Category Archives: Middle East

1970: “A negative image of Yasser Arafat”

Photographer Jeff Blankfort remembers Sheila having private criticisms about the leadership of the P.L.O. that she was reluctant to share:

Re the Palestinian question, on my first trip to the Middle East in 1970 with the two founders of Liberation News Service, Sheila Ryan and George Cavelleto, we generally had a negative image of Yasser Arafat, but felt, at the time, that it was not our business to be deciding who should lead the Palestinian people, particularly when most Americans knew little about the Palestinians in the first place.

He later felt that Sheila’s Palestine Solidarity Committee was too closely aligned with the P.L.O.

When I returned, I focused on support for the Palestinian people’s rights as opposed to support for the PLO, but was ready to and did work with representatives of all the Palestinian groups in the Bay Area.

When Steve Zeltzer and I founded the Labor Committee on the Middle East, in response to the failure of the Palestine Solidarity Committee to relate to that important issue, and its unwillingness to criticize the Histadrut (the Israeli Labor Federation) among a number of its failings, and became, despite our relatively small numbers, the most active group campaigning for Palestinian rights, we still maintained our distance from Arafat.

— From a posting to the change-links mailing list by Jeff Blankfort, Nov 28, 2000, archived at Yahoo Groups.

1975-1982: Palestine Solidarity Committee

From 1975 through about 1982 or so, Sheila led the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a pro-Palestinian organization in New York City.

(In the mid 1980s, years after the PSC shut down, the name Palestine Solidarity Committee was adopted by an unrelated group, the November 29th Committee for Palestine, which was associated with the Workers World Party, but despite some surface similarities, the two groups were unrelated.)

1976 Congressional Report: “Extremist Organizations”

This paranoid report to Congress makes Sheila a member of a far-flung conspiracy to destroy America, run by the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee and the Weatherman faction of SDS:

The Palestine Solidarity Committee, which was established in November 1975, is run by PFOC activitists George Cavaletto and Sheila Ryan. They operate this organization from a post office box in Manhattanville Station, New York. Cavaletto was a member of the Weatherman faction of SDS. He was identified by the Flint, Mich. Police Department as having been in attendance at the Weatherman “War Council” in Flint, Mich. in December 1969. He visited Havana in July 1969, presumably to meet with representatives of the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese. Ryan, who had also been active in the Weatherman faction of SDS, was one of the first members to visit Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade. Ryan and Cavaletto both spent a year in Jordan and Lebanon writing propaganda articles for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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Claremont Research and Publications

From 1978 to 1989, Sheila worked with George on Claremont Research and Publications.

Claremont Research ran a clipping service called Mideast Press Report that collected press reports about the Middle East, indexed and summarized them, and sent out a binder full of photocopies each week to interested subscribers. As the Institute for Palestine Studies described it:

… articles from over 80 publications, including the major US, European, Israeli and Arab English-language press … are contained in Mideast Press Report, a weekly clipping service of Claremont Research and Publications in New York.

Claremont Research also published a monthly news magazine called Update: Mideast, and several books, including one by Noam Chomsky.

Sheila wrote the news analysis section of Update: Mideast every month, as well as a weekly news analysis for subscribers of the Mideast Press Report.

Every week she would read through hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles clippings about the region, come up with a mental synthesis of what it all meant, and sit down at her Selectric typewriter and bang out several pages that coherently summarized everything that had been reported that week, just in time for her report to be photocopied and express-shipped to various organizations and international clients who relied on this service to stay abreast of how their region was being described in global news reports.

As one example, the Iraqi National Library in Baghdad had a subscription for a while, although when they re-indexed their remaining holdings after the chaos and destruction of the war, they seem to have only retained a dozen or so issues from 1981:

Iraqi-National-Archive

1978: Protest Against the Camp David Accords

In November, 1978, the PLO Information Bulletin reported on a PSC-led protest rally at the United Nations. Sheila is quoted as the rally’s organizer, and is shown in the second picture, holding the “No to the Camp David Pact; Yes to Palestinian National Rights.” banner.

