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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Anti-Zionism in the 21st Century: the struggle continues

Tuesday, 24 January 2012 18:36
The essence of the Palestinian struggle is the battle against Zionism. It is a battle against its racism, against its murderous war crimes, against its insatiable territorial hunger, against its disdain for non-Jewish human rights, and against its devoted attempts to destroy Palestinian national identity. As voices of normalization are on the rise, and social media is invaded by paid pro-Zionist bloggers, there is an increased need for anti-Zionists to draw attention to the crimes committed by 'Israel', and to speak up against the ongoing media silence and the apologist activities of those misleadingly portraying themselves as 'peace doves'. Let us first look briefly at the history of the anti-Zionist struggle, and then see where we stand today.

The battle against the ideology of Zionism

Years before the creation of the state of 'Israel', there was already a full-blown battle going on against Zionism. On one side, the Palestinians were resisting against the usurpation of their land, having grown aware of the far-stretching implications of the Balfour declaration of 1917, which laid the foundation for the mass-immigration of European Jews into Palestine. In those same decades, there was also an ongoing struggle within the Jewish communities in Europe, where many were opposed to the tenets of Zionism either on a religious basis, or on the realization that colonizing an inhabited land would inevitably cause an injustice that would continue to reverberate for many years to come. A famous example of this in that period of time was the famous genius Albert Einstein, who in 1938 already expressed his opposition to the creation of a 'Jewish state', and in a letter to the New York Times that he wrote together with a number of prominent Jews in 1948, strongly denounced the horrendous Deir Yassin massacre.

The ongoing struggle of the Palestinians against Zionism and the continuing expropriation of their land is well-known, but not everyone is aware that within Jewish ranks, true ideological opposition against Zionism still exists. The most well-known group among these is Neturei Karta ('Guardians of the City'), an organization of international Jews united against Zionism. On another note, within the current framework of the Zionist state, a coalition of groups that call themselves 'Campus Watchdogs' recently went as far as labeling 10 % of Israeli academics as 'anti-Zionist'. It is likely that this number is highly overrated, since this McCarthyism-like approach can be expected to have lumped together a wide variety of people who expressed criticism at their government's actions. In a similar way that outside criticism of 'Israel' quickly gets labeled as 'anti-Semitism', many of the one thousand mentioned academics, publicists and journalists are likely to have received the label of 'anti-Zionist' despite adhering to many of Zionism's principles.

Tribal, religious, or ideological struggle?

For some, the ongoing misery is a war between two peoples, basically a 'tribal war'. Others prefer seeing it as a war between religions, with Judaism on one side and Muslims on the other side. Those who adopt this view are ignoring the pluralistic ethnic and religious composition of the Palestinian people, and are for instance ignoring the fact that many Palestinians are Christians, who have not been spared the gruesome fate of their Muslim compatriots. Thirdly, there are those who view the struggle as a battle between ideologies: Zionism on one side, and anti-Zionism on the other.

As the original PLO manifesto (28 May 1964) stated, the organization declared that "Palestine with its boundaries that existed at the time of the British mandate is an integral regional unit"  and that it sought to "prohibit the existence and activity of Zionism". It also contained statements calling for a right of return and self-determination for the Palestinians. When reading the manifesto, it becomes clear that the PLO, the first more officially organized Palestinian movement against the land theft and expulsion committed by the Zionist terrorist organizations that later declared the Zionist state, was an explicitly anti-Zionist movement. The PLO incorporated the various existing political movements in one body, and was declared to be the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. This was widely accepted by an overwhelming majority of Palestinians.

The Oslo disaster

As illustrated above, the foundations of the Palestinian struggle were based on the territorial integrity of Palestine (i.e. the one state solution) and the right of return of all expelled Palestinians. These original foundations became embedded in an entire generation of Palestinians worldwide. In 1993, the leadership under Yaser Arafat adopted the two-state solution instead, which largely happened in a top-down manner and led to the Oslo accords, However, it soon became clear to all that the Oslo accords were only accepted by 'Israel' as a deceptive method to hypnotize the Palestinians as well as the masses of the world into an illusion of Israeli willingness for territorial concessions, while in truth confiscating huge swathes of land, building a separation wall and almost tripling the settler population (from 250,000 to 700,000). It should be no surprise that even early on, as the scam became blatantly clear to all except seemingly to the leadership of the newly created Palestinian Authority, the original tenets of the struggle were yet again embraced by many Palestinians inside of Palestine as well as in the diaspora.

