FBI opened terrorism investigations into nonviolent Palestinian solidarity group, documents reveal

FBI Investigated Nonviolent Pro-Palestinian Group for Terrorism
Illustration: Leonardo Santamaria for The Intercept
A public records request provides a look into the FBI’s use of intelligence and national security powers to track domestic dissent.

By Chip Gibbons | The Intercept | Apr 5, 2020

‘These cases demonstrate the FBI’s unwillingness to distinguish non-violent civil disobedience protesting government policy from terrorism,’
— Michael German, former FBI agent

In 2006, ST. Louis-based activist and academic Mark Chmiel received a message on his answering machine from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI wanted to talk to Chmiel about trip three years ago that he and other St. Louis activists took with the International Solidarity Movement to the West Bank, in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. When Chmiel’s attorney reached out to the FBI, they did not respond.

Chmiel later wrote that he was motivated to travel to the West Bank by Palestinians’ calls for volunteers, international organizations’ inability to deal with the occupation, and his own country’s complicity in Israel’s actions. The International Solidarity Movement, or ISM, which would be Chmiel’s vehicle, encourages international volunteers to come to the occupied territories and engage in nonviolent direct action against the occupation. During the delegation Chmiel was on, Israel soldiers opened fire on a Palestinian protest and injured one of the St. Louis activists. An aging Holocaust survivor who was also part of the delegation was subjected to a humiliating and invasive search when departing from Israel.

These deprivations of rights experienced by Americans at the hands of Israeli authorities, however, were not what interested the FBI. Instead, the FBI was conducting an international terrorism investigation into Chmiel and another activist from the delegation (The Intercept reached out to the second activist, who asked that their name be withheld).

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