Letters for November 21-28 

Readers sound off about the International Solidarity Movement, and what crime victims want.

"Speech Vs. Action," Letters, 11/17

The Truth About ISM

For someone who calls himself a journalist, it's odd that Dan Spitzer would take it upon himself to write about me without ever having spoken to me.

He is actually on to something in suggesting that my commitment to justice for Palestine, not just my opposition to the US attack on Iraq, was a factor in the San Francisco Chronicle's decision to fire me in 2003. He's dead wrong, though, in describing the International Solidarity Movement as "an organization which aided and abetted terrorism."

In fact, the ISM's whole purpose is to support nonviolent resistance to Israel's brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. I am proud to have worked with the ISM during several stays in the West Bank and Gaza. What did I do?

• I stayed with cave-dwelling shepherds in the tiny village of Qawawis to try to deter the armed Jewish settlers who regularly invade the hamlet and beat its inhabitants.

• I helped the farmers of Jayyous stand up for their right to work their fields, after Israel tried to cut them off from land that is indisputably theirs by building its monstrous Wall — a project declared illegal and ordered dismantled by a 14-1 ruling of the International Court of Justice.

• I marched with the villagers of Bil'in in demonstrations against the Wall that were completely peaceful — until they were attacked by Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, shock grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets.

• And I walked the streets of the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron, armed only with a video camera, in hopes of diverting or at least documenting the viciousness of the fanatical Jewish settlers there, who try to drive the Palestinian residents out of the city by invading their homes, burning their olive trees, and stoning children and teachers going to and from their schools — while Israeli soldiers and policemen look on and laugh.

Spitzer doesn't talk about what ISM volunteers really do because the truth would expose the shameful realities of the Zionist project. Instead, he trots out long-since-discredited tall tales about the movement. Yes, a couple of young Britons who later became suicide bombers once stopped by an ISM apartment for fifteen minutes, but that hardly makes ISM responsible for their actions — any more than the Israeli security officials who let them into the country are to blame for what they did.

If the ISM were really the "pro-terrorist organization" Spitzer claims it is, surely the Israeli government (and for that matter the Bush administration, too) would take action to shut it down. In fact, since its founding in 2001, neither Israel nor the US government has ever attempted to ban the ISM or to prosecute it for anything to do with terrorism.

Henry Norr, Berkeley

"The Young and the Restless," Apprehension, 11/7

The Truth About Crime Victims

Anneli Rufus complains that "victims remained conspicuously absent" from a conference on juvenile-justice reform, while "dozens" of speakers advocated reduced reliance on locking up young offenders. I wonder why Ms. Rufus assumes that victims would have supported continued reliance on inhumane and ineffective treatment of young offenders. But the lack of a voice for victims at the conference reflects the situation in the justice system itself. The actual needs of victims are at best a tangential concern, in the face of a single-minded focus on what to do to the offender.

Those who claim otherwise assume that every victim wants nothing but harshest treatment of the person who harmed him or her, and that encouraging this stance serves victims. But the ideology that situates all victims in the land of vengeance ignores both their heterogeneity and the broad spectrum of their needs. And the claim that this serves them is contrary to most modern psychological and spiritual teaching on vengefulness and resentment, as well as the reported experiences of many victims themselves.

Strangely, Ms. Rufus' disapproval of the thrust of the juvenile-justice conference extends to one speaker's advocacy of restorative justice, an approach which truly inquires into the needs of each victim. Often such an inquiry turns up needs for safety, of course, but also for involvement in the process, telling the story of their experience and being heard, and receiving appropriate amends from the offender. The restorative model — unlike a retributive model made harsher and harsher by politicians who claim to care about victims — actually devotes attention and resources to meeting such needs. In the process it also shows greater prospects for reforming offenders.

I'd love to see a feature article showing how this works, rather than a short caricature advanced in service of the old paradigm, the one that contraposes humane treatment of offenders to concern for victims.

Michael Goldstein, Oakland


Our October 17 article "Rolling Plunder," about a theft at Youth UpRising, mispelled the name of Cal-SAFE director Bob Crose, and may have left the impression that he was the source of the following sentence: "The instructor's computer also was stolen from a closet, but the security cameras weren't running at the time of the heist." He was not.

A caption to our November 14 cover story "Obama Drama '08" misspelled the name of Obama strategist Marshall Ganz.

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