Return to the struggle

As the state of confusion created by the Oslo accords lingered on, some defeatist voices however also turned to normalization, instead of returning to the basics of the struggle. It is not to be wondered at that disillusion and opportunism play their role in such a complex situation, wherein many lose hope when faced with the overwhelming military, economical and strategic dominance of the Zionist state. Nevertheless, youth movements that are currently active in keeping the struggle for Palestinian rights alive, predominantly see anti-normalization as one of their main strategic goals. They adhere to the above-mentioned basic tenets of the struggle, and reject the failed formula of negotiations that is still pursued by the Palestinian Authority, despite its lack of popular mandate for it. For most Palestinians it is blatantly clear, that the so-called 'Peace Process' has only caused damage to their cause and has not brought even the slightest prospects of a better future, let alone of self-determination or independence.

Internationally, pro-Palestinian activists also largely adhere to the basic tenets of the Palestinian struggle, namely the one-state solution and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.  There are other issues as well that are deemed non-negotiable to the majority of Palestinians, such as strong opposition against the Judaization of Jerusalem (Al Quds) which is projected as the future capital of liberated Palestine, and the release of all thousands of Palestinian political prisoners.

There is definitely also a group of 'two-staters', but their numbers are dwindling fast, and they rarely engage in activism since their views are largely represented by the Palestinian Authority. The strongest cure for the fallacy of the two-state solution was seeing the Palestinian side of that solution being gobbled up by the Zionist state over the years, faster than one could issue statements of protest against them.

New shape of the struggle: back to anti-Zionism

It is clear nowadays that the Palestinian Authority is not a useful apparatus for waging any form of struggle, but an administrative body that functions mainly as an extension of the Israeli security apparatus, in a framework inherited directly from the Oslo agreements. This does not mean that the people have stopped struggling. The modern Palestinian struggle has moved towards preferring popular resistance over armed struggle, and employing BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as a main strategy of generating pressure against the Zionist state. What has also changed, is that this struggle has gained large numbers of international supporters all over the world, who support the Palestinians in their pursuit of freedom from Zionist oppression.

These changes have also brought anti-Zionism back to the forefront, and this has far-reaching implications. Whereas a two-state solution almost automatically implies the undertaking of steps towards normalization, since it implies an acceptance of Zionism and relinquishing the claim of 78 % of Palestinian territory to it, a one-state solution which aims to create a state for all of its inhabitants that does not discriminate on the basis of race of religion, requires a strong and uncompromising return to anti-Zionism as a unifying strategy.

Anti-Zionism versus normalization

In a struggle that aims to achieve this, normalization is an extremely damaging concession that can never be combined with the dismantling of Zionism, which is the ultimate goal of its strategy. After all, a struggle against racism cannot be successful if the inherently racist tenets of Zionism are accepted. The 'Oslo-period' has however sown its sorrowful seeds in more places than may directly become apparent. The vast majority of the Arab masses have not accepted Zionism in their midst, but there are stubborn strands of normalization that seem to be enjoying an increasing momentum within 'progressive' ranks of various Arab communities.

Two Egyptian examples can be mentioned in this context. One is Mona Eltahawy, who seems to consider 'Israel' to be a civilized state and refused to condemn the genocidal massacre in Gaza that claimed the lives of 1,400 Palestinians (including at least 300 children) by massive attacks from drones, tanks, Apaches and F-16's - on a population that possesses no bombing shelters or anti-aircraft artillery. Another even more mind-blowing example is Maikel Nabil, an Egyptian blogger who enjoyed wide campaigns for his release when he was arrested for criticizing the SCAF military junta of post-Mubarak Egypt. He expressed his love for Israel on his blog and in Israeli media with an enthusiasm rarely ever seen before in the Arab world. There are other examples too, such as Arab-American comedian Ray Hanania of Palestinian origin, who proclaimed himself a candidate for Palestinian presidency in a video that he posted on Youtube, wherein he called for an acceptance of Israeli settlements, and an end to the Right of Return.

