Why is Iran holding Pro-Palestinian activists?

Picture of Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd
New Website: FreeOurFriends.eu

It is almost a year since Iran detained my friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd (and their friend Josh).

It demonstrates just how empty the Iranian government’s claim to defend Palestinian rights really is.

Shane and Sarah – who were living in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp at the time – have done more for Palestinians and against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that pretty much every Arab and Iranian I know.

What is depressing is that the Iranians must know this, and yet still detain them.

Part of the blame must also lie with the official “Free The Hikers” campaign, that for whatever reasons has chosen not to highlight Sarah and Shane’s politics. Despite doing fantastic work in drumming up domestic US support, it has taken too long to start trickling in information about their work.

Portraying them as hikers lost in the wrong part of the Middle East does not help anyone understand who they are. When I first saw the story in The Times last year, I instantly assumed they were spies. Who wouldn’t?

However, that same afternoon I got a call from a friend in Syria who said it was Shane and Sarah. After my initial panic I thought that as soon as it became clear to the public who these guys were they would be released.

But nobody was talking about their work. I’m still not sure why, but their families wanted to take their politics out of the equation. Unfortunately when it comes to the Middle East that doesn’t work. Politics is paramount and people fall on either side of the line: pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. Sure, there are more nuanced ways of saying it, but that’s the fundamental distinction. If you’re American and don’t have the evidence to prove it, the assumption is you’re of the latter category. Fair enough, I say, Americans (and Brits) have done enough to shaft the Middle East many times over to warrant immediate suspicion.

The difference was that in this case, there was – and still is – the evidence to demonstrate very clearly that these guys are not US/Israeli spies and have spent their lives campaigning for justice in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places besides.

It has been a frustrating year for many of Sarah and Shane’s friends (well, at least the ones that I know) who have felt that they haven’t been able to talk about their politics for fear of jeopardising the official campaign. However, following a visit by the mothers of Sarah, Shane and Josh to Iran in May, Shane asked explicitly that we focus on their work for justice in the Middle East.

So that’s what we’re doing now. Along with a bunch of their friends, we’ve released a website with quotes and links to their work. Please visit it and pass it on.

Iran needs to realise that if it really cares about the rights of Palestinians it should release Shane, Sarah and Josh.


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