This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:
A Turkish court issues arrest warrants for Israeli army commanders involved in the authorization and execution of the 2010 massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara, the humanitarian aid ship bound for Gaza. We speak to a lawyer for the families of the ten victims killed by Israeli commandos. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
Students at UCLA sign an ethics statement in response to ongoing concerns that elected leaders were taking trips with non-student lobbying organizations with records of discrimination, such as AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League. We talk with a UCLA student about the statement and why the administration, along with Los Angeles city council members, are intimidating and silencing students who are calling for transparency in student government. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
The University of California at Santa Cruz has passed a divestment resolution calling on the UC governing body to pull its investments in companies that profit from Israel’s human rights violations. We speak to a student about the divestment victory. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
News headlines from the month of May from in and around Palestine.
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Nora Barrows-Friedman: Rabia, the original complaint was filed by 33 relatives of the Turkish citizens who were killed on the Mavi Marmara, and the tenth victim who was injured in the attack in 2010 just passed away about a week ago. Can you talk about the outcome of this sixth hearing in the Mavi Marmara case, and why the judgment was significant? It names names of Israeli military war crimes suspects to be arrested.
Rabia Yurt: As you said, this was the sixth hearing of this trial, and during the last six trials, the court has heard witness statements from different witnesses from different countries, and because the [Israeli commanders] were tried in absentia, the lawyers and the prosecutor requested the court to issue arrest warrants in order to bring the defendants to Turkey and then be prosecuted.
So therefore, this arrest warrant is quite important, and it is also the first in history against Israeli officials. This trial is an historic trial. Until now, Israel has committed several, numerous and uncountable crimes — crimes which are the gravest crimes under international law. But until now, there has been no prosecution of any Israeli individual, nor has the State of Israel been held responsible for its crimes. Therefore, this trial, which started in 2012, is very very important and it’s an historic trial.
NBF: Included in the list of Israeli military commanders and officers is Gabi Ashkenazi; he was the former chief of staff and commander of the Israeli army. And as well as his role in the Mavi Marmara attack, he oversaw the attacks on Gaza in 2008-09 which killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians and injured thousands more, and as you said, no Israeli leader — or individual soldier, for that matter — have been prosecuted for their role in this massacre. How likely is it that he and the others named in this recent judgment by the Turkish court will be arrested by Interpol?
RY: We have to stay optimistic. Of course we can’t deny the fact that the world has closed its eyes to the crimes committed by Israel. And until now, Israel has gotten away with everything that it has done, especially because of the veto rights of America in the [UN] Security Council.
However, we are optimistic, because Turkey is a democratic country. It is part of and is a signatory to the European extradition convention and signed to Interpol, and therefore all other countries who are also signatories to these conventions and institution have an obligation to indeed arrest these Israeli officials for whom the arrest warrants were issued. So we have to trust [this] and we have to keep our faith in this. And we also know that — remember that this trial started way back in 2012 — the Israeli authorities told their soldiers not to travel around too much, especially not go to Turkey. We know that Israeli soldiers were complaining about this. For instance, there was a case of an Israeli soldier who filed a claim against the State of Israel because he wanted to study in the United States, but because he took part in this operation he could not set foot out of Israel. So because we know this, we are quite optimistic about the arrest warrants, that they will be in fact implemented by other countries.
NBF: Has Interpol indicated that they are willing and ready and able to pursue these Israeli military commanders under this arrest warrant?
RY: The arrest warrant is being now prepared by the court in a way that it has to be sent to the ministry of justice, which in turn will send it to Interpol. But we haven’t heard anything from Interpol until now, because the arrest warrant still wasn’t received by them. It’s a very procedural thing, so we have to see what happens in the near future.
NBF: Rabia, what message does this ruling by the Turkish court send to the perpetrators of the killing of civilians by Israeli military officials?
RY: I believe that this message is a very, very strong message — the first in history [saying] that from now on, the international community, the courts will not tolerate crimes committed by Israel anymore.