Sucking up to the only Ziocracy in the Middle East

It is true that these examples do not represent the sentiments of the majority of Palestinians and other Arabs, whether in the Arab world or outside of it, but these voices cannot be ignored either. The main reason for this is that voices of normalization like the ones mentioned above often receive disproportionate attention in Western-dominated mass-media, and thereby have a number of insidious destructive effects upon the struggle.

First of all, they make those who are true to the anti-racist struggle against Zionism seem extremist, by offering alternatives that at first sight strike the general public as being more inspired by peaceful motives. This is a distortion of reality: support for 'Israel', the most belligerent state in the Middle East, the only state in the region in possession of (over 300) nuclear arms, and the only 'Ziocracy' where ones ethnic background automatically categorizes one as having less rights than others, can never be truthfully designated as 'peace-loving'.

Secondly, the apparently human inclination of the masses to flock around the famous without delving deeply into their philosophies, brings multitudes of people close to positive truth-distorting evaluations of the Zionist state. For example, progressive Arabs who embrace Mona Eltahawy's feminist activities, are inclined to also automatically defend their idol's views on 'Israel', simply because they are already in a state of adoration of her person. Another example involves Maikel Nabil: when progressive activists rallied for him due to his unjust incarceration by SCAF, his shocking pro-Israel views seemed to be lumped together with his anti-SCAF views under the label of 'freedom of speech', effectively paving the way for the perceived 'right' of Egyptians to view 'Israel' in an undeservingly positive and gruesomely distorted loving manner.

Continued efforts: the struggle goes on

The true and original struggle of the Palestinians is a struggle against Zionism, and this is entirely incompatible with the views mentioned above. Normalization must therefore be opposed, vocally, directly, loudly and clearly. There is definitely a need for increased activity on this front, since anti-normalization and BDS do not enjoy the support of mass media, unlike the voices of normalization.

If this means that these voices need to be confronted even on a personal level, then so be it. It may not be a pleasant thing to do, and some might argue that it distracts from calling attention to the continuing atrocities that the Zionist state is inflicting on a daily basis upon the defenseless Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. However, as has been argued in the article "Anti-normalization: an necessary part of BDS campaigning", calling attention to these injustices will remain highly ineffective if the public is simultaneously exposed by mass media to Arab voices that aim to paint a misleading image of 'Israel' as if it were a beacon of civilization, and a saviour for mankind.

In other words: if you value BDS and wish it to be effective, and if you believe in opposing the racist ideology of Zionism, one of your tasks is also to confront those who suck up to power for their own personal gain. And since their number is increasing, it looks like you have work to do.

Extremist Jews Destroy Graves in Islamic Cemetery, Says Group

Date : 25/1/2012   Time : 15:27

BISAN, January 25, 2012 (WAFA) -  Al -Aqsa Institute for Waqf and Heritage revealed Wednesday that several  extremist Jews destroyed  a large number of tombstones in Bisan Cemetery, north of Israel, according to a press release by the institute.
A delegation from the institute went on an inspection visit to the cemetery and found out that a large number of graves and tombstones were destroyed by extremist Jews.
“The extremist Jews seek to obliterate what is left of Islamic landmarks in the city,” said deputy of the institute Sami Rizqallah.

Israeli Authorities Tell Palestinian his House will be Demolished

Date : 26/1/2012   Time : 12:32
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JENIN, January 26, 2012 (WAFA) – The Israeli military authorities Thursday informed a Palestinian from Ya’bad, a village southwest of the northern West Bank city of Jenin, that the house he was building will be demolished, according to the house owner.
Othman Abu Obaid told WAFA that the planning department of the Israeli military authorities handed him a notice to stop the construction work on his 130 square meter house, which is adjacent to Mabo Dotan, a Jewish settlement built on Ya’bad land, under the pretext the house was located in area C, which is under full Israeli control.
They also handed him a notice to demolish a 60-cubic-meter water tank, which was built with a Norwegian fund.

