Abandon the Olive Tree Initiative Before It's Too Late

The following headline is fictitious, but just imagine a story like this in your newspaper (or laptop) sometime in 2011 or later:

Bodies of 12 UC Students Found Headless in West Bank Town

An official of the Palestinian Authority announced today that 12 headless bodies, believed to be students from the University of California’s Olive Tree Initiative program, have been located in the town of Nablus in the West Bank.The students were kidnapped over one week ago by Hamas terrorists, and efforts to secure their release were apparently unsuccessful. Hamas has announced that the slain students admitted in the moments before their execution that they were  “Jewish,  Christian, or Hindu infidels.” Hamas has issued a statement claiming that they continue to hold the other 6 OTI students, believed to be Moslem,  as ransom for the release of several of their fighters who have been imprisoned by the Palestinian Fatah party. The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has assured the university that its forces are looking for the 6 kidnapped students and will bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. He also stated that the actions of Hamas do not advance the goals of the Palestinian people.

Is this horrible imagined event improbable? Not when  you recall that, as has recently been disclosed pursuant to a California Public Records Act filing[1], UC Irvine’s Olive Tree Initiative students met with Aziz Duwaik during their 2009 trip.

Duwaik is a representative of Hamas who serves as speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.Hamas actually contends that he (and not Mahmoud Abbas) is the president of the Palestinian Authority.  The United States does not recognize his claim to the presidency, largely because Hamas is on the U.S.’s list of terrorist organizations.

In addition, Duwaik served time in Israeli prisons for almost 3 years, and was released only a few weeks before his meeting with the students. Hamas detests America and Americans, and has special antipathy towards Jews, whose genocide it calls for in the Hamas Charter. It is not too far-fetched to imagine that this group of unarmed students might quickly have found themselves surrounded and overwhelmed by terrorists who had decided to use them as pawns in the never-ending internecine warfare among Palestinian factions.

Nor is the imagined tragic event improbable when you consider that over the past few years, at least three European and American activists with the Palestinian International Solidarity Movement were murdered by Muslim terrorists or placed in situations leading to their deaths while engaging in violent activism against Israel[2]. Indeed, the OTI student itinerary in the West Bank includes many meetings and discussions with founders and leaders of the ISM. The murdered ISM activists were naive but sincere and earnest devotees of the Palestinian cause who had come to the West Bank and Gaza to help the Palestinians fight to eliminate Israel. All of them must believed that they were safe from harm. But they were dead wrong. In fact, they are all dead -- murdered by the very people they thought they were helping.[3]

If activists who are allied with the ISM can be brazenly kidnapped and murdered, imagine the fates of innocent University of CA students who are just traveling around Israel and the West Bank to dialogue with diverse groups involved in the conflict and learn firsthand, with their own eyes, about the neighborhood and its problems. That is the mantra and mission of the OTI.[4]

Community activists like Ha-Emet have been warning the university, and the charities and individuals who support this program and others like it -- including the Jewish Federation of Orange County -- that they are taking on great risk in continuing to bring students to the West Bank. They are recklessly endangering the lives of these young people.