Students Fight University Sanctions After Protesting Israeli Soldiers
Students are fighting back against a series of sanctions imposed on them by the University of California, Irvine (UCI) as punishment for chanting and clapping during a campus event with Israeli soldiers in May.
Administrators launched an investigation into Students for Justice in Palestine following the protest, even though members of the group say that they were the ones who endured days of harassment, including sexual slurs and racist intimidation, by the Israeli soldiers who were invited to give a talk about the Israeli army.
The students believe the harassment was an attempt to provoke a reaction.
In late August, UCI found the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine responsible for “disruption” and sanctioned the group with two years of probation, 12 mandatory meetings with a dean to discuss free speech, and a requirement to meet with university officials two weeks before hosting or co-hosting an event, according to Palestine Legal.
In those pre-event meetings, students will be expected to discuss how SJP is allowed to respond and will be mandated to review the university’s protocols and policies.
The students filed an appeal against the university’s sanctions on 31 August.
Cyberbullying and death threats
“It’s outrageous that the university is punishing us, students, instead of protecting us from aggressive foreign military agents on campus,” said Daniel Carnie, a student who was amongst those targeted by the Israeli soldiers.
In addition to asking the Israeli soldiers critical questions, Carnie said, the students “started chanting in response to a member of the soldiers’ group lunging toward a Palestinian student, waving her hands, screaming and shoving another student before being physically restrained.”
“We were scared, and the administrators did not intervene, so we spontaneously erupted in a chant. We are appealing this unfair decision,” Carnie added.
Following the protest, students say they have faced cyberbullying, including death threats, harassment over social media and a website that lists students’ names, phone numbers and personal addresses with sniper targets on their faces, reports Palestine Legal.
The university has so far ignored such threats against the students, as well as the harassment by the Israeli soldiers leading up to the May event, the legal group adds.
UC Irvine has been a focal point for Israel advocacy groups seeking to categorize support for Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic.
Documents obtained by Palestine Legal through a freedom of information request show that over the last year, Israel advocacy organizations have consistently pressured the UC Irvine administration to crack down on Palestine activism.
In early July, a letter authored by the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a right-wing Zionist lawfare group, along with two Israel lobby groups, Students Supporting Israel and StandWithUs, was sent to UCI officials pressuring the university to “pursue the prosecution” of the protesters and “discipline” SJP.
The letter, seen by The Electronic Intifada, urges the university to criminalize the protesters under California Penal Code 403, which describes the breaking up of an event as a misdemeanor – a law which was used to investigate, prosecute and convict students in 2011 who protested a speech by Israel’s then ambassador to the US, Michael Oren.
The students, known as the Irvine 11, were subjected to a year-long criminal investigation, and a jury trial resulting in a guilty verdict.
“At UCI, this is just the latest episode in an ongoing history of draconian administrative and criminal responses to what should be protected political speech,” Liz Jackson of Palestine Legal told The Electronic Intifada. “In that sense, this is nothing new.”
However Jackson explained that UCI’s punishment of students in this way is “a serious escalation” of events over the last two years in which the university has expanded its definition of “punishable disruption.”
Last year, the administration punished SJP “for being too loud in a protest that occurred outside an event,” Jackson said.
“This year, they are punishing students for clapping and chanting spontaneously – and that chanting happened only after a physical assault occurred in the room,” she noted.
Jackson added that the students not being allowed to “clap in unison” or be “too loud” in speaking is an expansion of the definition of punishable disruption, “and that’s violating students’ First Amendment rights in that the university doesn’t like the viewpoint of their speech.”
Jackson pointed out the hypocrisy of lecturing students on free speech “in the same breath that the university is violating students’ First Amendment rights by punishing them for using their free speech.”
Levying these serious bureaucratic sanctions against SJP sets the group up to fail and acquiesces to Israel lobby groups that are demanding that UCI ban the group, Jackson said.
“They didn’t outright suspend SJP as a club or take away its club status, but instead they gave them a bureaucratic requirement that is extremely difficult to meet, for anyone,” she said.
