide a makeshift alternative in the absence of strong Israeli support for Palestinian resistance, some maintain that such an approach is inadequate and bypasses the central issue of Israeli and Palestinian relations. One American-Israeli activist challenged the relevance of an international presence:

  • 4 Interview with Participant O., held March 8, 2012.

“I think Israelis should be doing it. I don’t know if there are enough Israelis to be there to support all the protests which are happening, but I think it is the role of Israeli citizens to be in Bil’in and be in the front lines for these things, not for internationals. Because in a certain way, if the only reason internationals are there is to be an audience and also keep the soldiers from shooting directly at the people, so they’re just cannon fodder? I think it should be Israelis because Israelis are invested and Israelis are going to be here when this is all over. If the conflict ends tomorrow and this is all out of the news two weeks after, the Swedes who were here are not going to come help rebuild anything.”4

19Digressing from the state of “insider” and “outsider” activist coalitions (Marx and Useem 1971), the level of security for international activists also has an impact on the plausibility of transnational solidarity work in the field. In the field, international solidarity activists are inevitably exposed to the threat of injury or death, especially those which use their bodies as “human shields” to protect Palestinian civilians and activists. For most organizations, the threat of injury or death is relatively nonexistent and with the exception of ISM volunteers, there have been no casualties in the field. The exception to the rule, ISM, which is reputed for participating in Palestinian protests even when violence is used, such as throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails at soldiers, the threat of injury or death remains plausible given the use of weapons—such as high-speed teargas canisters, rubber bullets, sound bombs, live ammunition—targeted against demonstrators. Those willing to take such risks are generally more radicalized and are willing to “fight against oppression” at any cost. Not withstanding the thousands of Palestinians who have lost their lives since the outset of the second Intifada, thus far, two ISM international activists, Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, have died in Gaza among a number of other activists who incurred serious injuries both in Gaza and the West Bank due to targeting, whether intentional or not, by the Israeli army.

  • 5 The first killing was in 2007, ISM activist Akram Ibrahim Abu Sba was reportedly killed by members (...)

20Yet, as opposed to other conflict zones or perhaps undemocratic countries, the Israeli and Palestinian authorities are relatively cautious about the treatment of international activists. While Islamist groups have murdered two international activists5, instances of kidnappings and killings of international solidarity volunteers are relatively rare. The feasibility of visibility and mobility thus allow international volunteers to participate in nonviolent resistance without the worry of risking their own lives. Demarcating the difference between separate conflicts, one activist explained that while an international presence on the ground may work in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this model may not have the same relevance in other contexts:

  • 6 Interview with Participant T., held March 5, 2012.

“[E]very conflict has different ways to resolve the conflict. The way in which we act in this conflict is good for this conflict, but maybe not, for example, for Somalia conflict or Iraqi conflict. Because we stay very exposed, not only to the Palestinians but also for the soldiers. In other conflicts, if you expose yourself as we do here, you will be kidnapped or killed. So, I don’t know if I choose this conflict, I don’t think for this reason, but I think in this kind of situation, this kind of way of action was the best for this conflict. For other, maybe should be a different way of action.”6

  • 7 Interview with Participant U., held March 5, 2012.

21Moreover, though some activists are “braver” and more risk seeking than others, a factor which in itself impacts the type of engagement undertaken by volunteers, most have a clear concern over the safety and preservation for their life, and are unwilling to give themselves up for the cause. As jokingly expressed by one activist, “the possibility of being killed or kidnapped is quite important in the choice. For me, now, because I am very young and I want to live, it is important.”7

22Additionally, although the organizations in this study are not officially recognized by the state of Israel, it is quite difficult for the state to effectively manage the flow of international Palestinian solidarity activists coming in and out of the country. In instances such as the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, when a concentration of activists enter the country on a synchronized date, enforcing a blacklist is manageable. In most cases, however, activists come to the country individually at any given time during the year. Once the activists have entered the country, deportation is an option. However, as it must be approved by a judicial hearing, collecting sufficient evidence to justify deportation remains a challenge. In the end, the Israeli state is only really left with the option of enforcing a travel ban for activists upon their departure from Israel. Once again, sufficient evidence must be presented demonstrating the supposed threat of the given individual.

23While Gaza has been subject to the increasing pressures of occupation, particularly since the enforcement of a blockade initiated in 2005 following the unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli civilian and military presence, in contrast to the West Bank, sustained transnational networks and coalitions supporting nonviolent civil dissidence have been less marked. Among a range of issues, the difficulty of access, the lack of a nonviolent grassroots resistance movement, the level of insecurity, and so forth, have discouraged similar transnational networks as those which have matured in the West Bank. The “Free Gaza Movement” flotilla campaigns, active since 2008, have demonstrated a clear desire to draw the international community’s attention to the severity of the blockade while trying to provide humanitarian aid for a population under economic strangulation. Though these campaigns have demonstrated a certain level of effectiveness, particularly the 2010 expedition which became largely publicized following the Israeli raid on the Turkish ship MV Mavi Marmara resulting in the death of nine Turkish activists, establishing a long-term presence in Gaza has proved more difficult.

24Based on a political opportunity approach to social movements, I have presented a number of structural issues which can help to shed light on the development of transnational advocacy networks and a permanent international presence supporting nonviolent Palestinian resistance. While other factors inevitably play a role, I have tried to develop a foundation for the emergence of transnational solidarity social movement organizations in the West Bank in the late 1990s and early 2000s, using the elements that seemed to hold the greatest importance. Combining both theory and a case example, I have tried to put forward some of the specificities of transnational activism with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, more specifically in the West Bank. Having established a basic understanding of the factors facilitating international grassroots intervention and the creation of the organizations participating in solidarity activism in the West Bank, the micro-structural factors “pulling in” international volunteers will now be discussed.

3.2. International Solidarity Activists: Biography and Opportunity

25In an effort to understand differential involvement in movement activity, namely why and how individuals become involved, I will explore the biographical background of solidarity activists in order to understand the mobilization and engagement process leading up to their transnational moment. As argued by a number of social movement theorists, “attitudinal affinity” (McAdam 1986: 65) is insufficient in accounting for collective action participation (McAdam and Paulsen 1993: 643; see also McPhail 1971). Instead, individuals are influenced by microstructural factors “expos[ing] that individual to participation opportunities or pull[ing] them into activity”, without which the individual would likely remain inactive (McAdam and Paulsen 1993: 644). While emphasizing structural availability, I have also tried to include individual motivational aspects, primarily out of interest in these narratives.

