Peace activist settles lawsuit with pro-Israel activist


A peace activist and the man she accused of assault as she protested Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress reached a settlement on her lawsuit.

Attorneys for Rachel Abileah, an activist with Codepink, and her alleged assaulter, Stanley Shulster of Oregon, refused to comment on details of the settlement.

Shulster, 73, told JTA that “I didn’t pay her a penny,” but a news release from Codepink—a women-initiated grass-roots peace and social justice movement that according to its website is “working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations”—said that Abileah will “donate a portion of the received funds to legal and medical aid for peaceful Palestinian protesters in the West Bank.”

Shulster was in Washington for an AIPAC conference when he went to hear Netanyahu speak before a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on May 24, 2011. Shortly into the address, Abileah stood and unfurled a banner that read “Occupying Land is Indefensible.” She also shouted slogans such as “No more occupation” and “Stop Israeli War Crimes.”

Abileah claimed that Shulster then grabbed her banner and physically assaulted her. She sued him for $1 million.

Following the settlement, Shulster and Abileah issued a joint statement that read in part that “Mr. Shulster apologizes for any physical or emotional harm caused by him to Ms. Abileah. He agrees that he should have let the Capitol Police handle the situation. Ms. Abileah accepts this apology.”

The statement added that their agreement “resolves Ms. Abileah’s claim that Mr. Shulster assaulted her” and “Mr. Shulster respects the right of Ms. Abileah to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes that she holds this view in good faith.” In turn, “Ms. Abileah respects Mr. Shulster’s right to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes that he holds this view in good faith.”

Shulster, who said he has volunteered on two separate occasions to assist in humanitarian efforts for the Israel Defense Forces, said that about 10 minutes into Netanyahu’s speech, “I heard this very loud screaming to my left” and then noticed a woman unfurling a banner.

“I just had this adrenaline rush,” Shulster said, adding that he immediately thought a weapon might have been hidden in the banner.

“Instinctively I grabbed for this cloth. I did grab the cloth, and I didn’t let go,” he told JTA.

Shulster says he recalls holding the woman’s wrist and then letting go when security personnel appeared and removed Abileah from the hall.

“If I hurt her, I certainly apologize, but I don’t believe I hurt her,” Shulster told JTA.

Monk Could Be Way to Mideast Peace


Next week, I am sponsoring a group of Israelis and Palestinians to spend a few weeks in a small village in southern France with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. These two disparate groups of people do not know each other, but often feel hatred toward each other. Some of them have been hurt in the war.

But by the end of the two weeks, under the guidance of the monks, the Israelis and the Palestinians will learn to listen to, understand, forgive and maybe even like each other. They will be at peace.

Could this work on a larger scale for their respective countries? I think so.

There are only two ways to ever make peace in the Middle East, and both are extreme. One is for one side to obliterate the other in a military conquest. The other, far more favorable approach, is for an unrelated third party to broker peace. For this to succeed, this person must come with absolutely no agenda — not one of country, religion, politics or money. Just peace.

That’s the one we are going for, because we have found such a person.

Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar, poet and peace activist who lives in Plum Village, France. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. He has written almost 100 books. All over the world, he teaches what he calls mindfulness — peaceful, joyful living.

He is in a unique position to help the world now. We are trying to help him.

I met him because I read one of his books and it really helped my life as a movie producer. I learned to listen more, scream less, appreciate everything around me and focus. I even learned to "de-multitask." And now I get more done, and am happier and calmer about it.

I figured if it worked for me, it could work for my friends in the entertainment business, who could sure use his help. So I offhandedly suggested he do a seminar in Hollywood.

Three months later, he called and said, "How’s next Tuesday?" I had Nhat Hanh and 15 monks over to my house to meet about 50 agents, producers, directors, studio executives and actors. I love these people, but they would stab themselves in the back if they could.

In one night, he changed some of their lives. Nhat Hanh does not try to convert people to Buddhism or get them to shave their heads. He teaches them how to listen to others and appreciate life more.

I thought it amazing what he did in Hollywood, but there are people with a lot more to be angry about than their TV series getting cancelled. He has done this for senators, cops, prisoners, people battling AIDS, victims of prejudice and hate crimes. And for Palestinians and Israelis.

Every summer people come from all over the world to Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in France to learn from him and his spiritual sidekick, Sister Chan Khong. A few years ago, they invited some Israelis and Palestinians — a few severely wounded in their war with each other. They forgave.

That gave me the idea to try this on a larger scale, and to tell the world about it. If everyone sees what can happen next week in Plum Village, it could then be done on a much larger scale. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, so I asked friends, advisers and mentors — some of whom run charities. What really convinced me was their answer.

They all said, "No, don’t do it."

