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This summer a great deal of media attention was given to the flotilla of international activists determined to break through the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Major newspapers, television networks and other media outlets covered the well-choreographed drama that followed: the attempted departure of ships from Greek ports, the Greek government’s refusal to allow the ships to embark, the wave of activists who tried to instead fly to Israel as part of the “flytilla” and the ensuing blacklisting of activists at European airports and arrest of several dozen activists at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport.

The 2011 “Freedom Flotilla II” was a follow-up to the 2010 “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” that departed Cyprus with the intention of reaching the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid and construction materials; however, nearly halfway to their destination, the flotilla was intercepted by Israeli naval forces. On the MV Mavi Marmara, a Turkish flagged vessel with several dozen activists onboard, confrontations erupted between the international activists and the Israeli commandoes; resultantly several Israelis were injured and nine activists were killed.

In the aftermath of these actions organized and executed by a loose network of international activists, ties between Israel and Turkey have become strained and Israeli and Turkish politicians have increasingly exchanged tough rhetoric. This is not to suggest that the flotillas were the sole cause of the current tensions between Israel and Turkey; rather, the efforts of international activists have provided a catalyst by which underlying tensions between Israel and Turkey have been brought to the forefront and exacerbated.

While the actions of international activists engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have received a high degree of interest from the media, this is not the only venue in which international activists engage with issues of social equality, economic disparity, environmental degradation or human rights violations. Less reported instances of international activism from this summer included solidarity demonstrations with Egyptians and Libyans seeking to overthrow their governments, anti-war demonstrations in Afghanistan and environmental campaigns across the world organized by Greenpeace.

At times these international activists participate through more structured organizations, such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace or Human Rights Watch. At other times, the networks of activists are less structured associations of likeminded individuals who share similar political, economic or moral perspectives. While  coalitions of international activists can engage in more on-the-ground, direct actions (e.g. demonstrations, protests), there is also a wide array of indirect or virtual action (e.g. Facebook groups, awareness campaigns, emailing campaigns). Despite the different organizational structures utilized by international activists and the various actions they undertake, there are unifying features that raise thoughtful questions for anthropologists and other social scientists.

For instance, how does international activism  impact local communities? Does international activism empower these communities or does it commodify acts of resistance, dissent and opposition and, ultimately, diminish the political, social and moral significance of these actions? How does international activism in an increasingly interconnected, technologically-driven world recast and reframe previous understandings of resistance, solidarity and social movements?

This column is dedicated to exploring these and other related questions in order to further define international activism in anthropological terms, explore how it functions as a social, cultural and political interaction and consider the consequences of international activism to the established social, cultural, political and economic orders. Throughout the year, this column will present a range of perspectives on international activism and a variety of firsthand accounts from international activists in the hopes of opening up new avenues of inquiry and exploration on the topic.

Originally published by Anthropology News.

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October 18th, 2015

Mapping the Dead in the Latest Israeli-Palestinian Violence

Basma Atassi at Al-Jazeera has put together a great storymap that explores the latest violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Complete with pictures, text and place location, this resource allows you to get a good sense of where, when and how the violence is occurring. Definitely worth a look.

October 16th, 2015

Netanyahu, Context & Responsibility

At the center of this current iteration of violence in Israel and Palestine stands the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has reacted to this violence as if he was surprised that Palestinians would resort to violence when for decades he has done everything within his power to thwart the establishment and growth of a responsible Palestinian civil society, expanded settlements with the explicit aim of crippling an emerging Palestinian state, and undermining the responsible leadership of Mahmoud Abbas at every possible opportunity.

October 8th, 2015

Abbas, Netanyahu and Responsible Leadership

Abbas is demonstrating his commitment to deescalating tensions and calming the violence that is a direct result of Netanyahu’s persistent efforts to whip Israeli society into a panicked frenzy about an existential threat lurking behind every corner.

June 30th, 2015

Our Dictator in Cairo – Abdel Fatah el-Sisi

So, once again, the foreign policy of the US has chosen perceived immediate stability over the somewhat more bumpy and unpredictable evolution of democracy in the Middle East. It’s not the first time we’ve done this… it’s sort of our thing at this point… we’re pro’s out it.

June 22nd, 2015

The Many Victims at Mother Emmanuel

The problem with Gosnell and others who make these arguments is that they believe intentionality serves as some magical “Get out of Jail Free” card that absolves perpetrators of the violence they commit. Further, and in many ways far more problematic, is the realization that Gosnell and others only want to use this logical canard to absolve themselves or other like them. No such compassion regarding intentionality and the multiplicity of victims derived from violence will ever be used with the families of the 9-11 hijackers. In the end, the fundamental mistake that Gosnell and others make over and over again is that they focus on issues of intentionality rather than on issues of responsibility.

March 4th, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Congress

There are two things to never forget when considering Netanyahu’s views of regional threats. First, he is desperately seeking his “Churchill moment”. Second, he has a record of being blinded by his own biases and is never, ever a sober analyst of a situation

February 16th, 2015

Cursed Be The Peacemakers?

This video, produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, has been released as part of the current Israeli political contest where the extreme right wing of Israel is attempting to maintain the rightist complexion of the Israeli government. For me, the truly offensive aspect of this video is how it makes the case that working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians or defending Palestinian and Israeli human rights somehow makes you a threat to the country.

February 14th, 2015

The Danger of Molly White’s Islamophobia

Rep. White is the new poster child for the anti-Muslim bigotry, Islamic hatred and Islamophobia that is so deeply embedded in American society that it can hide in plain sight.

July 15th, 2014

In Focus: The Gaza Strip

As Israeli bombs are dropped throughout the Gaza Strip and Hamas missiles are launched into Israel, the media coverage has focused on discussing Gaza as a known yet ill-defined entity. We are made aware of roughly where it is (next to Israel), who lives there (Hamas) and what happens there (rockets are made and launched). But this reductionist view of Gaza doesn’t provide any insights into the common, everyday lived experience of the 1.8 million Palestinians who live in the 360 sq. km that makes up the Gaza Strip.

July 14th, 2014

Middle East News Review #28

The Middle East was plagued with news of violence this week. In Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Libya, episodes of violence resulted in death and destruction. Iran continued its negotiations with the US and EU this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement over the country’s nuclear program and removing the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. In Iraq, violence between the militant group ISIS and the Baghdad government reached new heights as 29 people were found massacred in an apartment and Human Rights Watch condemned the government for mass executions carried out earlier this year. The direct physical violence in Iraq was mirrored this week with political turmoil as the government of Nouri al-Maliki erupted into conflict with the semi-autonomous Kurdish government.