This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:
Palestine reels from the killing of two Palestinian teens by Israeli forces on 15 May, when Palestinians mark the Nakba Day commemoration of the 1948 ethnic cleansing and dispossession.
We speak with Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of human rights activist Rachel Corrie, days after the Israeli high court heard their appeal of the wrongful death case on behalf of their daughter who was killed by an Israeli soldier operating a bulldozer in southern Gaza in 2003. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
In a significant victory, DePaul University students pass a divestment bill by referendum; Hanna Alshaikh of DePaul University’s Students for Justice in Palestine talks about the campaign and the efforts by outside political groups and the Israeli government to try and stop it. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
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Cindy Corrie: I think, most immediately, there was some relief, because it’s another hurdle. And there have been so many of them as this has gone on year after year after year. So it just felt good, I think, that for our family we knew we would get to the other side of this. And once again we had taken the next step and done what we could do.
It was a beautiful day here in Jerusalem, we’d been in the court once before, in that building, to visit it, but it’s a stunning space and I’m surprised both times that we were there here that — I guess it’s because this is the supreme court — there weren’t nearly as many people in the building as in the district court, where there’s a lot more activity going on. But all the people that were there had come to support us. So it was, once again, just very moving and comforting and so reassuring to be surrounded by people in that courtroom, which was packed, who came in solidarity. And Jewish Israeli activists, the five members of the National Lawyers Guild who were in the region, Palestinian activists and attorneys, representatives of NGOs — so I think at least we personally, regardless of what the court reads into that, we personally felt support and that means a lot.
Media were there, [and] there wasn’t a big decision to come out of this day, so we were pleased that there was interest from the local media and from some of the international media in what was happening there.
Initially, it started with an exchange between the three judges — the fact that there were three judges was positive, very early on they extended condolences to our family, which was more respectful and appreciated. We were very appreciative of that. It seemed more respectful than what had happened at the district court.
When we heard the discourse between the state’s attorney initially, and also with the justices, that first part was dealing with what really is a side issue, but it’s still an issue — which has to do with the autopsy which was done in Rachel’s case. Because our wishes, our family’s wishes were not followed, and also contrary to what the state has said about that, we did not find out that our wishes hadn’t been followed, because in the military police report that we were able to read, and in the summary part that they actually did release publicly, they stated that they had had a representative from the American embassy present, and we, in fact found out from FOIA information later — some years after — that that had not been the case.
So there are some issues related to that, but it was kind of encouraging to be able to detect — even though we were listening to the Hebrew — that the justices were pushing pretty hard on the state’s attorney in regard to whether that should be reviewed more by the lower court.
And then, when Hussein Abu Hussein, our attorney, was questioned, it was a little hard because it seemed like they were challenging him quite a bit too, but then we saw that they asked the same kinds of questions to the state’s attorneys with the issues that are most important, I think, here, that have to do with international law. So that’s my reaction. It was short, 2-3 hours, it seemed like it ended kind of abruptly, and it’s something of a relief — that now what we do is wait.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: And Craig, just a few moments of your reaction.
Craig Corrie: Well, I think beforehand, I felt really sort of at peace, the last day or something. For one thing, the night before, Cindy and I and Sarah attended a Hebrew performance of My Name is Rachel Corrie down in Jaffa. And that was to a packed house, and a wonderful actress who got three curtain calls, or maybe four, and so that was kind of overwhelming to us. You just felt surrounded by warm people.
So the other thing that went through my mind — I felt like we’ve done what we could do. We have the best legal representation that I think you could assemble for this, and they’ve become dear friends over the years, we’ve all grown together. So I knew that Hussein abu Hussein would do his best, and that would be as good as any attorney can do. I felt like we’d come prepared, so I gave up the rest of it. Because you can only control what you can do. So I’m not responsible for what the court does — we bring the best case we can to the court, we ask the court to give justice, and we manage with some friends to get enough media there so that I think if there’s no justice, then we can get media attention to it.
That’s really all we can do. I felt good about it. One of the people that I think Cindy didn’t mention who was there was the US embassy — they sent two people there, and so the consul general led that group. And he sat down right next to Sarah in the beginning, and he was very clearly there in front of the media. So I felt like the embassy also had our back, and I’m grateful for that. And we appreciate that. We did our best.
Andrew Dalack: I think first of all, it’s important to note that the strategies that the defense, the attorneys who were defending the army in this case, are using is based in the same kind of philosophy that the Israeli army uses to dehumanize Palestinians, in order to make murdering Palestinians and destroying Palestinian homes palatable not only to the Israeli public but to the rest of the world.