26Combining both a structural and motivational approach, I will try to reveal the characteristics and biographical background of these individuals. Who are these “self-conscious internationalists” (Tarrow 2005: 2)? What is their socio-economic background? How can their identity help us to understand their inclination towards transnational engagement in defense of Palestinian rights? What structural factors were crucial in the recruitment process? Through an illumination of the individuals participating in transnational solidarity activism, I hope to shed light on the phenomenon of transnational contention in the West Bank.

3.2.1. Nationality

27With regard to the provenance of international solidarity activists, the dominant majority originated from European and North American countries. Among the 20 participants, countries of origin included the United States (7), the United Kingdom (1), Canada (1), Italy (4), Ireland (1), the Netherlands (1), Norway (1), Spain (1), Sweden (2), and Switzerland (1). Field observations and conversations with local activists also indicated minor participation of South African, Asian, and South American citizens, yet a “white” majority is dominant. In general, activist-volunteers came from countries in which the principles of democracy, liberty, inalienable freedoms, human rights, the rule of law, and so forth are widespread and internalized by certain groups.

  • 8 One of the most fundamental criteria of Zionism, the term is used to describe the immigration of Je (...)

28Of the twenty participants, a total of six were American Jews, three of which spoke Hebrew fluently and recently acquired Israeli citizenship. Since their aliyah8 to Israel, each of the three had become active in local Israeli activist groups. Among them, one worked for Grassroots Jerusalem, a local NGO, and frequently participated in anti-settlement demonstrations in the village of Nabi Saleh; one volunteered for Ta’ayush and had previously been active with Solidarity; and the last was a volunteer for Rabbis for Human Rights. Both the liberties granted by Israeli citizenship and their language skills afford them the opportunity to be engaged in a more localized, embedded, and long-term capacity—a self-validating explanation on the part of these three participants which often led them to criticize non-Jewish and/or non-Hebrew or Arabic speaking volunteers.

3.2.2. Age, Profession, and Education

29In terms of age, volunteers typically fell within two polarized age groups, youth in their twenties and retired elderly, corresponding to similar results presented in previous studies on ISM volunteers active in the West Bank (Seitz 2003: 51; Pollock 2006). In terms of theory, according to Nonna Mayer (2010) along with other social movement scholars, there are moments in life which are more favorable than others for activism due to the question of temporal availability. Referred to as “biographical availability” (McAdam 1986: 83), individuals generally become active within a “narrow range of years marked by the confluence of relative independence from parental authority and the absence of intense adult responsibilities” (McAdam 1986: 85). One retired, divorced single mother emphasized the connection between her availability and her activism:

  • 9 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

“My youngest child had left home after college and so forth, my children became emancipated and I thought, you know, I was very free. I sold the family house where the kids grew up and I quit my little office job that I had. I figured I was only working to pay a mortgage and I didn’t need the house anymore. And then I was free to come and go as I pleased.”9

30Furthermore, given the localization of volunteers in a foreign country for a given amount of time, as compared to volunteering in one’s own community, the absolute freedom from work or family responsibilities is imperative.

Table 3: Age and Sex of Participants




Under 20 years old




21-25 years old




26-30 years old




31-60 years old




Over 60 years old








  • 10 Recorded ages correspond to the age of the participant at the time of the interview.
  • 11 This finding is not necessarily representative of gender ratios as I tried to achieve an equal dist (...)

31As demonstrated in Table 3, one out of twenty participants were under 20 years old; eleven out of twenty aged between 21 and 25 years old; one out of twenty between the ages of 26 and 30; two out of twenty between the ages of 31 and 60; and lastly, five out of twenty were over the age of 60.10 In terms of gender, there was an equal distribution between male and female participants.11

32As such, the most dominant group of individuals is aged between 21 and 25 years old. Within this group, every single one of the participants has either achieved or is currently pursuing a postsecondary education. Of the eleven, three were currently enrolled in Bachelor’s programs, two of which were on temporary leave and one on an exchange with Al-Quds University; six had received a Bachelor’s degree; one had received a Master’s degree; and one was enrolled in a Master’s program. The most predominant fields of study were within the social sciences; participants attested to holding or pursuing degrees in the following subjects: Political Science, History, Social and Cultural Development, Middle Eastern studies/Arabic studies, Conflict studies, International Relations, Development and International Cooperation, and Political Psychology. The overrepresented ratio of higher educated solidarity activists aged between 21 and 25 years old may correspond to a result of the organizational recruitment process, yet, recruitment bias cannot be enough to explain this finding. Solidarity activists aged between 21 and 25 years old represent a fairly homogenous subgroup of solidarity activists, perhaps only varying in terms of the particularities and intensity of their ideologies. Possessing a liberalist and reformist cultural capital influenced by the “liberalizing effect of education” (Kriesi 1989: 1078), in conjunction with a leftist political ideology formed from a young age, these youths are inclined both towards an interest and a sense of competency in politics (Lamarche 2011: 301).

33As explained by some volunteers within this age group, the idea of volunteering in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was something strongly related, among other factors, to their studies and their plans for the future:

  • 12 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

“So, as I studied political psychology, there is so much literature on this conflict, so in a way, you read what is there, and it is so present in the literature. And when I went to a conference last year like half of the presentations were about this conflict. So when you start reading it, you just kept going on, I think.”12

  • 13 Interview with Participant L., held March 5, 2012.

“I studied International Relations, so I’d like to do something practical on the field, so I thought this is the good way to do something practical… I think it’s a good way to make experience [for future career]. And I am really interested in this conflict, I wrote my final paper of my graduation on the settlements.”13

  • 14 Interview with Participant U., hled March 5, 2012.

“I study cooperation and development, so I am interested in parts of the world where there are problems, to try to solve them, well, to help to solve them.”14

  • 15 Ibid.

“This year, I had a university course about the Middle East, and in particular Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But you have to search and find those things because you do not see it everyday. So it’s quite difficult. But now, instead of studying Middle East history, I am here.”15

34In part due to socialization processes as experienced during their studies, this class of “politicized students”, referred by some as “Gramscian intellectuals” or “intellectual radicals” (Cleveland 2003), represent the sector of the “new middle class” described as the “social-cultural specialists” who generally embrace more liberal attitudes and endorse institutions which sustain the diffusion and reproduction of their values (Brint 1984; Kriesi 1989). Willing to sacrifice their privilege, even if temporarily, in search of what they believe to be a more fulfilling and moral lifestyle, this subcategory of activists also share a strong resemblance to the emergent “New Left” born out of the 1960s and 1970s which argued for a refocusing of political activity away from labor issues in favor of defending democracy and liberty, wherein young intelligentsia would replace the working class as the revolutionary class (Marx and Useem 1971: 82; Touraine 1971; McAdam 1988; Brinkley 1998). Furthermore, confident in the expertise acquired during a minimum of three years of higher education, solidarity activists are equally confident in their capacity to carry out the work their affiliated organization has tasked them with. Their engagement can thus be considered a logical extension following the development of an interest and competency in politics and international affairs during their academic endeavors, which essentially produces an affinity towards “global citizen action” as a result of increased awareness and moral aptitude.

