Activists trickle to Lebanon to protest Israel war

Tue Aug 8, 10:50 AM

By Lin Noueihed

BEIRUT (Reuters) - International and local activists are planning on Saturday to bring a civilian convoy to southern Lebanon, worst hit by Israel's 28-day-old war on Hizbollah, to deliver aid and show solidarity with suffering residents.

"We hope this will be the first of what will become continuous convoys to show that there are civilians being killed and affected by this war," Adam Shapiro, an American documentary filmmaker and human rights activist, told Reuters.

"If governments are failing to act, we as citizens will."

Shapiro, 34, is among several activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a pro-Palestinian group that usually works to bring attention to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, who have traveled to Lebanon seeking non-violent ways to support local groups protesting the war.

This time, however, the activists will not be facing Israeli soldiers, tanks or bulldozers but aerial bombardment.

One idea they are considering is to bring large numbers of people, rather than a few activists, to the Hizbollah strongholds of south Lebanon or south Beirut to try to protect them or draw attention to the plight of civilians there.

So far, activists who have shown up in Lebanon from the United States and Europe are part of an exploratory group, but Shapiro believes they can attract hundreds more, including from Arab states, once they come up with a strategy.

"In the United States people were already contacting us, Lebanese and internationals interested in coming to Lebanon to see how we could help," Shapiro said.

At least 961 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Lebanon since the war began on July 12 with Hizbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers. Israel's total death toll is 100.

Lebanon will be the first time the ISM has worked outside the Palestinian territories, though individual activists have been to other war zones such as Iraq as human shields.

Israeli authorities view them as trouble makers and sometimes accuse them of inciting violence.

"I'm not sure we can be as ambitious as to end the war but certainly we can change the dynamic," Shapiro said. "In the media this has so far been portrayed as a war between Israel and Hizbollah. Maybe we can change the dynamic so it is seen as what it is, Israel versus all of Lebanon."

In 2003, an Israeli soldier shot British ISM activist Tom Hurndall as he helped Palestinian children cross the road to avoid gunfire in the Gaza Strip. Hurndall later died. An Israeli military tribunal sentenced his killer to eight years in jail.

The same year, 23-year-old U.S. activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to stop the Israeli military from demolishing Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. An Israel probe concluded Corrie's death was an accident.