California professor under attack for opposing "study in Israel" scheme

25 January 2012
Palestine solidarity activism on US campuses continues to grow despite attacks by Israel lobby groups.
(Maureen Clare Murphy / The Electronic Intifada)
A mathematics professor at the California State University at Northridge is the target of an attack campaign by various pro-Israel lobby groups and individuals because he maintains a website that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and for his outspoken criticism of Israeli policies.

Recently, Dr. David Klein has come under fire for organizing in opposition to the 23-campus-wide California State University (CSU) system’s resumption of a study abroad program in Israel, which was discontinued in 2002 because of a US State Department warning on travel to the region during the second Palestinian intifada.

In an open letter delivered to to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed last month, Klein — along with the signatures of more than 80 CSU faculty and staff members, and dozens of students statewide — urged the CSU administration to not reinstate the study abroad program.

In addition to an explanation of the historic injuring and killing of US citizens — including university students — by Israeli soldiers during unarmed protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the letter states that CSU students interested in this study abroad program “could face discriminatory treatment, based on race and ethnicity” (“An open letter to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed regarding the CSU-Israel study abroad program”).

It is well-known that at border crossings and the airport, Israel discriminates against — as well as regularly detains and deports — US citizens with Middle Eastern ancestry, or Arabic or Muslim names.

The US State Department’s travel warning explicitly states that Palestinian-American dual citizens — persons who were born in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and have become naturalized US citizens — “are considered by the Israeli government to retain their Palestinian nationality, and Israeli authorities will view them as Palestinians.”

The travel warning adds, “Palestinian-Americans whom the Government of Israel considers residents of the West Bank or Gaza may face certain travel restrictions. These individuals are subject to restrictions on movement between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and within the West Bank and Gaza that are imposed by the Israeli government on all Palestinians” (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: Country-specific information).

However, despite the open letter, the inherent discrimination within the Israeli study abroad program itself, and enormous statewide budget cuts that have eviscerated educational resources, the CSU administration announced in mid-December that it was “pleased to announce the re-opening of its program in Israel starting Fall 2012” (“Israel: Overview”).

The program will be hosted at the University of Haifa, making it nearly impossible for Palestinian CSU students who were born in the West Bank or Gaza to attend.

Already four CSU students are currently enrolled for the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Daily 49er, the campus newspaper of CSU-Long Beach (“Israel program back after safety concerns,” 23 January 2012).

Continuation of a disturbing trend on US campuses


Klein, a longtime human rights activist, told The Electronic Intifada that he worked with popular solidarity committees in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s, and also confronted Ku Klux Klansmen in rural Louisiana. But it was Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09 that spiked his interest in Palestinian rights. Klein began a website on his own CSU-Northridge faculty page to bring attention to what was happening in Palestine, and it has since become an in-depth resource for the growing, international Palestinian-led BDS movement.

In addition to hosting the website, Klein also joined the organizing committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and is a faculty advisor for the local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at CSU-Northridge.

Since beginning his Palestine solidarity and BDS activism work, Klein has faced aggressive slander and threats by anti-Palestinian individuals and Israeli lobby groups who have called him and his website “anti-Semitic” (“Sample hate mail, opposition, and expressions of racism in response to the open letter to CSU Chancellor Reed and this website”).

Some of the most vicious attacks levelled against him personally, he said, include those by two faculty members at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz and UC Los Angeles who have founded the Amcha Initiative, a project which aims “to inform the Jewish community about the efforts made by Jewish students and faculty to combat anti-Jewish bigotry on California campuses.”

The two professors boast on the Amcha website that they have launched the “Investigative Taskforce on Campus Antisemitism” and have filed complaints with the UC system claiming “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish discourse and behavior in classrooms, [and] at university-sponsored events” (About us).