  • 16 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

35In contrast to politicized university students and recent graduates, the second most representative group, those over the age of 60, exemplify a wider variation in terms of epistemological and cultural orientation. Within this age group, there is evidence of three main subgroups. First, of the five, three volunteers over the age of 60 were affiliated with CPT. Of those three, two were Christian clergy, a retired Lutheran pastor and a Catholic priest, thus representing a cast of “activist-clergy”; the third was a retired devout pacifist Mennonite led to action according to her faith. Those within this category also did not fit the same educational profile as the young politicized students. While the two religious clergy undertook theological studies as part of their professional formation, the devout Mennonite stopped going to school after high school, explaining “[n]o, I didn’t have a higher education. Fell in love and got married right after high school and started having kids.”16

36As opposed to a religious capital, the other two participants aged over 60 could more accurately be described as former educators. As discussed by Reynaud, “social control” experts—such as teachers, educators, nurses, doctors, etc.—trained in transforming their professional opinions into discussions on social impact and change are “moral entrepreneurs” commonly integrated in new social movements (1980: 282). Experienced in working with disadvantaged communities, these two former educators were looking for a more meaningful and valuable way to spend their retirement:

  • 17 Interview with Participant L., held February 8, 2012.

“I feel I’ve only got a certain number of years left in which I’ll be fit enough to do it and I want to do it when I’m still fit enough. Time keeps on moving. And like I’m freer now, my children are almost grown up. I’m freer now than I have been for a long time. And I have a small pension to keep me going.”17

  • 18 Interview with Participant O., held March 8, 2012.

“Because what do you do after you retire after from work? I see so many of my friends who have done that, and they may be comfortable financially but they don’t do anything. They go on nice holidays, they get a new car, they play with their grandchildren skiing or something like that, and I find that quite sad really. These people have a lot more to offer, they’ve had a lot of experience in the world and yet they kind of just sink into this bourgeois existence. And I’ve been quite disappointed, well I’ve always been quite radical I suppose, that they don’t do similar things. One or two of them have come out here for a couple of weeks and things like that and seen things and that’s quite good because they go back and tell their friends. But others who I would have thought would be very interested in what I am doing and what’s out here, who could spend some time, just don’t seem to want to do it. And so I suppose in a way I am rather unusual in the sense that I’m an older activist surrounded by a lot of young ones."18

37Both have university degrees, one holding a Master’s in American Literature along with various diplomas in Education and Learning support, and the other with a Bachelor’s in History also holding various education certificates. Though much farther along in their life trajectory, these two retirees belong to the first generation of the New Left, sharing a strong similitude with the politicized university students.

38Aside from the two dominant age groups, the remaining age categories were not very representative of the average profile. One participant was an 18-year-old Jewish American recently having graduated from high school volunteering with Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR). Though he had first come to Israel on a year-long gap year program with Hashomer Hatzair, which he explained as “a kibbutz Zionist-socialist youth movement”, after three months he quit and moved to Jerusalem to volunteer with RHR:

  • 19 A term used to refer to the counselor of the Zionist youth movement.
  • 20 Interview with Participant W., held March 11, 2012.

“So, the movement is very based on critical thinking, a very leftist movement, by their standards, and by Israeli standards definitely, not quite left enough for me, a little too Zionist for me. And I realized that once I was there. I mean, there’s just certain things that I really disagreed with about the conflict with my Madrahim19. […]. There’s a lot of stuff which are discussion based, not classes but discussions, everything is ‘how do we look at this as being part of Hashomer Hatzair’ ‘how does this effect us’ and very much ‘how does Zionist ideology play into this’, which I was really just sick of. I prefer to look at things without connecting myself to all the… because they have very specific ideology from the founding, and I would talk to the kid who I live with now. I would come visit him sometimes and he works for ICAHD and he was doing a lot more interesting stuff, a lot more stuff that I wanted to do. Even he wasn’t going to so much demonstrations but I saw on the Internet all this stuff and I was always reading Rabbis for Human Rights websites, and Yesh Din and B’Tselem. There are a lot of great organizations with great websites that really report on the stuff that most people don’t report on. So I really wanted to get involved in that and I felt like Hashomer wasn’t enough of an outlet and it was too much of a year program. They were too worried about maybe my safety and I didn’t have as much freedom as I would have liked.”20

39Though this participant was young compared to the others, he fit the same socio-economic background; a middle class leftist with plans to start university studies in the upcoming fall.

40The relative uniqueness regarding the remaining three participants—aged respectively 27, 31, and 32 years old—can be understood mostly in terms of their career and personal life. The 27-year-old, an Italian volunteer for Operation Dove who recently graduated from university in 2009 with a degree in Language Studies and Economics, had been volunteering on and off with Operation Dove for the last two years and had yet to start her professional career:

  • 21 Interview with Participant M., held March 5, 2012.

“After my graduation, I wanted to do an experience abroad. So I met one of the leaders of Operation Dove, so I did the training. And, this thing had got my attention, so I went in Kosovo for one month with Operation Dove. In Kosovo, they finished the project after 10 years, in 2010. So, after that, I decided to continue with Operation Dove, and here in Palestine there would be a need because of the lack of volunteers.”21

41When back in Italy, she lived with her parents and did not express any plans to begin job hunting. The 31-year old participant is a nuclear plant risk management engineer. The only participant with a background in the hard sciences, with a Master’s degree in Physics, this ISM volunteer explained that she had decided to take a year off from work for personal reasons:

  • 22 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

“I had been working at the same place for 3 years, and it started to get a bit boring, I was doing the same thing all the time, so I needed to do something else. I tried to quit my job but my boss didn’t let me, he offered me a year of vacation instead. And also, I have a friend who works here for the UN. Since he offered me to stay at his place and I knew I would have a friend when I came here, I thought it was a good idea or a good opportunity. […]. Since I have a nice place here, I mean I’m 30 years old, I don’t feel like staying away one week in a shitty apartment with 20 other people.”22

  • 23 Ibid.

42Perhaps an unlikely case, this participant was able to take a year off while still holding onto her job, an opportunity which most employers would most likely not offer their employees. Satisfied by her ability to keep her job while livening up her life was complimented by a later statement, “I like restarts.”23

43Lastly, the 32-year-old participant is an American-Israeli Jew who volunteers with Ta’ayush and previously Solidarity while currently pursuing a doctoral fellowship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A student of Comparative Hebrew and Persian Literature, this participant became active through Israeli university contacts during a previous trip to Israel and has stayed active since then:

  • 24 Interview with Participant A., held February 29, 2012.