We will fight against impunity, and this arrest warrant gives the message to Israelis that they have to think twice before they ever commit such crimes again. That until now, no Israeli individual was prosecuted, but from now on, they will be held responsible and they will be brought to justice. So this is a very, very strong message against impunity.
NBF: What can you tell us about the reaction to this arrest warrant ruling by the court from families and loved ones of the victims on the Mavi Marmara?
RY: The moment the court ruled the arrest warrants, we were all together in the courtroom, and everybody just screamed out of joy and clapped, they were very pleased, very happy with it. I could tell that the wife of Çetin Topçuoğlu, who was also on the Mavi Marmara — he passed away in the arms of his wife — before the court was going to give its ruling, we were standing outside the courtroom doors, and she was just praying and praying and praying. And this was the third time that actually we had requested an arrest warrant, so we had been disappointed twice before, and when the ruling came, everybody was full of joy.
NBF: Finally, what’s next in this case on behalf of now ten victims of Israel’s raid, how are you pushing forward in this case?
RY: In December, there is going to be another hearing, and we’re just going to make sure that the entire world will know about this arrest warrant, that we will follow whether any of these four defendants steps foot outside of Israel. We have lawyers in different countries also working together, and in South Africa, in the UK, many, many countries more — they will also closely follow whether these four defendants will travel in these countries. And then if this is the case, we will immediately take action and make sure that if the country in which one of the four defendants steps foot refuses, or neglects to fulfill its obligation to arrest [the defendant], then we will make sure that that country will not get away with it. And we will push for it, and publicize this as much as we can.
Safwan Ibrahim: We originally wrote the statement — not just SJP but students from other organizations as well, we wrote the statement as a show of good faith with [student] council members, asking them to not to take these paid trips through organizations that are tied to anything that might marginalize other student communities on campus. In the statement, we explicitly make examples of AIPAC and the ADL — the Anti-Defamation League — for their promotion of Islamophobic material and the spreading of that, and also AIPAC because they are consistently complicit with Armenian genocide denial. And there’s a large Armenian community on campus, and of course a large Muslim community on campus, and to have council members who are supposed to represent students associated with these organizations — we were hoping with this statement that we would have council members distance themselves from these organizations.
If they’re supposed to represent students, and they’re tied to organizations that have a history of Islamophobia and Armenian genocide denial, or really any organization that would marginalize any students on campus, we don’t want council members involved in any of them. The reason why those two were picked out is because the council has a history with them. We’ve had council members before who have gone on trips to AIPAC conferences, gone on trips with the ADL, people involved in student government who are Hasbara Fellows. And all of these organizations — not the students themselves, we can’t say anything about them and we don’t believe that they would have any of these sentiments themselves, personally — but as long as they’re involved, or associated with these organizations, we don’t feel comfortable with them representing us.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Safwan, can you talk a little bit more about these propaganda trips and organizations like the Hasbara Fellowships? What happens when these student council members go on these trips, and what message does it send to student communities on campus, especially those from the Arab and Muslim community?
SI: You have organizations like Hasbara [Fellowships] who, on their website, they promote Islamophobic messages that generalize all of the Muslim world as generally just not accepting the presence of Israel — very problematic messages that if these students are involved in these organizations, going on trips with them, they’re learning these messages and then coming back. The purpose of these organizations for picking out student leaders and students in general is because they want to bring their messages to US campuses. And if these messages are marginalizing or Islamophobic or anything, homophobic, whatever it is, if they’re bringing these messages to campuses, it’s going to cause problems for other students here. Especially if these are student leaders.