PROTEST RALLY IN NEW YORK AGAINST CAMP DAVID

NY Palestine demo

Demonstrators against the Camp David accords delivered messages to the U.S., Israeli and Egyptian missions to the United Nations during a protest march in New York City on September 23. The messages criticized the pact for ignoring the central issue in the Mideast conflict, the Palestinian national question, and declared that this question can only be solved by realization of Palestinian national rights.

The demonstrators protested in particular the role of U.S. President Jimmy Carter in the negotiations; the marchers chanted “Carter, your Camp David Pact won’t bring peace and that’s a fact.” In banners, placards and speeches they demanded that the U.S. government stop its aid to Israel.

The march began with a rally in front of the United Nations, where Hassan Abdul Rahman of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s U.N. office told some 200 demonstrators that only the PLO represents the Palestinian people, and that peace is not possible until the people have their national rights.

NY Palestine demo

Pro-Palestinian Demonstration in New York

Sheila Ryan, speaking for the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which organized the event in coordination with Arab community groups, declared that if Carter were genuinely interested in peace in the Middle East, he would stop U.S. aid to Israel and arms shipments to the region. “Carter is a false prophet of peace,” Ryan said. “This is not a peace but a pact for a new kind of war against the Palestinian people.”

The demonstrators bore Palestinian flags and colorful banners, including one proclaiming, “No to the Camp David Pact; Yes to Palestinian National Rights.” As they marched through crowds of Saturday shoppers the protestors chanted, “Carter, Carter, we’re no fools: Sadat and Begin are your tools.”

— From “Protests Rally In New York Against Camp David“, Palestine: P.L.O. Information Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 19, Nov 1, 1978. (Screenshot) Archived by New Jersey Solidarity–Activists for the Liberation of Palestine.

1979: The Colonial Exploitation of Occupied Palestine

Sheila wrote a book chapter on the economics of the Israeli occupation:

Zionism, Imperialism and Racism

“The Colonial Exploitation of Occupied Palestine : a study of the transformation of the economies of the West Bank and Gaza”, by Sheila Ryan, in Zionism, Imperialism, and Racism, ed. A.W. Kayyali, Croom Helm (London), 1979.

This research was cited in a Village Voice front-page article:

Middle Eastern Bantustan

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1979: Palestine Solidarity Committee Protest

Sheila led these protests every summer for several years:

Sunday, June 3, 1979
By Ruth Landa, Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: NEW YORK

Celebration of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was an underlying theme of the 15th annual Salute to Israel parade Sunday in which some 75,000 persons sang and danced up Fifth Avenue.

Mayor Edward I. Koch, City Council President Carol Bellamy and other city officials led the costumed paraders up the avenue, marching to the theme song from “Exodus” and waving to observers who lined the street despite intermittent rain.

But several blocks downtown, the peace treaty signed on March 26 was denounced by the Palestine Solidarity Committee which staged its own rally and marched uptown on other avenues in protest.

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1980: Reporting on Settlement Expansion

Sheila contributed on-the-ground reporting from Palestine as Israeli settlements were expanded:

To the east of Jerusalem a much more serious venture has been taking shape in the form of the Ma’ale Adumim Block which is “targeted to become a major residential and industrial complex which will complete the encirclement of Jerusalem”, and which, when completed, “will extend the municipality eastward more than eight miles towards the floor of the Jordanian Valley” (see eye-witness account of Sheila Ryan and George Cavalletto, “Israeli Settlements in West Bank and Gaza”, as reproduced in a supplement to Palestine:, dated September, 1980, pp. 9-17; quotation from p. 10).

— From the Report of The Fourth United Nations Seminar on the Question of Palestine, “The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people“, 31 August – 4 September 1981, Havana

1981: Palestine Solidarity Committee Protest

In 1981, the New York Times covered a PSC protest held adjacent to the annual New York City parade for the foundation of the state of Israel:

In a message from Israel, Prime Minister Menachem Begin appealed to Israel’s supporters not to allow any retaliatory actions against his country for destroying the Iraqi reactor. …

The crowd, which included marchers from 100 groups and thousands who lined the avenue to cheer them, applauded the Prime Minister’s statement.