“And a couple years later when I was back here for summer, in 2008, I had met David Shulman through university contacts and read his book, Dark Hope, so I guess through the book I heard about Ta’ayush. It came out in 2006/7, and it’s about Ta’ayush in the early years of the second Intifada. So I read the book and I knew him, and so, since I was here for three and a half months so I thought I wanted to do something, finally, to be active. And he suggested I go be active with Ta’ayush. So through him I made contacts […] and started going.”24

44Though also further along in his academic career, this participant resembles a liberalist Jewish university student who overcame his pro-Israel upbringing and became active with a Palestinian rights group during visits and studies in Israel. Yet, just as the current profile and engagement of solidarity activists help to explain their participation, their past is equally important and relevant to their present trajectory.

3.2.3. Childhood Socialization

45Evidenced in a study on Freedom Summer volunteers engaged in the African-American civil rights movement in the Sixties, McAdam underlines the importance of the volunteers’ socialization growing up. McAdam points out that “generally liberal, and occasionally radical, political views of the volunteers’ parents stamped the volunteers as more leftist politically than most children of class privilege” (1988: 12). Turning to the solidarity volunteers active in the West Bank, when discussing their background and contextualizing their current activities with their past, the majority of participants, particularly the younger ones, attested to having grown up in a liberal, leftist environment, therefore suggesting the importance of a liberal political and cultural capital in relation to their present engagement:

  • 25 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

“It’s probably like that for everyone, but I am sure it started very early because my parents were open-minded people and my father was already in Gaza working there for the Red Cross in 1971 for 8 months. He’s actually a doctor. And I’ve been growing up in a very liberal thinking environment.”25

  • 26 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

“My parents were in the hippy, left-wing movement….so I grew up in an environment where we always talked about politics. Where I learned at a young age that it’s important to do something in the world and fight every kind of oppression.”26

  • 27 Interview with Participant P., held March 2, 2012.

“I grew up in a pretty kind of lefty-liberal environment or at least supportive environment of queers involved in the community and like generally supportive things.”27

  • 28 Interview with Participant U., held March 5, 2012.

46Thus, their class and socialization growing up put them “in a position where they might have or develop ideological affinities for [leftist] movements’ interpretations of reality” (Sherkat and Blocker 1994: 821). In some cases, a leftist political orientation could also be weaved together with a religious background, as one Operation Dove volunteer accounts for, “Also because my parents, they are quite left and my mother is very religious. She’s catholic and she has this idea of justice and helping the poor, so she likes what I do, so it’s good for me.”28 While two activists admitted to having parents aligning with the right side of the political spectrum, experience with and integration into leftist social networks later on in life seemed to have more of an influence on their present political identity.

47With regard to Jewish Diaspora participants, in contrast to participants coming from a non-Jewish background, though these participants grew up in an environment supportive of the Israeli state, the new generation of Jewish youth with no memory of or little familiarity with the Holocaust would eventually privilege their liberal, leftist values over national or ethnic ones. Such a realization, however, generally required a provocation. One Jewish-American, in talking about the relevance of a past experience in India with regard to his current activism, demonstrated his political transformation:

  • 29 Interview with Participant A., held February 29, 2012.

“I’ll go back to India. So when I was in India in 2003/4, I was studying Hindi language. So, when I was there, I was living with a family who were basically Hindu nationalists, meaning that they would hate Muslims and they would go to all kind of anti-Muslim rallies and stuff like that. And this city I was in, Jaipur, was a very, it’s a mixed city, between Hindus and Muslims. And the way the father in the family, especially, kind of expressed his racism and all that stuff. I mean I found it offensive but I also found it familiar in a kind of way. In a way that when I’ve been here [Israel] people would talk about Arabs and non-Jews and things like that. And that felt like a big awakening. And because of the racism, I felt uncomfortable with the racism here before, but I think I hadn’t been, I hadn’t really seen it from the outside. I had always kind of seen it as justified by the larger political situation. And being in India, seeing the similar way that people were talking there, it was a moment of realization. So when I came back there the year after that, 2005/6, I spent a year as a Dorot fellow. So, I did that and a lot of what I did that year was kind of just running around East Jerusalem and visit all these places in the West Bank and travel and talk to people. I didn’t do any activism that year but I think I laid the ground work for later stuff.”29

48A second Jewish participant described a similar experience:

“As a little child, I was pretty much brainwashed by my parents, like most American Jews and my parents are somewhat religious, they sent me to a Jewish day school which I went to until I was fourteen and then I went to public school. And everything I had ever heard was how great Israel was and never anything negative. So, it wasn’t until maybe I was in 10th or 11th grade when Operation Cast Lead began in Gaza and I got in an argument with a friend of mine from Boston who was one of the smartest kids I knew. Kind of an intellectual snob, but still I very much respected him as a smart individual. And it was an argument about Israel and he sort of opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before.”

49Despite having grown up in an environment wherein the state of Israel was unconditionally supported, these American Jews embarked on a transformative journey, redefining themselves as a member of the Jewish Diaspora and their relationship with Israel.

50Although older participants were less likely to talk about their childhood and the environment which they grew up in, such participants nonetheless provided evidence of continuity between their involvement in the West Bank and their past.

51Regarding social stature, the majority of participants identified themselves as middle class. As one solidarity activist revealed:

  • 30 Interview with Participant C., held January 21, 2012.

“I would say middle class economically, but a higher middle class culturally. Ya, obviously social and cultural capital are much higher than economical. I saw a study some time ago about how many books you have at home and how that influences your kids, and I was one of those families that had like above…well, I don’t know what was the average, we have like 1,000 books at home, so ya… I grew up outside Madrid, in a small town outside Madrid. Like in a suburb, kind of middle class suburb. Leafy, you know.”30

52As widely supported in new social movement theory, the proponents of solidarity activism and other NSMs are typically from the middle class. While there is a strong debate in social theory as to why middle class roots are significant, as opposed to either a structural or value-based approach, I maintain that both are significant. On the one hand, the educated middle class is endowed with certain competencies and levels of expertise given their educational background. Thus, individuals with an education in International Relations, for example, are very likely to pursue professional or volunteer experiences related to a career in foreign policy, government, development, humanitarianism, and so forth. However, it is not merely their professional competencies that explain their rationale. Along the way, these individuals become increasingly attracted to post-materialist goals pursued by government institutions, international institutions, social movements, the non-governmental sector, etc., as the result of the internalization of liberal values which they come to believe in (Duyvendak 1995).

