Israel’s harassment of US-Mexico border human rights activist raises many questions

On May 16, a 19-year-old American student from a Southwest university was stopped by Israeli security agents and held for several hours as she attempted to enter the occupied Palestinian West Bank with 17 other schoolmates and two professors. At one point in a grueling interrogation that lasted until 2 am, she was harassed about her affiliation with No Más Muertes/No More Deaths, a humanitarian group that operates along the U.S.-Mexico border.

No More Deaths is a prominent U.S. humanitarian group, well known for its numerous volunteers who have been indicted over the years by the federal government (though all acquitted) for advocating fundamental change in U.S. Immigration and Border Enforcement policies and, in the process, helping save the lives of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. So why is Israel so concerned about a human rights group that operates in a humanitarian border crisis zone several thousand miles away?

A report in recent weeks by Israel’s leading newspaper, Ha’aretz, suggests a possible answer, or at least provides some interesting insight on Israel’s efforts to deal with what it perceives as “delegitimization”: people and groups around the world opposing Israeli state crimes, organizing a mass withdrawal of support for them, and attempting to press accountability for such crimes under international and domestic law.

Following “an upsurge in worldwide efforts” of these sorts, according to Ha’aretz which cited senior Israeli officials and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officers whose Military Intelligence (MI) research division “created a department several months ago that is dedicated to monitoring left-wing groups” overseas and that “will work closely with government ministries.”

The Israeli officials were not reluctant to admit that the monitoring unit was created in the wake of a supposed intelligence failure prior to Israel’s lethal raid on the humanitarian convoy “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” last May in which nine international civilians were shot to death “in the manner of summary execution” and dozens were seriously injured, according to a UN fact-finding mission that investigated the attack.

According to the Ha’aretz report, the intelligence unit has been participating in high-brass discussions preparing for Flotilla 2. The unit’s interest might well be piqued, then, by the fact that the main No More Deaths Tucson General group announced last month on its website its support for two volunteers traveling to break the siege of Gaza, one being this author and the other a Palestinian student wishing to remain anonymous.

Ha’aretz described an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office explaining that the unit’s “quality of information” about foreign targeted groups has “improved” and the “quantity” of such information “has increased in recent months.”

One Military Intelligence (MI) official explained to that “[t]he enemy changes, as does the nature of the struggle,” and so “we have to boost activity in this sphere.” Doubtless the intelligence unit is doing its job. But whether Israel regards No More Deaths and its volunteers and supporters as enemies of the state remains unconfirmed.

What other information in the public sphere has the unit been—or would be—able to “collect” on No More Deaths in order to “adequately prepare” for challenges posed to Israeli policy by civil society actions such as the flotilla?

Probably most relevant to the case of the student who was interrogated for her involvement with the group concerns the No More Deaths University of Arizona (UA) chapter (UANMD), which has been leading the No More Deaths community in fulfilling its commitment to “Global Movement Building.”

In November 2010, UA NMD allied with fellow campus groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace in organizing tours of the U.S.-Mexico border, starting with Nogales, AZ-Sonora, a border community bisected by the border wall. The effort aimed to highlight the “concrete connections” between the U.S. and Israel in their monetary and material exchanges in security technology, training and resources in maintaining state policy in both areas.

The groups followed their border tours with a national student conference, Concrete Connections, held in February, in which students and teachers from nearly a dozen states from across the U.S. attended to discuss comparisons and differences between US/Mexico border issues and the Israel/Palestine conflict and how solidarity movements can internationalize their commitment to each other’s struggle for justice in both areas.

One of the topics discussed by some activists was a “mock wall movement” to employ atcampuses across the U.S., modeled off the “mock shanty towns” that proliferated on U.S. campuses during the mid-1980s to symbolize student support for divestment from companies supporting South African Apartheid. On March 21—incidentally the same day Ha’aretz ran the above report—the largest mock apartheid wall in the U.S. was erected, dividing the 40,000-student UA campus for ten days, sponsored by numerous groups but chiefly organized by none other than the UANMD, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace. Numerous other schools across the country followed suit with their announcements of erecting similar walls later in the spring and this coming fall.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu sent a letter of support to the students, echoing their call for mock walls to spring up across the country. In April esteemed public intellectual Dr. Cornel West echoed Tutu’s call for divestment, in particular supporting the students’ Ethnic Studies solidarity program bringing together youth from Arizona and Palestine to exchange experiences and strategies of resisting U.S./AZ and Israeli state attacks on education.

Whatever Israel’s intention, it is clear that groups such as No More Deaths pose a serious threat to Israel’s ability to carry out state crimes and policies of illegal settlement and occupation unimpeded.

Gabriel Matthew Schivone lives in Tucson, Arizona. He is a Chicano-Jewish American and native Tucsonan, a volunteer and media/policy analyst with the U.S./Mexico border humanitarian organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, and an AZ coordinator of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. He is a passenger and a U.S. representative for the AZ/Southwest on the upcoming “Gaza Freedom Flotilla 2″. He is also co-editor and a contributing author of the forthcoming book, Concrete Connections: Militarization, Migration, and the Political Economy of Human Rights in the Mexico/U.S. and Palestine/Israel Borderlands. Schivone may be reached at: gabrielm@email.arizona.edu Twitter @GSchivone

  1. Where did Israel get the info about this “19-year-old American student from a Southwest university” and any affiliation she has here?

    How is Israel privy to information about US citizens? Who authorized that?

  2. All these joint security cooperations agreements between Israel and the US for the monitoring of American borders and airports by Israelis are starting to pay off. Israel is surely not interested in Mexicans illegally crossing American borders but in building up its data bank on any American that may be involved in anti-Israel activities. We took this subject for a spin last September:

    link to mondoweiss.net

  3. Setting up an “apartheid wall” display locally (the quotes used in the blog entry calling it part of a “UCI hate week”) – see: link to docstalk.blogspot.com – still gets couched in pure Orwellian terms.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – - that’s all.”
    (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)