However, just recently, a California court and a University of California official disagreed with these types of claims. In late December, the court dismissed a lawsuit brought by students at UC Berkeley who claimed that they faced anti-Semitism on campus. The court determined the plaintiffs could not provide evidence to support their allegations.

Following on the heels of the lawsuit dismissal, a major announcement was made last week by University of California President Mark Yudof — an ardent supporter of Israeli policy — who, as Ali Abunimah reported for The Electronic Intifada, denied claims that Jewish students on UC campuses “face a climate of hostility that amounts to a violation of their civil rights, due to Palestine solidarity activism.”

Referring to two civil rights complaints at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz — where Amcha’s members have alleged that Jewish students face “intellectual and emotional harassment and intimidation” as a result of classroom discussions and on-campus events — Yudof stated: “These cases have to be carefully crafted with a fact pattern that is compelling. I don’t think in either of these cases these fact patterns exist” (College leaders balance Israel and speech,” The Forward, 17 January 2012).

Despite their inability to prove that a frightening culture of anti-Semitism exists on UC and CSU campuses, members of anti-Palestinian groups such as Campus Watch, Amcha and the nationwide academic watchdog group euphemistically called Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) have not relented in their mission to conflate anti-Semitism with Palestine solidarity activism or academic discussions on Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

The larger issue for the pro-Israel groups is that they don’t want to allow the criticism of Israel to be public if they can stop it,” Klein explained. “On a level playing field, in a debate or in a situation where all facts can be aired, they would lose. So the only way to win is to silence debate.”

Open debate: “breaking the rules” of academic freedom?


Dr. Lisa Rofel, a cultural anthropology professor at UC Santa Cruz, told The Electronic Intifada that she was subjected to harassment by Amcha and SPME after organizing on-campus events related to Palestine and critical analysis of Zionism. A member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Rofel said that she was brought up on charges three times by Israel lobby groups who claimed that she “broke the rules of academic freedom by talking about politics on campus.”

Rofel said that the chancellor’s lawyer on campus disagreed with the claims, so she was then brought up on the same charges to the university’s committee on academic freedom, who told the Israel lobbyists that they had no case and to stop harassing her.

They were then very unhappy,” Rofel said. “Then, someone who’s a big supporter of Israel went to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and managed to get anti-Semitism [categorized] as a racial discrimination.”

It’s very disturbing to me to define Jewish identity as a racial identity, because that’s what Hitler did,” Rofel added. “But you have to define it this way to claim anti-Semitism, and the whole point is that they’re trying to bring up a charge of anti-Semitic discrimination on campus with the Department of Education against those of us who put on these events, and against the university administration who didn’t do anything to stop it.”

The Israel lobby’s threats and intimidation tactics against other US professors have worked — and some academics have been punished for holding open discussions on Israeli policies. Dr. Terri Ginsberg, who was denied tenure at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2008, has been subjected to academic censorship efforts by Israeli lobby groups and has been subsequently blacklisted for other faculty positions. She is now embroiled in legal proceedings in her ongoing fight against censorship and intimidation.

In an interview with The Electronic Intifada in December, Ginsberg said that NCSU admitted that it openly suppressed a speech of hers which was “critical of Zionism and supportive of the Palestine liberation struggle” and that the university “chose not to interview or hire” her for a tenure-track position because of her scholarship on Palestine and the Middle East.

In reference to Ginsberg’s ongoing struggle, Rofel said she feels that the administration at UC Santa Cruz isn’t as susceptible to Israeli lobby attacks, and she feels generally supported.

[The university] has protected me in terms of not finding me guilty of any charges related to violations of academic freedom,” Rofel said. “And I feel very lucky to be on this campus, because [what happened to Ginsberg] would not happen here.”

An imperative time for universities to support faculty, students


Back at CSU-Northridge, Klein said that like Rofel, his university’s administration has been protective of him and has supported his activism under the banner of academic freedom. He added that there has not yet been any indication that his website nor tenured position are in jeopardy.