“And then [SJP faces] the looming consequence that if they don’t comply with the sanctions, they will face further increased sanctions. So it appears to be a clear step in the direction of banning SJP.”
Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).
The Arab American Radicals Who Paved Way for BDS
The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s by Pamela E. Pennock, The University of North Carolina Press (2017)
One of the earliest boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, victories in the United States came in 1973 when United Auto Workers Local 600 in Dearborn, Michigan, voted to divest its Israeli bonds after a campaign waged by the Arab Workers Caucus and the American Arab Coordinating Committee. The campaign drew comparisons with apartheid South Africa and won the support of many Black autoworkers in Michigan.
Was it just an oddity that decades before Palestinian civil society called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in 2005, industrial workers in the US heartland were already waging a BDS struggle? Or, far from being a rogue wave, was it an integral part of the oceanic upheavals among workers, students, immigrants and people of color during the heady maelstroms of the 1960s and ’70s?
The Rise of the Arab American Left makes it clear this was no oddity, although it did have certain characteristics unique to the Arab American experience. Given the relative paucity of scholarship on the history of the Arab American left, this book is a must-read for those who wish to learn more about that community’s activism during this period of radical upheaval.
Pennock, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, focuses on radical activists, who she defines as “secular, ideologically leftist and avidly pro-Palestinian.” She concedes that this group – with its support of armed struggle, a revolution for what was then called the “Third World,” and one democratic, secular state throughout all of Mandate Palestine – was a subset of the Arab American population at a time when a majority of Arab Americans held more moderate positions.
“Nevertheless,” she notes, “the issue that most united and galvanized Arab Americans – across differences of generation, social class, religion and national origin – was their shared outrage over the dispossession of Palestinian Arabs through the establishment of the state of Israel.”
The book’s narrative covers the impact Israel’s 1967 War had amongst Arab Americans, the intense period of repression and surveillance that followed the rise of activism in the 1970s and the gradual moderation of activism in the 1980s, when outlooks became less transnational and more focused on domestic civil rights issues.
In the 1960s, organizations such as the Association of Arab American University Graduates and the Organization of Arab Students arose, along with such figures as the academic Ibrahim Abu-Lughod and civil rights attorney Abdeen Jabara. The Rise of the Arab American Left offers a unique opportunity for readers to learn about these early trailblazers.
One of the book’s most enlightening chapters, aptly titled “Intersections,” documents how Arab Americans began to find “natural allies” in the movements of other oppressed groups with roots in the Third World.
In particular, the book looks at the alliance that developed between Arab American autoworkers in Michigan and activists with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, also based in the auto plants.
The alliance extended to issues related to urban removal as the city of Dearborn attempted to turn the Southend neighborhood, where most Arab immigrants lived, into an industrial zone to act as a buffer between Dearborn and predominantly Black Detroit in the wake of that city’s 1967 rebellion.
Pennock’s singular focus on Dearborn is illuminating and detailed, but she also surveys the national scene, showing how central figures in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, such as James Forman and Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), came to embrace the Palestinian cause, along with the Black Panther Party and other prominent Black activists such as Jack O’Dell of Operation PUSH and Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance.
In the early 1970s, Pennock observes, the largely white, student-based New Left also “developed a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist position.” However, she concludes, that “on the whole, the American Left’s commitment to the Palestinian revolution was soft and somewhat perfunctory; in general, the activists’ understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict was superficial, and their position was rooted in an idealized image of Third World guerrillas.”
For many white activists, the New Left’s embrace of the Palestinian struggle opened a rift that lasted for decades, although it actually delineated an already existing faultline: namely that between the left-liberal wing of the movement and the more radical, Marxist-Leninist wing.
Pennock describes in detail how both black and white radicals embraced the Palestinian cause, while more centrist forces emerging out of the civil rights and student movements failed to break with Zionism.