3.2.4. History of Activism

  • 31 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

53For many volunteers, their first sojourn in Palestine resembled a premier initiative to become “active” in the Palestinian cause and more generally solidarity activism. While many of the participants had been to Israel/Palestine several times before, especially CPT volunteers, for most, their initial service term also marked a “first step” in Palestinian rights activism. Moreover, most reflected on having a very limited knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself before coming to the West Bank, as one volunteer said, “I knew a little, but nothing more than what you usually read in the newspapers and on the television.”31 Some exceptions exist, however. One Operation Dove volunteer mentioned having studied the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from a young age:

  • 32 Interview with Participant L., held March 5, 2012.

“I started to study this conflict since I was at high school. So I read a lot of books. I start with the history, myself and with some friends… so I read a lot of books, a lot of reports. I wrote my final paper at university on the settlements and the occupation in general. So when I came here, I had a lot of theoretical knowledge but I don’t know if it helps me to understand what’s happening when I am here.”32

54This same volunteer also claimed involvement related to the conflict prior to volunteering:

  • 33 Ibid.

“I was a member of a student association, Cinema Jenin, that works in Jenin. And we work in a youth group in the city, we did activities for training, like rugby training, English courses, theatre courses. I was working from Italy. In Italy, we create the projects, raise funds, and explain people what we do.”33

55This individual, however, emphasized that his mother was very active in projects related to the conflict and as a result, he developed an interest as well.

56An independent activist of Jewish heritage, though brought up thinking that Israel “is where Jewish people belong”, exposure to Palestinian rights activism during college initiated her activism and sparked her curiosity to come to Israel and the Occupied Territories to see things for herself.

  • 34 Interview with Participant N., held February 17, 2012.

“There were a number of experiences which sort of triggered it [interest in the conflict]. Through living with other activists. A good friend of mine, I remember sitting down, she was talking about politics. […]. I was living with older students that were really active and sort of passionate about what they were doing and I was just on the verge of becoming more politicized. And she was like, ‘I could never date a Zionist.’ […] and I was like ‘what’s a Zionist?’ And she was like, ‘are you fucking kidding me? You’re jewish and you don’t know what a Zionist is?’ I basically got schooled really quickly. And there was an organization at the collge, Students for Justice in Palestine which ran a campaign that I participated in several years later to divest from companies that were supporting the occupation. And the time that I was in college, I was living with a Palestinian and an Israeli and had a really intense experience, sort of learning and hearing this completely different outlook on politics.”34

57Though this individual would eventually put an end to her involvement in SJP due to a feeling that she did not really belong, her newfound preoccupation with the conflict and the meaning of Israel compelled her to venture to Israel/Palestine.

  • 35 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

58Despite inexperience relative to Palestinian rights activism, many volunteers spoke of involvement at the local or national level in NSMs back in their countries of origin, particularly the more radicalized volunteers absorbed within ISM and PSP. As a 30-year-old Swedish ISM volunteer pointed out, “It [volunteering with ISM] doesn’t relate to that my past at all. I’ve been an activist around home, in Gothenburg. LGBT movement, animal rights, and so on but never Israel, Palestine, the occupation, things like that.”35  Another young ISM solidarity activist put forward his activist history in similar terms, adding that many people in his social network had been involved in Palestinian rights activism:

“I personally am not really involved or at least I haven’t really been involved with Palestine solidarity activities in the Portland area but a lot of my friends are. It hasn’t been my focus. Groups that I work with include medical support, climate justice organizing across movements […] all sorts of resistance movements in North America: social justice, economic justice, environmental justice and other angles. I live and was involved with a housing cooperative. Other things are some one-off actions, like some forest activism. I sort of lost interest in single-issue activism.”

59Diversely, some youths indicated that their current volunteerism and interest in activism was a newly developed preoccupation, particularly among recent university or high school graduates reluctant to jump immediately into the job market. As one young EAPPI volunteer revealed:

  • 36 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

“And then, I was traveling in India [three years ago] and there I met many Tibetan refugees and it was the first time that I actually got interested in such issues, injustice and all that stuff. And then I went traveling in Thailand last year and I met many Israelis, so ya, and it was the first time I got interested in the conflict.”36

  • 37 Interview with Participant W., held March 11, 2012.

60A Rabbis for Human Rights volunteer shamefully admitted to his inactivity back in the United States, stating “I wasn’t so active, no, other than arguing with my peers maybe and I didn’t feel like there was a way for me to be active.”37

61While prior activism experiences were generally quite common among the volunteers interviewed, a history of activism was not necessarily a prerequisite. Instead, as in the case of this EAPPI volunteer and other volunteers with a university education, their specialization in subjects such as Political Psychology, International Relations, or Political Science, among others, were judged as sufficient and compelling qualifications for non-religious organizations looking to bring in a generation of idealist “change makers” who would likely go on to work with international institutions or non-governmental organizations. Similarly, religious organizations sought to bring in volunteers versed in Christian doctrine and experienced in nonviolent activism.

  • 38 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

62As opposed to becoming recently radicalized in their old age, older activists testify to a nearly life-long engagement in activism, with the level and intensity of engagement varying over time. One CPT volunteer recounted her involvement in anti-war activism, “I’ve been a war tax resister for about 30 years, I don’t pay taxes, not one bullet, you know a soldier’s helmet, I pay for none of that. It’s part of my theology being a pacifist.”38  An elderly Catholic priest traced his current work in Palestine to previous projects in Canada working with the poor:

  • 39 Interview with Participant S., held March 14, 2012.

“So we were running a homeless shelter and we saw the results of it [government cuts in welfare]. So we would go out regularly, every week we had a vigil, and every month or two we would do a direct action. We planted a garden on public lands at the parliament! We put blood on the buildings as an indication that the cuts in welfare were still bleeding. All of for which we were arrested, so we had many court cases. And I ended up being band for 6 years from the Parliament building in Toronto.”39

63Finally, a retired adult literacy teacher exhibited her lifelong commitment to justice-seeking:

  • 40 Interview with Participant L., held February 8, 2012.