However, even after the CSU system reinstated the Israel study abroad program last month, Klein said the attacks on him by outside lobby groups and individuals have not quelled, and the demands to take down his website are still unrelenting.

Klein told The Electronic Intifada that he believes there is “a great deal of coordination” among various Zionist and Israeli lobby groups, but it is Amcha’s targeted attacks in particular that have been most troublesome.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith, the founding members of Amcha, “have been beating the drums the hardest, demanding that the university take down my website,” Klein said.

And now, since the university has supported my website as an expression of academic freedom, now they’re attacking the university administration,” he added. “The acting president, Harry Hellenbrand, is a signer of the open letter [against the reinstatement of the Israel study abroad program], and they’re attacking him for that, and they’re going to the chancellor.”

US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) organizing committee members Sunaina Maira, professor of Asian American studies at UC Davis, and Nada Elia, professor of Global and Gender Studies at Antioch University in Seattle, told The Electronic Intifada by email that the attempts to censor Klein run against the very idea of academic freedom and open discussion in university classrooms. Maira said that the viciousness of the attacks on Klein “betray a desperation to shut down free and honest debate and to exceptionalize the case of Israel.”

Professor Klein is a courageous and conscientious scholar who has chosen not to remain silent in the face of egregious violations of international law and overt racial discrimination in Israel,” Maira added.

As a principled Jewish American scholar, he has worked with students and colleagues to oppose a program that would legitimize an illegal occupation and discriminatory policies, which the Brand Israel campaign would like the world to ignore, in the face of growing global condemnation and international outrage,” she said.
Elia said that the Israeli lobby’s attempts to excoriate the cultural and academic boycott movement against Israeli institutions and describe it as an effort that violates, not protects, academic freedom should be carefully examined.

We should be very clear about the fact that the Palestinian call for boycotting Israeli institutions which are complicit in the occupation is not a violation of academic freedom — it is a means to an end, a strategy to achieve the academic freedom that currently does not exist in Israel and Palestine, and is seriously jeopardized in the US,” she stated.

As of press time, more than 860 persons have signed on to a public petition (penned by his colleagues at USACBI) demanding that the California State University system — and, specifically, CSU Chancellor Reed — defend David Klein and not capitulate to the lobby’s demands that his website be taken down, nor should he be subjected to academic punishment (“Sign petition in support of Dr. David Klein and academic freedom here”).

Along with public support, Klein said he’s optimistic about the support from within the university itself. “So far, the administration is standing with me,” he explained. “Hopefully it’ll be representative of a paradigm shift.”

Klein said that now, more than ever, is an imperative time for universities to stand by their faculty and students. In addition to the attacks on academics like Terri Ginsberg and Norman Finkelstein, ten Muslim students at UC Irvine last fall were charged and convicted by the Orange County District Attorney’s office with disrupting a public meeting for their protest of the Israeli ambassador’s speech on campus.

[It sets] an important precedent,” Klein said, referring to his case. “It’s a precedent for a faculty member to be able to post criticisms of Israel and Israeli policy on a website. So if the current situation stands and I’m allowed to continue to do that, it immediately opens doors for other faculty in the 23 other state university systems. But it would also have positive effects for the other university systems as well.”

While well-funded Israel lobby groups attempt — and fail — to prove that a pandemic of anti-Semitism exists on college campuses, student activism in support of Palestinian rights continues to strengthen.

Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine — with growing chapters across California and the rest of the US — are more determined than ever to press forward with divestment initiatives and creative protests against Israeli apartheid policies.

I can’t put my finger on it but I feel that worldwide, there’s a shift in the last couple of years where there’s a greater opening to criticize Israel and the policies that Israel imposes on the Palestinian people,” Klein said.

Lisa Rofel of UC Santa Cruz said that although she’s less optimistic than her colleague about a general paradigm shift, she knows that it’s important to analyze the reasons why Israel lobby groups are spending so much time and effort attempting to censor discussion.

She told The Electronic Intifada: “The activities of people who are trying to silence us are very worrisome, because they’re so anti-democratic, so rigid. If they’re so convinced about the rightness of their position, then they shouldn’t worry about open debate.”