Another chapter documents how Arab American activists faced repression and surveillance, with the active assistance of the Israel lobby, as early as the Organization of Arab Students’ 1969 convention when the Anti-Defamation League sent infiltrators posing as media.
In Pennock’s account, both the ADL and the Israel lobby group AIPAC colluded with the FBI and the CIA, leading to the creation of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism and a concerted political intimidation campaign known as Operation Boulder. The cabinet directed the FBI, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Services to monitor Arab Americans, surveillance that included an illegal FBI burglary of the Dallas, Texas, office of the Arab Information Center.
Pennock says the triggering incident was the Black September attack at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics but clarifies that the creation of the cabinet committee was seen as a way to placate AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League.
The author notes that “the investigations never detected a single case of terrorist or espionage activity among Arabs living in the United States.” But that, of course, was not the point. Operation Boulder was essentially “a program of political intimidation,” Pennock observes, that was meant to suppress Arab-American activism and to inject “divide and conquer” tactics within the movement.
The direct role of the Israeli government in this surveillance was also strongly suspected, but never proved. Both The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune published articles describing collusion between Israeli intelligence agencies, the Anti-Defamation League and the FBI, with the ADL keeping files on Arab American activists for the FBI.
Eventually, the National Security Agency was also exposed for its electronic surveillance of Abdeen Jabara, wiretapping at least 40 of his telephone conversations even though the FBI admitted that Jabara was not the subject of a criminal investigation.
It’s hard to think of any of this as lost history, given that the same practices prevail today, with groups like Canary Mission and others compiling dossiers on Palestine student activists at US campuses.
If one of the first recorded BDS victories was that of United Auto Workers Local 600 in 1973, then the trajectory continued in 2015 when both the United Electrical Workers and the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO adopted pro-BDS resolutions, as did the Black Solidarity Statement and the Movement for Black Lives.
If today’s BDS movement reaches farther, it’s because it stands on the shoulders of the giants who came before.
Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and is active with the Occupation-Free Portland campaign.
Defying Israel’s Eviction Orders in East Jerusalem
was supposed to have been Nizar Shamasneh’s first day back at school.
“They took everything: my schoolbag, our clothing, my grandfather’s identity card,” Nizar, aged 15, said. “It was heartbreaking to be thrown out in the street without being able to defend yourself.”
The family were caught somewhat off-guard by the 5 September eviction.
As the family had secured a court injunction, they thought that they could remain in their home for at least another five days.
Yet on 4 September, Israeli settlers appealed successfully against the injunction. As a result, the eviction was allowed to proceed immediately.
The family was not informed that the injunction had been overturned.
“We were not ready for this,” said Fahima, Nizar’s 76-year-old grandmother. Noting that the eviction occurred just after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, she added: “They chose their timing well.”
Determined to fight
The family were forced to find accommodation in a hotel. Every day, however, members of the family visit their home and sit outside it in protest.
The Shamasneh family are determined to fight against the injustice inflicted on them and their community.
Muhammad Shamasneh, a father of six, has become a vocal campaigner against ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem.
Much has changed about him since the first eviction notice was delivered to his family in 2009.
At that time, Muhammad was too shy to speak in public. So he asked other people from the neighborhood to speak on his behalf during protests against evictions. He was reluctant to speak with the press, fearful of confronting Israeli police officers and wary of criticizing the Palestinian political leadership.
Even when complaining about how the Palestinian Authority has given him hardly any support, he would usually whisper.
Muhammad – a gardener – had until then avoided political activity as much as he could. He had to raise his children and take care of his elderly parents. Making ends meet was a daily struggle.
Since then, Muhammad – now aged 45 – has realized that everything is political in Sheikh Jarrah, even the act of remaining in your own home. The battle against eviction has seen him stand up to Israeli police, settlers and to the Palestinian Authority.
“What is going on in Sheikh Jarrah has nothing to do with property laws,” said Muhammad. “It’s not a simple conflict over real estate either. It is a long-term Israeli plan to uproot us from our neighborhood and replace us with Jewish settlers through legal gymnastics.”