So for example, where the Israeli army will say that they have to bulldoze Palestinian homes, because they’re bulldozing the homes of terrorists, or they have to extrajudicially kill and maim Palestinians because they’re killing terrorists — they’ll typically substitute the word Palestinian with the word “terrorist” — they were doing the same thing when it came to Rachel Corrie.
When over and over again, the attorney for the defense for the Israeli military, said that this was a military operation and Rachel Corrie shouldn’t have been there, it was almost as if to say that by attending and protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes at Rafah, Rachel Corrie got what was coming to her. That’s what the Israeli military’s message was, and that was something that they repeated consistently throughout the hearing.
It was difficult for us to tell the direction or how the judges felt, to be honest — the translation that we had from Hebrew to English was a bit spotty at times, but at first, the defense attempted to claim that the plaintiff’s attorneys — in this case, the attorneys for Rachel Corrie’s estate and Rachel Corrie’s family — failed to follow some basic procedural rules and include all of the claims. So they made the kind of procedural arguments that we would expect from the sort of smarmy defense attorneys, to be perfectly honest.
But the main question really revolved around — as far as we were concerned — is the supreme court going to recognize that the army was negligent in failing to halt its military home demolitions when it realized that there were civilians who were not going to leave the zone? And the implications of this, from our perspective, are pretty severe. The defense attorney for the Israeli military said over and over again that this is going to set a dangerous precedent if the Israeli supreme court rules in the Corries’ favor, to the extent that it will show the international community that Israeli military operations can be interrupted and halted by interference, by forms of civilian interference. And that this was an inappropriate precedent to set.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Andrew, can you talk a little bit more about that, about how significant this case is, with that precedent in mind. Of course, at the same time, this week, 15-year-old Muhammed abu Thahir and 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara were killed with live ammunition during a Nakba Day protest. Can you talk about the mood on the ground and more on the precedent that forcing Israel to comply with international law, including the extra-judicial assassination of civilians, could set if this case is overturned?
AD: Well, first of all, the mood on the ground is pretty somber, and there have been protests throughout the week since the murder of Nadim and Muhammed by the Israeli defense forces. As I’m sure you’ve seen, as have thousands if not millions of others, the video that was captured by a security camera located in Beitunia near the Ofer prison where the protests was taking place, where the two teenagers were killed, that video clearly shows that at the time when the Israeli military shot in cold blood Muhammed and Nadim, that they did so when neither of the boys were even engaged in any protest activities, they were simply walking around at the time when they were shot in the chest … in cold blood.
So what’s clear is that the Israeli military is pursuing the same kind of agenda that it’s pursued pretty much since even before Israel’s founding, the so-called independence in 1948, which is that it’s going to do everything in its power to dehumanize the Palestinians. Because by dehumanizing the Palestinians, it makes killing Palestinians — whether or not they’re engaged in any sort of resistance activities — justified. It’s the same kind of rhetoric that we hear coming out of the United States when it comes to the extraordinary rendition of individuals, or the detention centers overseas, or the placing of individuals in indefinite arbitrary detention in Guantanamo Bay. That these kinds of actions are justified because these people are “terrorists.”
Well, the Israeli military is saying the same thing about Nadim and Muhammed, and they said the same thing, essentially, about Rachel Corrie — that she was, effectively, a terrorist because she was trying to prevent the Israeli military from demolishing Palestinian homes in Rafah.
So the implications of this are pretty significant. If the Israeli supreme court can really rise to the occasion and do what is just — and not just just in the abstract, but also in compliance with international law, and recognize that when the Israeli military continued to demolish Palestinian homes in Rafah and bulldozed Rachel Corrie to death, that they did so under the belief that Rachel Corrie’s life did not matter anymore because she was standing up for Palestinians.
And if the Israeli supreme court is going to recognize that, and to be willing to recognize that not only was this behavior wrong, but that it was criminally negligent, I think that would be a very significant and important turning point, because it would show that at least one sector of Israeli society is no longer willing to accept the rhetoric that comes out of the Israeli military that says that people who stand up for Palestinians and Palestinian rights are terrorists, they shouldn’t be considered human, and that Palestinians themselves are terrorists and shouldn’t be considered human.
So we hope that the Israeli supreme court rises to the occasion, and recognizes that when the IDF bulldozed Rachel Corrie to death, that they were wrong, and that her family should be compensated accordingly, and that the Israeli military should be held accountable.