“I mean, I guess I’ve always been interested and engaged with social justice issues. And I would have been a volunteer and things like that the Simon community in my 20s and recently I worked for an organization called Iona community. So in a way, I’ve always been interested in being a volunteer and taking action in social justice in particular and human rights […] Just to say more clearly that as my work has been adult literacy, this has always been political. Our approach has been to give adults the space and opportunity to express their lives and experience as they learn to read, […] This has also been at the heart of our campaigning work in the areas of adult literacy and community education. So I think that hearing and passing on people's stories is at the heart of the adult literacy work and this is also relevant to the EAPPI and what we do when home in terms of the advocacy – making sure people's stories are heard, as far as possible in their own words, in Europe and hopefully in the US too.”40

64Absorbed within Palestinian solidarity social movement organizations are individuals who demonstrate previous involvement or at least an interest in social and political activism. However, as opposed to having experience with the issue of Palestine and the Israeli occupation, volunteers were more prone to exhibit a link to new social movements and multi-issue activist frameworks. As paralleled in a study of white American civil rights activists in the 1960s, activists commonly pledged activity in other causes and were known to rotate their loyalty from one movement to another (Marx and Useem 1971: 102). Further developed by Keck and Sikkink, human rights and other principled-issue advocates are described as activism shoppers, who “may ‘shop’ the entire global scene for the best venues to present their issues” (1998: 200). Thus, as opposed to a demonstrated partiality towards Palestine and the Palestinian people, those activists with prior activism experiences generally framed their Palestinian solidarity activism in terms of the work they had previously done, whether it be human rights, social justice, environmental justice, anti-discrimination, etc. Additionally, their loyalties, whether with respect to past or future activism, do not necessarily lie with the Palestinian cause. Instead, volunteers might have an interest in volunteering for another issue, as the following activist did:

  • 41 Ibid.

“At some point soon I want to go back to Nepal. So, I’m thinking I have two places I really feel associated to. I’ve been to Nepal on a lot trekking but I’ve also got, I go trekking in relation to a women’s development group there. So, as well as the Palestine/Israel issue that I’ll be working on, I’d like to go back to Nepal and I’d like to do voluntary work with that particular group because they train young women to be trekking guides. So I could do some work with them, both on organization and teaching English, stuff like that. So that’s the plan for the future whenever I’ve got this advocacy thing over with, or some of my advocacy as I see that as ongoing.”41

65The Israeli occupation and the strife of Palestinian communities in Area C thus represent a single issue through which a number of frames and causes converge, transforming it into a multi-issue cause. While Palestinians may primarily frame anti-occupation activism as a struggle for self-determination or against colonization, the nurturing of multiplicity opens up opportunities for activists coming from slightly different activist traditions and ideological streams, however the longevity of dedication by international volunteers is variable and uncertain.

3.2.5. Identity and Activism

66As underscored by a number of social movement theorists and identity politics scholars, the ability of individuals to identify with the mission and goals of a social movement organization is as essential to the process of engagement as to the livelihood of the organization itself. Using Stryker’s (1968) notion of identity salience, McAdam explains that participation in a SMO is dependent on the individual’s level of commitment to a particular identity, wherein inclusive relationships can only be formed should that individual clearly demonstrate they are an “insider” of the collective group (1981: 24). Furthermore, to associate with an organization reinforcing a particular collective identity is “to reconstitute the individual self around a new and valued identity” based on a willingness or coveting of a particular social attachment and a new meaning of selfness (Friedman and McAdam 1992: 157).

67The message and collective identity supported by Palestinian rights TSMOs active in the West Bank has an equally determinant factor on the category of individuals who transcend the “latitude of acceptance” to engagement. Using this interpretation of collective action and collective identity, the engagement in Palestinian rights activism in the West Bank can be understood as a symbolic act confirming one’s dedication to a given identity and their desire to engage in experiences which will socialize them into a given social circle with a given cultural capital. Beyond merely an attitudinal affinity towards the movement, the question of identity always plays into the structural “pull” of embeddedness in social networks.

68On the part of politically leftist international volunteers, their involvement can be interpreted as a commitment to their liberal values and a desire to distinguish themselves as active and conscious “global citizens”. While various personal motivations and structural factors also play a role, the most basic element relies upon the coherence between an individual’s actual or desired identity and the organizational identity reinforced by its current members and participants. As such, it is not surprising that young white liberals cognizant of their privilege, both in terms of race and class, yet idealistically dedicated to the “betterment of the world” and the spread of liberal values, would thus volunteer for an organization that claims to do exactly that. At the same time, it is their privilege which, to a great extent, allows them to do such solidarity activism in the first place:

  • 42 Interview with Participant P., held March 2, 2012.

“As a white person, I have a lot of privilege and I know that. And as an international in a situation where power is so clearly unequal... two different areas of law. But I am also used to thinking about that, being a person with privilege and trying to use that and try not to feel guilty about it. I don’t feel it so much as guilt as opportunity.”42

69For the more radicalized volunteers, that is those that subscribe to an “anarchist” or “hippie” identity, participating in an extreme and dangerous collective action proves, in some way or another, their dedication to “the cause”, whatever that cause may be.

70In contrast to a liberalist discourse, Christian organization volunteers often explained their engagement in religious terms, corresponding to the community with which they have a sense of belonging. As a CPT volunteer proclaimed:

“Well, it [activism in Hebron] was directly related to my faith because I really believe in nonviolence as the way to bring about the kingdom of God that Jesus preached. So, actually, it’s very connected to my faith.”

71Another Christian activist, in describing her political perspective, paralleled the work of CPT with Jesus’ teachings:

  • 43 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

“I don’t particularly like labels. It’s difficult in the United States. Well, I don’t believe in killing people. There are a lot of government policies that I don’t agree with. I believe in the Gospel, to share with our brothers and sisters what we have. And to live in service, been trying to follow Jesus. We are called to serve one another in whatever way we can […] It’s definitely faith-based for me. Well, I think what I said, to do service to others. I don’t think I can explain it any other way.”43

72In addition to strong held beliefs in political liberalism or Christianity, an individual’s support for a particular method, in this case non-violence, could encourage that individual to work with organizations taking up similar practices:

  • 44 Interview with Participant S., held March 14, 2012.

“My work is nonviolence. And that is my training in Canada. Ya, I’ve been committed to nonviolence for probably 20 years, which in my lifetime isn’t a long time, but it is, uh, so, I wanted to work with a group committed to nonviolence. And CPT is that.”44

73Going beyond the question of ideology, it should be mentioned that overall, solidarity volunteers demonstrated a keenness towards “alternative living”. Many volunteers spoke of participating in social experiments and community oriented projects such as living in squats, intentional communities, or commune-style living. One volunteer, by applauding the simplistic lifestyle in the West Bank, saw continuity between her living style back home and her current one:

  • 45 Interview with Participant D., held March 15, 2012.