Muhammad and his 23-year-old son Dirar were both arrested on the day of the eviction. They were released on bail the following day – but not before Dirar had been beaten in custody, sustaining a neck injury.
“My neck is bruised but the real pain is in the heart,” Dirar said shortly after his release. “You cannot stand idly by as settlers occupy your home, harass your neighbors and provoke your family.”
The Israeli settler movement has invoked a 1970 Israeli law to drive the Shamasneh family from their home.
That law enables Jews to make claims on property if they show it was under Jewish ownership before 1948. Known as the Legal and Administrative Matters law, it only applies to Jews. Palestinians are prevented by Israel from returning to the homes they held before the 1948 mass expulsions carried out by Zionist forces.
Arieh King, a right-wing member of the Israeli-run Jerusalem city council, has been the most prominent face of the settler movement.
The effort to evict the Shamasneh family has been spearheaded by King. By contrast, the Jewish family which has made a claim on the Shamasneh home has only appeared once in court while the case was being heard during the past eight years, according to Muhammad Shamasneh.
The Shamasneh family have lived in Sheikh Jarrah for more than five decades.
Ayoub Shamasneh, Muhammad’s 84-year-old father, is originally from Qatanna, a village in the Jerusalem area. He has witnessed the mass displacements caused by Zionist forces in 1948 and by the Israeli army in 1967.
He began renting the Sheikh Jarrah home in 1964, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control. All of his children were born since then.
“I am hurt for what they did to my home,” Ayoub, who uses a wheelchair, said. “But what hurts more is that history continues to repeat itself and the Palestinian political class doesn’t seem to care.”
A few months ago, the Shamasneh family learned that their eviction was likely to take place soon. Receiving that news was “like a disaster for my father, especially because this time there was very little we could actually do to prevent or even delay it,” said Muhammad.
“My father is strongly attached to this home and he keeps saying that losing the home reminds him of defeats in 1948 and 1967,” said Rabiha Zahran, Ayoub Shamasneh’s daughter.
“My mother has been trying to lift him, to give him strength. But for both of them, the loss of this home represents a tragedy that cannot be described in words.”
Life became “hell”
The eviction of the Shamasneh family is the first to take place in Sheikh Jarrah since 2009.
The al-Kurd family were among those affected by the evictions of that year. Settlers seized the front section of the family’s home. Life became “hell,” according to one member of the family, Nabil al-Kurd.
His mother, Rifqa al-Kurd, said, “I will only agree to leave Sheikh Jarrah” if her right of return to Haifa, a city in historic Palestine, is guaranteed.
Commonly known as Umm Nabil, she had to flee her native Haifa in 1948. Like many others in East Jerusalem, her family were uprooted during the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine around the time of Israel’s establishment.
The Shamasneh home is located in the poorest part of Sheikh Jarrah. The neighborhood feels a world apart from the five-star American Colony Hotel and the consular offices – representing governments around the world – within a few minutes’ walk.
The Shamasneh family had created a welcoming atmosphere in their dwelling. Every visitor was greeted warmly and chatted to over coffee.
In 2013, the Shamasneh family earned a temporary respite. Israel’s high court turned down their appeal against the eviction order. Yet it agreed to defer the eviction on what the Israeli media has called “humanitarian” grounds. The court cited the fact that elderly people had lived in the home for a long period.
“We refused to look for another house because the case is not simply about housing and it is not just about us,” Amal Shamasneh, Muhammad’s wife, said.
“Our home is simple and tiny but it means everything to us. We also know that evicting us will only be the start of evicting all the families who are under threat.”
Among those facing eviction threats is Amal’s brother Muhammad Zahran. Before the eviction, Zahran was also their next-door neighbor.
“The settler groups and their leader have a plan for the entire neighborhood,” Zahran said.
“I see the settlers in the Shamasneh home, raising Israeli flags over the house, provoking us every minute, and I fear that the same destiny awaits my home and many others if we don’t act.”
Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer based in Jerusalem. Blog: budourhassan.wordpress.com