NBF: Andrew, finally, was there any indication that you could see from your legal perspective that the three-judge panel at the high court were in any way sympathetic to Rachel Corrie’s family, and their side of this issue?
AD: It was sort of hard to tell, to be honest. The judges at one point expressed their condolences to the Corrie family. It was unclear to me at least whether or not that expression of sympathy was meaningful or real, or if it was just paying lip service for the media. But, at the same time, the judges did ask the defense attorney for the Israeli military some pretty tough questions, particularly given the fact that it was clear that, even buying into the rhetoric from the Israeli military that this was a “necessary military operation,” the fact that many of the homes that were set for demolition that day weren’t fully demolished until months after Rachel Corrie’s death — it really casts a lot of serious doubt on its own argument, that this was a necessary military operation that Rachel Corrie was getting in the way of, and that she assumed the risk and therefore her family shouldn’t be compensated and the Israeli military shouldn’t be held accountable.
So there was some indication that the judges were really pressing the Israeli military on this question, and the issue is really going to come down to whether or not the Israeli supreme court is going to buy into this idea that not only was this military operation necessary, but that Rachel Corrie’s presence there represented such a security risk that her death was something that she should of expected, that she assumed the risk in being there, and that her life simply matters less because she was trying to interfere with the military operation. Again, I really want to reiterate that one of the main pervasive themes that the Israeli military’s attorney said over and over again was that “this is war, and we need to do things in times of war, we can’t let civilians get in the way of carrying out our objectives and our goals during war,” which is obviously preposterous. It’s a bunch of nonsense.
But it’s the same kind of rhetoric that the Israeli military has been using to try and justify the killing and murder of Palestinians for decades, it’s the same kind of justification that they’ve used to justify the murders of Muhammed and Nadim, and now in a reckless shamelessness, the Israeli military is saying that the security videos that captured the extrajudicial assassination of the two teenage boys are fakes. And this just shows you just how low the Israeli military is willing to go to justify its murderous actions. And that was something that was really clear to everybody that was in the room at the Israeli supreme court.
And I want to say that the courtroom was packed, there were over 100 people present, there was media from all over the world, the Corries themselves, Rachel Corrie’s parents and her sister were present, it was a really strong showing in support of Rachel Corrie, it was a really strong showing in support of justice. And ultimately, the National Lawyers Guild hopes that the Israeli supreme court will rise to the occasion and will hold the army accountable for Rachel Corrie’s death in the way that international law demands.
Hanna Alshaikh: The campaign has been ongoing for two months, since March 31 — the first day of our spring quarter. But in the last week, aside from canvassing and trying to engage in one-on-one conversations with students at DePaul throughout the week, we staged a sit-in on Tuesday like you mentioned where we took over a student area at DePaul University’s Academic Center, which is a large gathering place. We hosted a sit-in, which actually draws upon the legacy of the Black Student Union at DePaul in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement, they staged a sit-in addressing the systematic racism within DePaul’s administration.
So what we did is we had teach-ins, supportive professors taught their classes there, we had workshops that ranged from Palestine 101 to dabke [traditional Palestinian dance], to teach-ins about mass incarceration — so it really was themed around social justice, it was a really interesting moment. And then on Wednesday, we dropped a flag — a 70-foot Palestinian flag in the largest academic building on our campus, during passing period, in which we all chanted “vote yes to divest!” We really grabbed the attention of the student body at that time, and then we rallied around campus to draw everyone’s attention.
And then yesterday, while the Israeli Consul General watched, he was right there, we had a dabke flashmob and people all stopped to watch us, and really enjoyed seeing that — celebrating Palestinian culture and realizing that despite efforts to dehumanize us by groups such as StandWithUs and the opposition, that Palestinians are humans who have a culture that’s being erased. So it really helped people identify with us, and helped empathize with us in that way. It was really interesting. It was interesting to notice that most people who were lobbying against us were not exactly affiliated with the university, they were either StandWithUs employees or university students from other schools being paid by StandWithUs to come and flyer at our school and spread misinformation about the campaign.
The Israeli Consul General claimed that this was not something that was threatening to him, whether or not DePaul passed divestment, but spent his entire day on our campus policing us and watching us and lobbying students at our school. It was very interesting to see that.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: If you could talk a little bit more about the response by SJP and human rights advocates on campus to the overwhelming amount of anti-Palestinian groups and outside political organizations — and even the Israeli Consul General himself — who have descended on DePaul to try and thwart the referendum from passing?