They said don’t bother. It will never happen. They hate each other too much. It’s too late. One person even argued that if it cost a Palestinian more to fly to France than an Israeli, it wasn’t fair. Everyone was so far into their anger they didn’t even want to try.

That convinced me that we have to.

Nhat Hanh has no agenda other than peace. He has a great expression: There is no way to peace; peace is the way.

Something extreme must be done and will be. I vote we try extreme peace before the other alternative.

I hope the world watches what happens at Nhat Hanh’s village next week. Who better to do this, who could be more agenda-less than a peaceful Buddhist monk with unique gift for teaching people to listen and be mindful, who has no country, no desire for wealth, no stake in politics?

This is not about who is right or wrong or who started it or who is hurt the most. It is about peace.

It can happen.

Watch.

Film producer Larry Kasanoff is chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment.

IDF at Odds With Militant Activists


The bad blood between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a group of international pro-Palestinian activists continues to grow as more members of the group are injured in Israeli anti-terror operations.

A British activist was shot in the head last Friday as a group of foreign and Palestinian protesters approached a unit of Israeli tanks posted near the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The incident ignited a crossfire of words and accusations between the IDF and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Thomas Hurndall, 21, from England, suffered a head injury that left him brain dead. He was the third casualty from the ISM in a month.

The ISM is a movement of international activists working for "Palestinian freedom and an end to Israeli occupation," according to its mission statement, sometimes through illegal protests and rallies.

Though members of the group call themselves peace activists, they work only to protect Palestinians from Israeli anti-terror actions, making no attempt to protect Israelis from Palestinian violence.

Hurndall was shot when a sniper on an IDF tank allegedly fired on a group of protesters marching toward them in an effort to thwart an IDF incursion into Rafah. This Palestinian city, which straddles the Gaza-Egyptian border, is one of the main zones for arms smuggling into Palestinian areas. The IDF said a tank fired only one round in the area that day. It had targeted and killed a Palestinian sniper who was hiding in the upper stories of a nearby apartment building, firing at a column of armored vehicles, military sources said.

Still, Hurndall’s shooting is a disturbing addition to a string of recent bloody confrontations between the IDF and the ISM.

Only a few hundred yards from where Friday’s incident took place, American activist Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed several weeks ago when she tried to prevent a bulldozer from demolishing a terrorist’s home. Witnesses said the bulldozer crushed Corrie, a student from Olympia, Wash., and immediately backed up. The army, which characterized the death as an accident, said the driver didn’t see Corrie.

Last week, Bryan Avery, 24, of Albuquerque, was shot in the face while walking with a fellow activist in the West Bank city of Jenin. The IDF said it was not aware that Israeli soldiers had shot Avery, but said soldiers had been targeting Palestinian gunmen in the area.

"This goes beyond the pale," ISM leader Tom Wallace said. "It was a sniper [that shot Hurndall], and we know from experience they don’t miss. The photograph clearly shows that he was wearing a bright orange vest, that he was clearly not a combatant. This man was going to pick up a child."

Wallace said he considers the shooting a criminal act.

According to ISM activists and an Associated Press photographer, Hurndall ran to scoop up a child out of harm’s way when he was shot in the back of the head.

While the IDF has expressed sorrow at the chain of injuries, it says ISM activists increasingly cross the line of neutrality. One example occurred on March 27, when IDF forces launched a manhunt for a top Islamic Jihad terrorist in Jenin.

Intelligence information led the IDF to believe that Shadi Sukia was being hidden in a Jenin compound that holds a bank, a Red Cross office and the ISM office. After combing the entire building and finding nothing, the soldiers asked two ISM activists if they could search their offices. ISM coordinator Susan Barcley refused. The soldiers insisted, forcing their way in. The intelligence information proved correct: Sukia had taken shelter with the ISM. Both he and Barcley were arrested.

"Many of the ISM activists are nothing short of provocateurs," an IDF source said. "They try to incite the Palestinians. They’re almost spoiling for a fight."

An infamous photograph of Corrie, for example, shows her with her head covered like a religious Muslim woman, burning a mock American flag in the Gaza Strip. The IDF source intimated that Corrie’s death, though regrettable, was preventable.

"That day they were running amok around the soldiers, not letting them do anything. Even when the armored units pulled back, they chased them," the source said.

Some of ISM’s tactics are daring, Wallace admitted. Others might call them downright foolish.

"ISM’ers often break curfew, just to show how ridiculous it is and because curfews are illegal according to international law," Wallace told JTA.

The IDF source said the army maintains close relations with many humanitarian organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, but has yet to find a modus vivendi with the ISM.

"If the ISM’ers in Jenin had nothing to hide, why prevent the soldiers from coming in [when they were looking for Sukia]?" the IDF source asked.