“I already try to avoid that [consumerist lifestyle]. Ya, we don’t have central heating in my house, we don’t have electricity, well, not in winter, we have solar panels. In summer we have enough but in winter we don’t have any at all. And we catch rain water. It’s a group of people that share the same interests who just started living together, with the same ideas. So we always try to escape a little bit from that. The whole capitalistic way of thinking, like we all do a lot of hitchhiking because we don’t want to have our own car, for example, or we don’t want to be dependent on trains, because trains also run on nuclear power, like 80% of the trains run on nuclear power, that is insane as well, so ya.”45

74Other notable trends include vegetarianism or veganism and homosexuality, themselves cornerstones of value systems common in post-industrial societies. Also, most volunteers expressed a strong affinity towards traveling, trying to incorporate this interest with altruistic projects. One volunteer referred to his evolving philosophy of traveling when explaining his decision to volunteer in the West Bank, remarking that one should not just exploit a country or city for their own pleasure, but try to give something back:

  • 46 Interview with Participant T., held March 5, 2012.

“I like to travel. So, this was the first part, and after, it was important not only to travel and stop, but also to travel and maybe do something with the people, like something good. So, if you make the union of these two things, maybe this is the reason I choose.”46

75Beyond a preference for voyaging and operating at a more international level, some volunteers also identified with a liking for Arab culture, connecting their decision to volunteer in the West Bank with their geographical interest in the Middle East:

  • 47 Ibid.

“In general, I am interested about the Middle East, in general, so the Arab peoples the Arab culture. I did some different experience before and after arrived to choose this kind of project, these kind of people, this kind of idea. But, in general, I am interested in the Middle East and all the conflicts that there are in this area since the 20th century. So, I like really meet people and have relationships, like exchange, speak and meet, and understand the life, the way of life of the people, the historical period that they live in.”47

76The very possibility of following a fascination in foreign cultures and languages symbolizes a contemporary form of middle and upper class identity production, one in which the identity of choice may have little to do with one’s “natural” or born self.

77Lastly, even the organizational choice, that is the preference of one particular organization over another, demonstrates the importance of identity relative to the choice to engage in collective action. While each of the six projects carry out more or less the same work, many volunteers commented that they would not be willing to work with similar organizations which seemed to embrace an identity and practices derogating from their own. One EAPPI volunteer spoke about the impossibility for her to volunteer for an organization like ISM:

  • 48 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

“For me, personally, that we are still not that activist, we are mainly observers. And I really like that position. So I was happy that I’m not a part of the demonstration. Because they were chanting things like ‘Israel’s a terrorist state’ or ‘Palestine from the Jordon to the sea’ which is not my opinion. And, I am generally quite suspicious of groups of chanting people. But I wouldn’t do it [ISM] because I think for me, it would be too much activist and pro-Palestinian. But maybe they are not that really pro-Palestinian, I don’t really know, but my feeling is, I prefer, maybe that is something Swiss. But I like just being outside and to observe. So, it’s easier for me just to observe them in this demonstration of Sheikh Jarrah. I would feel unwelcome otherwise.”48

  • 49 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

78While volunteers from the remaining five organizations often referred to ISM volunteers as “troublemakers”, commenting that the organization was not selective enough, the second most common critique among volunteers was the presence of secularists who were against religious organizations. One ISM volunteer explains why she ended up going with ISM as opposed to EAPPI, “I knew about EAPPI and earlier I was thinking if I should go with them to come here but I don’t feel that Christian, so… I didn’t think it was good for me.”49 As mentioned before, some ISM volunteers also criticized other organizations for being too hierarchical, showing their preference for a more acephalous structure. Thus, the individual’s choice is not so much based on the work that they do, but their comfort with the identity and practices condoned by the organization. Diverting from the direct character of one’s identity and its relevance to collective action, equally relevant to the question of identity saliency and symbolic action is one’s personal ties and the social networks they revolve in.

3.2.6. Interpersonal Ties and Social Networks

  • 50 Interview with Participant S., held March 14, 2012.

79Cited by many authors as one of the strongest predictors of recruitment into social movements and social movement organizations membership (see Von Eschen, Kirk, and Pinard 1969; Snow et al. 1980; McAdam 1986), interpersonal ties and inclusiveness in social networks involved in a particular form of collective action strongly encourage an individual to act. While previously highlighted in the case of one volunteer, many volunteers identified organization members as being involved in their mobilization. As casually mentioned by a CPT volunteer: “So I was doing a lot of justice work, nonviolent direct action and then I met Doug […] who was a CPTer and he told me about this work and I said I'd like to go and try that.”50  As noted by several ISM activists, many of their friends or acquaintances within their social circle had either been to Palestine or volunteered, even if very briefly, with ISM, thus establishing a trip to Palestine as an informal “rite of passage” among extreme left social networks. Of course, it is not the mere acquaintance with a former member that leads to recruitment, but the existence of previously microstructural factors that then incline an individual to take a deeper interest in a volunteer opportunity.

80In addition to the importance of social ties between organization members and potential recruits, persons or networks not involved in the movement may also have an influence on the decision to engage (McAdam and Paulsen 1993: 654). Individuals or networks supporting one’s engagement—such as parents, friends, significant others, family, religious groups or leaders, community leaders, etc.—can provide the prospective volunteer with encouraging and positive feedback needed to give them a final “push”. While some opinions may be in conflict, for example the advice of a concerned parent versus that of a close friend, the source which the individual perceives as being the most important and relevant will likely outweigh the other.

81Many young volunteers highlighted their fortune in having parental support of their decision to volunteer in the West Bank, despite security concerns a mother or father might have for the wellbeing of their children:

  • 51 Interview with Participant T., held March 5, 2012.

“I am quite lucky about this thing [parental support]. In general, ya, I think my parents are a little worried, but in general, they never show me this worry. I know that because I imagine. They all the time say ‘do what you think is good, what is good for you, what you like’. So, I send to them my telephone number. When they want, they can call me and speak and just know how’s it going, how’s the situation. […]. They can call me when they want. They take an attitude, like after a lot of time, you normalize, you become adjusted. Sometimes also my grandmother calls me, so no problem. On this point, I don’t have particular problems with my family, they are happy.”51

82One mother emphasized the combination of knowing an activist and the impact of her son, who had a demonstrable interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on her decision to volunteer:

  • 52 Interview with Participant L., held February 8, 2012.

“And then, my youngest son is studying politics, he’s the one that is here now, and he got really interested in Palestine and so we would have been talking a lot about it and he was thinking about coming, but he hadn’t been. And then, I was talking to somebody that I know who had been on the EAPPI program, so he’d been here with EAPPI and I realized it’s just three months and no special qualifications and I felt it was something I could do, this idea of protective presence and support, you know, you didn’t have to be knowledgeable in any particular area. […] Anyway, so it was more about the fact that Neil always talked about it a lot. Even before he came because he was talking about it as well and we would debate it and discuss it and he was giving me things to read.”52

83For some individuals, just meeting Israelis and/or Palestinians led them to take an interest in finding a volunteer opportunity.