HA: So what we’ve been doing — first of all, we addressed the misinformation that was being spread about our campaign, because the first effort of this group was to spread some false rumors about us. They claimed that we were anti-Semitic, they claimed that this effort was actually a front for trying to get the funding for Jewish Life cut, and we were shocked to hear this happening and responded immediately to that, myself and another member of the group authored an op-ed, an article in the school newspaper where we addressed all these claims directly.
And when they can no longer make these claims because we publicly address them, their new tactic was masquerading as “pro-Palestine.” They had “pro-Palestine” written on their shirts, so their aim was to confuse other students at the school and tell them, “we’re pro-Palestine, and so vote no.” So people thought they were voting in favor of divestment by voting no on our bill. That was something they would do.
So our best effort was just to campaign as aggressively as we could and to be everywhere on campus. And at this point, many people rallied around us and supported us. We had 16 member coalitions involved, so we have a lot of people to thank for helping us there with canvassing. And then our best effort was just staying nearby — there were many points where I’d hear somebody who is not affiliated with the university telling DePaul students “they want to pull funds from a company like Intel, who is innovative in the field,” and I’d say, “well, that’s actually not on our list of companies we’re targeting, this person doesn’t know what’s on our list of targeted companies because he’s not affiliated with the university.” In which case, in a lot of the times, I was either yelled at, or another StandWithUs representative would take a photograph of me in order to intimidate me.
So the best we could do is to be as proactive as possible, and continue. There’s 25,000 students at this school, so rather than engaging a lot of the time, sometimes we just have to focus on speaking to more and more students at the school, to get them to vote yes.
NBF: Finally, Hanna Alshaikh, how can people support DePaul SJP and this divestment campaign going forward?
HA: Moving forward, I would say we’re going to approach the Fair Business Practices Committee at DePaul, so we’re going to continue working toward divestment, so any sort of support in that way, letters to pressure the administration to adopt this would be very helpful for us. We also have a group started by DePaul alums — DePaul Alumni Against Israeli Apartheid — so people can get in touch with [them] if you’re affiliated with DePaul. We also have a GoFundMe — a lot of the times we have a lot of problems with the administration in terms of funding, but that would be a nice way to help us so that we don’t lose our momentum in the upcoming school year. Because this is only the beginning of divestment, and we have a lot of work to do going forward. Any contributions large or small will be very helpful to us as well.
Our website is www.dpudivests.org.
Nader Ihmoud: Tens of thousands of Palestinians live in the Chicagoland area, and the Beitunia soccer club wants to be a reason they can all come together regularly.
The clubs manager, Adnan Safi, says the team is one of a few made up of mostly Palestinian Americans in the Chicagoland area and is the most popular and talented among them. The team is named after the Palestinian village because its head coach, Sami Mahdi, was born there. However, the club does have players from different backgrounds such as Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
In an attempt to gain more fans and bring the Palestinian community together, Safi, an immigrant from [the Palestinian town of] al-Lyd, invited Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf to an exhibition match held at the Bridgeview sports dome on May 15, the 66th anniversary of the Nakba.
Safi says the game was held as a celebration of the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah and was only played on that date because of a scheduling conflict with Assaf.
Adnan Safi: We decided to make it as big as we can. When you have a famous guy come you’ll get the community more active.
NI: Assaf showed up an hour after the 9pm match was supposed to begin. The 2013 Arab Idol winner shook hands with the Beitunia club and waved at the large crowds of men and women that were chanting his name.
Those in attendance for the exhibition were there mostly to see Assaf. But this wasn’t the first time Beitunia club played in front of a large audience. Mustapha al-Kholagasi, an immigrant from Yaffa and a member of the club says:
Mustapha al-Kholagasi: If you come here for the final game you’ll see a whole crowd of people here.
NI: Safi and other members of the Beitunia club acknowledge that giving the community an incentive to show up to games is a way to get them to show up regularly.
AS: When you have a famous guy come to a sport or a soccer game, the community will active with you more. For us to move steps up we have to bring more famous peoples.
NI: The Beitunia club is joining a league in June: the Chicago World Cup, under the name Palestine. Ihsan Ali, whose parents are immigrants from Turmusayya, says the clubs significance exceeds winning and losing.
Ihsan Ali: It’s pretty important because it gathers everyone in our community all the Arabs in the community we play here.
NI: Meanwhile, al-Kholagasi says matches like these help keep the Palestinian culture intact using sports in the diaspora.
MK: It’s continuing our culture. Especially in the United States, it’s not our country basically. Most of the players here are immigrants too; they came from overseas recently, so its like we continue our culture over here.
NI: For The Electronic Intifada, I’m Nader Ihmoud in Chicago.