The appeal was mocked at a counterdemonstration sponsored by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee attended by some 100 people nearby in Central Park . ”The Salute to Israel parade is a salute to racism, colonialism and repression,” said one banner held aloft there. ”Stop U.S. Aid to Israel,” said another. …

The Palestinian rally in Central Park off Fifth Avenue and 97th Street was called ”A Teach-In on Avoiding War in the Middle East.” Sheila Ryan, an organizer of the teach-in, said that her group’s aim was to ”stop the continuing flow of weapons to the Middle East.” She said this included Israel and Arab nations.

— From “Parade For Israel Reflects Fears Over Reactor Raid“, by Ari Goldman, New York Times, June 15, 1981.

1981: Return to Lebanon

In 1981, Sheila returned to the Middle East again for more research and reporting.

She entered Lebanon via a ferry from Cypress to the Phalange-controlled area, and then taking a series of taxi rides to reach the Palestinian areas near Beirut.

During this time she was pregnant, and she would made the local women laugh by replying to their customary saying of “Inshallah walid” (God willing, it’ll be a boy) by saying “Inshallah bent” (God willing, a girl) and explaining that she already had four sons. Her wishes were granted when Caitlin was born that November.

1982-1983: Emergency Committee on Lebanon

In 1982, Sheila helped to organize the National Emergency Committee on Lebanon in response to the Israeli invasion.

The Emergency Committee had an office in midtown and three staff people: Sheila, Nubar Hovsepian (then the Political Affairs Officer for the UN Conference on the Question of Palestine) and Stuart Schaar (a history professor at Brooklyn College).

The Emergency Committee was a broad coalition established on June 24 in opposition to the Israeli invasion, whose first action was organizing a demonstration against the invasion in New York on July 10.

The coalition included diverse voices in an effort to shift the debate:

A rabbi and two Christian clergymen from the New York area yesterday jointly denounced Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli military forces. … The forum was a news conference held by the newly formed National Emergency Committee on Lebanon. The conference was held at the United Nations Church Center at 777 First Avenue.

— From “Rabbi and 2 Christian Clerics Denounce Invasion“, by William G. Blair, New York Times, July 1, 1982.

… a July 1982 leaflet prepared for a rally, sponsored by the National Emergency Committee on Lebanon, to demand that Israel get out of Lebanon and for an end to American arms sales to Israel…

The National Emergency Committee on Lebanon, formed in June 1982 to call for withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, no American arms to Israel and no US troops in the Mideast, also called for US talks with the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and American pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land. The executive committee included Larry Ekin of the United Methodist Church office at the UN, Sara Flounders of the People’s Anti-War Mobilization, Jawad George of the Palestine Congress of North America, Sandy Pollack of the USPC, Gail Pressberg of AFSC, Stuart Schaar of Jews Against the Israeli Massacre, Mountir Zahr, a supporter of the Lebanese Movement, and Jacki Gelb of MFS.

— From Far Left of Center: The American Radical Left Today, by Harvey Klehr, Transaction Publishers, 1988, pp. 155-156.

The committee helped report on the scale of the invasion by summarizing the available body-count figures in “The 1982 Israeli Invasion of Lebanon: the Casualties”, by National Emergency Committee on Lebanon, Race & Class, Vol. 24, No. 4. (Spring 1983): pp 340-342. (SAGE)

It also assembled background information, like “Lebanon, the Palestinians and the PLO: a profile”, by National Emergency Committee on Lebanon, Race and Class, Vol. 24 No. 4, (1983 April) pp 327-334.

It published a booklet “The Human Tragedy in Lebanon”, based on an address delivered at the Riverside Church by Christopher Giannou on August 11, 1982.

It organized teach-ins about the invasion:

THE CONTINUING CRISIS IN LEBANON.
TEACH-IN, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 21, noon-9.
Hunter College Theater, 69th & Park.
Films-Slides-Eyewitness Accounts.
SPEAKERS INCLUDE EQBAL AHMAD, ALEXANDER COCKBURN, DR. CHRIS GIANNOU, YAACOV PIPMAN, EDWARD SAID, ELLEN SIEGEL, ZVI ZORES.
Adm. $5, $4.
For more info, contact National Emergency Committee on Lebanon. Phone: 382-1597.

— Advertised in the Columbia Spectator, November 19, 1982.