NBF: The city council of Los Angeles says it will vote this week on a resolution denouncing the ethics statement, and their resolution includes stating that the ethics statement is a “tactic of intimidation and harassment,” and the resolution ends by declaring “State Legislative Program Support for administrative action” by the Regents and Janet Napolitano, who’s the president of the UC system, to cultivate new means of addressing “intimidation or harassment of any student,” which include referring “to the proper law enforcement agencies.” The idea that the LA city council is trying to threaten students with legal consequences, saying that they’ll refer such students who sign this ethics pledge to the proper law enforcement agencies — what’s your response to that, how are students organizing around this?
SI: Honestly, I do think it’s very ironic. The point of the ethics statement was to limit the influence of outside lobbying organizations and lobby groups — to limit their effect on students and student affairs. We want any decisions made in the student council to be reflective of the students on campus. Whatever those decisions may be, we want them to only represent students on campus and not be affiliated, not be influenced by these outside organizations, outside lobbying groups.
And then, to have the response to that be going and finding outside influence like the city council to come and reprimand us for our — it seems ridiculous. They’re just trying to silence students at this point. By any means, trying to have legal enforcement to prevent students from coming to councilmembers with their concerns.
The ethics statement is a non-binding agreement, sort of a promise just to show good faith, like I said earlier, with these [student] council members. And to bring the city council into it, I think is just absurd, really.
The city council’s reason for doing this is they’re accusing us of intimidation and bullying, and they will then go and intimidate and bully students into not speaking out against these lobby groups. And I think that’s crazy. And now our organizing now, we’re going to speak out in whatever media outlets we have to really show what exactly this ethics statement is, and what it was intended to do.
A lot of the noise around it is from people who didn’t really read the statement or who have only heard one side. You mentioned earlier that [UC] President Napolitano is getting involved in this somehow. She and Chancellor Block both made statements against the joint ethics statement, without having contacted any of the students who were involved in writing it. Without meeting with us. And it really just shows how very one-sided some of the administration’s views are — that they would pass judgment on something without knowing the full story.
NBF: Safwan Ibrahim, how can people learn more about this ethics statement and what’s the next step here — whether or not the city council votes against this ethics statement or not?
SI: Well, if you want to actually read the ethics statement, it is online at sjpbruins.com. You can read more about it there. There will be more op-eds coming online as well, and they can just keep up with it that way.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Joining us last week, just after the divestment vote passed, was Santa Cruz student Elaine Ejigu, who is also a member of the Committee for Justice in Palestine. She began with her reaction to the divestment vote victory.
Elaine Ejigu: Amazement. Because here, we had JSU [Jewish Student Union] and Hillel, they were huge opposition. At the senate meetings, they were there, at every meeting, using propaganda to sway senators. It really had a big effect in affecting members. In addition to that, we know a few members [of the student government] have gone on pro-Israel propaganda trips. We didn’t feel they were going to be very open to us this year.
Everybody — the alumni and the current members — felt like we only had a chance last year, but we just went ahead and did it anyway, and to our surprise, it passed.
NBF: And of course at Santa Cruz, you have Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the Amcha Initiative, one of the most vicious political groups, who has personally undermined the efforts of Palestine solidarity activism on campus there at Santa Cruz. Can you talk about what message this sends to Israel-aligned organizations and Zionist groups like Amcha?
EE: This just sends the message that a growing number of students on college campuses [who] are also Jewish and/or Israeli are open to divestment, and are also not anti-Semitic — that’s not the issue here. The issue is the companies and the human rights violations occurring in the occupation.
NBF: Elaine, what’s next for the Committee for Justice in Palestine at UC Santa Cruz, what comes after this divestment victory for you?
EE: I’m going to be graduating, but I’m passing the torch on down to four of next year’s signers, who are going to be doing the usual things that we do, which is fundraising, tabling in Quarry plaza, raising awareness, Palestine Awareness Week, movies and educational films, things like that. But also they’re going to be watching out for any attacks on the bill that has been passed. We think that the groups against it may be mobilizing to not reverse it but whatever they can do.
NBF: If people want to learn more about the Committee for Justice in Palestine at UC Santa Cruz, where can they go?