Nora Barrows-Friedman is an award-winning independent journalist, and is a staff writer and editor for The Electronic Intifada. She also writes for Inter Press Service, Al Jazeera, Truthout and other outlets, and regularly reports from Palestine.

"We won’t be silenced," say students arrested over Peres boycott call

24 January 2012
Khalil Gharra (
Three Palestinian students at the College of Engineering in Jerusalem (JCE) have been put under house arrest for a week and instructed not to contact any of their peers for using the social media website Facebook to urge a boycott of a speech by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

A couple of weeks ago, students received a message from the college authorities, notifying them of a visit by Peres scheduled for 10 January. The message emphasized that attendance during Peres’ speech was “compulsory.”

Three Palestinian students then posted on the college’s Facebook page that they would not attend the speech and asked others to follow suit. In response almost all the Palestinian students of the college boycotted the speech.
Following the event, the three students who urged the boycott were called for an interrogation at an Israeli police station. They were accused of threatening other students, as well as racism. They were then put under house arrest for a week, outside Jerusalem, and were instructed not to contact other students.

Intense debate”

Khalil Gharra, one of the three targeted students, told The Electronic Intifada, “There was an intense debate on the Facebook page of the college’s first year students between students who rejected the college’s policy regarding the compulsory attendance of Peres’ speech and others who supported it.”

He added, “The debate revolved around the commitment of the students to the decision of the college, and around how the college should not be forcing students to attend a lecture delivered by a ‘political symbol.’ This act contravened the students’ freedom of expression. Within this context, I expressed my opinion, saying that I wouldn’t attend the lecture. And I advised others to do the same.”

Gharra added that another debate is now taking place on Facebook regarding the punishments that the police imposed on him and his friends. He said that many Palestinian students have protested over the case, and have expressed their support for the targeted students.

Referring to his interrogation, Gharra said: “An officer from a police station in the Talpiot area in Jerusalem contacted me more than once and asked me to go immediately to the police station to be interrogated in a case that I knew nothing about. I refused to do so as these kind of invitations are illegal. The next day I received a printed invitation to my room in the students’ dorms.”

According to Gharra, the letter stated, “If you do not arrive to the station immediately, we will come and arrest you in the late hours of the night.”

At the station he was told that he was accused of threatening behavior and of incitement to racism. Ghara said, “I denied all the charges against me. Later the interrogator consulted other interrogators and officers who are in charge of the case, and he decided that I should be deported from Jerusalem and that I’m not allowed to contact any student till 25 January. Moreover, he decided to put me under house arrest until 21 January.”

Political persecution”


Ghara argued that this specific case should not be viewed separately from other restrictions on Palestinian student activism in Israeli universities. He said, “It’s clear to me from the investigation’s course that the case is about political persecution. However, they won’t stop us from our political activism. I won’t bend to the policy of repression that the police and the intelligence are practicing on Arab students. Our activism is legal and it’s our right to organize and express our opinion.”

Alaa Mahajna, the students’ lawyer, also argued that the case is not criminal but political. He said, “The students are suspected of threatening and incitement to racism following Shimon Peres’ speech. However, Peres is a controversial political figure, some consider him to be responsible for murdering more than a hundred innocent people during the Qana massacre [in Lebanon] in 1996, when he was the prime minister of Israel. The argument about whether to attend or boycott the speech was conducted through the public sphere — Facebook — where everyone could express his or her opinion. As a lawyer, I don’t see any legal basis for the suspicions against the students.”

These legal actions are part of the whole process of political persecution, which aims to shut down the voice of the Palestinian students in Israeli universities,” he added.

Palestinian students in the college are organizing a petition to express their support for the targeted students, emphasizing their right to protest.

Moreover, the Palestinian students association at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem released a statement condemning the violation of the right to free expression. The association also confirmed the importance of boycotting Israelis who are involved in war crimes, referring to Peres’ role in the Qana massacre.

Yara Sa’di is a postgraduate student and activist from Haifa.