  • 53 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

“I went traveling in Thailand and I met many Israelis, so ya, and it was the first time I got interested in the conflict. So, I came back and it was like, kind of a, not accident, but I saw a flyer for EAPPI, and I was thinking ok, it’s three months and it sounds very interesting, why not. And I was interested anyway in this whole conflict. So I though, ya, I’ll do it. So I came here.”53

84For some, however, taking an interest in this particular issue was somewhat coincidental and could easily have gone in another direction:

  • 54 Ibid.

“I think its sometimes accident as well. I mean, if I would have met Columbian people, well, who have many problems in their life as well, whatever, then I would have gone to Columbia probably, because there is a very similar program in Columbia.”54

85For those students who are looking to become professionalized activists—such as working in the international arena of development or humanitarian aid—having experiences in the field, particularly in conflict zones, is an essential criteria as they begin to build their careers. Thus, their level of embeddedness in social networks consisting of international affairs experts is exhibited by their professional and voluntary experiences, wherein they make contacts and become aware of other opportunities. When asked whether or not they will put this experience on a curriculum vita, young volunteers from more formal and less radicalized organizations, such as EAPPI or Operation Dove, confirmed that they would. Whereas ISM volunteers, granted it is a less “legitimate” organization, denied any plans to include their experience on a resume.

  • 55 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

86Despite participation in an organization which announces itself as a proponent of political altruism, the structural factors and even to some extent motivational factors at the individual level have little to do with altruism. While volunteers do not receive direct benefits for the work they are carrying out, their participation and support is nonetheless based on expectations of “secondary benefits or solidaristic incentives” (Eterovic and Smith 2001: 199). Secondary benefits may include career training, symbolic confirmation of one’s identity and inclusiveness in certain social circles, a more fulfilling life, a way to pass retirement, adventure, political expression, and so forth. As one volunteer upheld, “you can be egoistic and altruistic at the same time.”55 Despite a common distinction of volunteerism as a utopic endeavor, outside the limits of rational behavior, engaging in altruism may indeed prove rational to the interests of the benevolent. Contrary to instinct, as remarked by Wuthnow, altruism need not be conflicting with rational choice should:

“the rules of the game have been orchestrated to make that option [the altruistic one] the most rational (rationally self-interested) choice. To promote altruism, one simply needs to set up the situation in the right way. If pursuing my own interests happens to benefit you too, then so be it” (1991: 40).

87While the act may seem altruistic from the perspective of the receiver, the act takes on personal meaning and significance to the volunteer, calling into question the basic criteria of altruism, which maintains that the giver must not expect any external reward and that benevolent mission must be the end goal. While the volunteers undoubtedly spoke of their desire to better the world, volunteerism and altruism for that matter cannot be detached from self-interest. Even if the volunteer is searching for something as abstract as identity politics, social assimilation, happiness, or work experience, these ends lie within the category of individualistic concerns.

88Furthermore, we cannot conceive of engagement without certain requirements, which have been discussed in the aforementioned sections. As opposed to pure motivation, certain conditions must be in place which then provide individuals with the proper cultural and social capital leading them to engage in particular actions. The focus here has been individuals who exhibit a self-pronounced orientation towards the left of the political spectrum with evidence supporting their ideological development from a young age, confounded with recognition and acceptance of a leftist identity further reinforcing the internalization process of certain norms, values, and practices; included in this category are leftist Christians. While volunteers of a different political caliber would undoubtedly promote different ideologies and perspectives, the steps leading to their engagement would likely follow a similar pattern. Thus, motivation and belief as drivers of collective action are insufficient, as engagement should instead be viewed as a process developing over a long continuum running throughout the lifespan of an individual, with every moment as important as the next. That is not to argue for a deterministic view of life, but rather to recognize that individuals exist within a certain realm of choices, those choices being relevant to their biographical past. Having presented a basic overview of the profiles of solidarity activists that were encountered during this study, I will now develop and reflect upon the everyday practices of solidarity activists when talking about their activism/volunteerism, or while in the field.


1 Interview with Participant D., held March 15, 2012.

2 This term refers to the area in the West Bank situated between the Green Line and the route of Israel’s separation barrier intended as a “buffer zone” between Israel and the West Bank, which is mostly populated by Israeli settlers.

3 Dabke, meaning “stamping of the feet”, is a form of Arab folk dance common in the Arab countries of the Levant.

4 Interview with Participant O., held March 8, 2012.

5 The first killing was in 2007, ISM activist Akram Ibrahim Abu Sba was reportedly killed by members of the Islamic Jihad. More recently, a well-known Italian activist, Vittorio Arrigoni, who originally came as a volunteer with ISM in 2008 but continued long-term presence in the region, was killed while in Gaza in mid-2011 by Hamas.

6 Interview with Participant T., held March 5, 2012.

7 Interview with Participant U., held March 5, 2012.

8 One of the most fundamental criteria of Zionism, the term is used to describe the immigration of Jews to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.

9 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

10 Recorded ages correspond to the age of the participant at the time of the interview.

11 This finding is not necessarily representative of gender ratios as I tried to achieve an equal distribution of male and female participants for the sake of avoiding gender bias.

12 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

13 Interview with Participant L., held March 5, 2012.

14 Interview with Participant U., hled March 5, 2012.

15 Ibid.

16 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

17 Interview with Participant L., held February 8, 2012.

18 Interview with Participant O., held March 8, 2012.

19 A term used to refer to the counselor of the Zionist youth movement.

20 Interview with Participant W., held March 11, 2012.

21 Interview with Participant M., held March 5, 2012.

22 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

23 Ibid.

24 Interview with Participant A., held February 29, 2012.

25 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

26 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

27 Interview with Participant P., held March 2, 2012.

28 Interview with Participant U., held March 5, 2012.

29 Interview with Participant A., held February 29, 2012.

30 Interview with Participant C., held January 21, 2012.

31 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

32 Interview with Participant L., held March 5, 2012.

33 Ibid.

34 Interview with Participant N., held February 17, 2012.

35 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

36 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

37 Interview with Participant W., held March 11, 2012.

38 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

39 Interview with Participant S., held March 14, 2012.

40 Interview with Participant L., held February 8, 2012.

41 Ibid.

42 Interview with Participant P., held March 2, 2012.

43 Interview with Participant J., held March 14, 2012.

44 Interview with Participant S., held March 14, 2012.

45 Interview with Participant D., held March 15, 2012.

46 Interview with Participant T., held March 5, 2012.

47 Ibid.

48 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

49 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.

50 Interview with Participant S., held March 14, 2012.

51 Interview with Participant T., held March 5, 2012.

52 Interview with Participant L., held February 8, 2012.

53 Interview with Participant K., held February 9, 2012.

54 Ibid.

55 Interview with Participant R., held February 9, 2012.


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