AIPAC was dismissive:

Some of these groups were merely new guises for longtime pro-PLO activists. For example, the coordinator of the National Emergency Committee on Lebanon, Sheila Ryan, also heads the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a New York-based group long supportive of the PLO.

— From The Campaign to Discredit Israel, by Amy Kaufman Goott and Steven Rosen, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, 1983

This was apparently enough for the city of Portland, OR to open a police file on the committee, although nothing substantive ever came of it.

1982-1985: Appearing on WBAI

Sheila appeared on a number of radio programs in the early eighties, including these:

THURSDAY / 16 … 9:00 THE MIDDLE EAST REPORT. An update of regional events. With Sheila Ryan.

— From the “WBAI Folio” for December 1982.

Middle East Report / A. Walker | RECORDED: September 15, 1983. – CONTENT: INTERVIEWER: Sheila Ryan| INTERVIEWEE: Israel Shahak, Chairperson of the Israeli League for Civil and Human Rights. Talks about the implications of transition from the governments of Menachem Begin to that of Yitzak Shamir, Foreign Minister and Israel Cabinet.

— From a 1/4″ tape reel catalog entry at the Pacifica Radio Archives.

TUES 20 … 7:30 PRAXIS. An examination of changing social, political and economic institutions in the Middle East and Asia. Presented by Stuart Schaar and Sheila Ryan.

— From the “WBAI Folio” for March 1984.

RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Wednesday, November 27 at 9 PM
Religious fundamentali.sm — Islamic, Jewish, and Christian — has become a significant taaor in Mideast politics. This program explores what tensions in the various scxieties have given rise to this phenomenon, and what effect fundamentalist movements are having on that volatile region. Produced by Sheila Ryan, Nubar Housepian, and Stuart Scharr.

— From the “WBAI Folio” for November 1985.

1983: Book Reviews for “Race and Class”

Sheila wrote the April 1983 book review column for the journal “Race and Class”:

Race and Class, April 1983

Race and Class (SAGE Publications): Ryan, S., (1983 April) Book reviews : The Battle of Beirut: why Israel invaded Lebanon. By MARTIN JANSEN (London, Zed Press, 1982). 142 pages. £4.50. ‘Lebanon Eyewitness’, By MARTIN PERETZ in The New Republic (2 August 1982). ‘J’Accuse’ By NORMAN PODHORETZ in Commentary (September 1982). ‘Lebanon: the case for the war’ By ROBERT W. TUCKER in Commentary (October 1982). 24 (4), 485-493

1983: Part of a Left-Wing Church Network

This anti-communist screen from the 1990s perpetuates the inaccuracy that Sheila had been in the Weather Underground:

In 1983 the 60 minutes news program aired a segment by Morley Safer reporting on the support the NCC [National Council of Churches] has given to left-wing causes around the world… The Methodist Church was funding the Palestine Liberation Organization through its support groups in this country including the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Middle East Resource Center reportedly directed by Sheila Ryan, a former member of the Weather Underground.

— From “Anti-Americanism: Irrational and Rational“, by Paul Hollander, Transaction Publishers (1995)

Anti-Americanism, Irrational & Rational, p 117

Writing for Journal of Palestine Studies

During the 1980s, Sheila also wrote for the Journal of Palestine Studies, published by Kuwait University:

The War in Lebanon- Special Issue- Journal of Palestine Studies

 

(Available on Amazon)

 

You Can’t Tell a Terrorist By the Cover Of Her Book

One of Sheila’s book titles prompted a airport-security profiling incident in 1986:

Rema Simon, a 23-year-old citizen of Massachusetts, is of French and Lebanese descent. She works in the Massachusetts State Legislature’s Social Law Library. But on the evening of May 1, she was in Ft. Lauderdale, about to end her vacation and take a Delta Airlines flight back to Boston.

Having passed the usual security check, Simon was on board, waiting for the plane to take off and reading a book, “Palestine Is, but Not in Jordan.” Looking up, she saw a man “carrying a walkie-talkie. He said, ‘Miss, could you please come with me? I have to talk to you.’ ” She followed him off the plane. “We stood outside the door of the aircraft,” she said. “Several flight attendants and airline or airport personnel stood around us.”

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