This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:
Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of American human rights activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed in Gaza in 2003 as she attempted to defend a Palestinian family’s home from demolition by the Israeli army, talk to us on their way to Jerusalem as the Israeli high court plans to hear the appeal in their wrongful death lawsuit. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
New York University’s Students for Justice in Palestine holds a mock eviction notice action intended to bring awareness to Israel’s demolitions of Palestinian homes; we’ll talk to Shafeka Hashash of NYU-SJP about the action and the university’s attempts to punish the group. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
Remi Kanazi’s poem, “This Divestment Bill Hurts My Feelings.”
A summary of violations of Palestinian rights during the month of April.
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Nora Barrows-Friedman: Can you talk about this appeal, and what it focuses on specifically?
Cindy Corrie: That’s a very good question. It’s at the heart of what we’re doing. It really focuses on the findings, from our point of view, of what was problematic with the verdict which was issued in the case of August 2012 by the district court. And what I will say right up front is that these are legal arguments that are going to be discussed, and as in all the other procedures and things, Craig and I and our family have had to wait to actually read what’s been filed. There had been written statements filed by us, bringing the appeal, and then there has been a response by the state, and then we’ve been able to respond. Our attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein, has been able to respond back to what the state said.
And all of those, of course, were in Hebrew and needed to be translated for us. So I just want people to know that we have just actually today gotten the translations of all of those documents and are beginning to review them ourselves. So we’ll be looking at that material more closely.
Craig Corrie: Let me just say that the crux of what we’ve been arguing and our attorneys translated — he says that the appellants argue (the appellants, that’s us) — argue that the lower court erred in determining essential facts in identifying the role of the legal norm in its application of the facts in drawing the requisite legal conclusion. So basically we’re arguing that the lower court didn’t understand the facts, didn’t understand the law and didn’t apply the law to the facts, or the facts to the law in the proper way, which is pretty much about everything they’re supposed to do.
I think that’s — if the audience remembers back to 2012, the judge didn’t find anything right with … if our attorney and our witnesses and even the state’s witnesses had not been at that trial, they just really went with the opening statements of the state’s attorney in finding that court’s decision. So we’re arguing all of that.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Cindy and Craig, I’m reading from your press release that the Rachel Corrie Foundation just put out: “Testimony also revealed serious flaws in the military’s investigation into Rachel’s killing. Investigators failed to question key military witnesses, including those recording communications; failed to secure the military video, allowing it to be taken for nearly a week by senior commanders with only segments submitted to court; failed to address conflicting testimony given by soldiers; and ignored damning statements in the military log confirming a ‘shoot to kill’ order and a command mentality to continue work in order to avoid setting a precedent with international activists.” All of these pretty clear and basic legal proceedings were ignored or completely mishandled — how will your appeal’s arguments proceed with these types of flaws that were brought up?
Cindy Corrie: The appeal, as I understand it, is very limited and in fact, in finding the written part of it, our attorney had to determine the number of pages or suggest the number of pages that he could submit. And I believe he had asked for 50 pages and was actually allowed to do 25. So obviously everything that came up in the course of all the testimony that we heard in the district court — there were 15 court sessions, there were 23 court witnesses, we have over 2,000 pages of translated testimony — every detail is not going to be argued in this appeal, so it will be some of the places where our attorneys determine that the judge, in his decision, in how he made that decision, really overlooked the relevant law.
We want people to wrap their heads around the whole course of this process, and what we all saw and heard in court — some of it we saw, we didn’t get to see everything because there were six key witnesses who testified from behind a screen — but we want to focus on those things that were key to us and that we think were not addressed. It seemed that they weren’t even considered by the district judge in making his decision.
I can’t tell you for sure how they’re going to be approached on the hearing day in Jerusalem because of course we’re new to this process. What we understand is that the hearing will be 2-3 hours long, it will be three judges, and they will hear from the attorneys on both sides — our attorney and someone representing the state — they will hear those arguments. We’re not even sure — I think from things that I’ve read that the judges will be able to interrupt and ask questions, it’ll be interesting to see whether it’s similar to what we here [in the US] … when we hear news reports about our own Supreme Court here in the United States, to see if there are similarities in how they handle and use that time.
But again, I guess I would just point out that all of the information that we have, all of the things we thought important — they will be addressed at a different level, and it will be very much a legal level than what we heard when we were in the district court.
NBF: Hypothetically, if the Israeli high court decides that the Haifa district court — which issued the ruling in August 2012 that the state was not culpable or responsible for Rachel’s killing — if they overturned that decision or found that the district court was wrong and erroneous in their ruling, what happens next?
Craig Corrie: I’m not really even sure about that. I think it’s also possible, I suspect, that they could find in some ways for us, but not actually overturn the entire verdict. In other words, one of the huge, egregious things about the trial judge’s verdict was that since he found that Rachel was killed as an “act of war,” he ruled that you could not hold Israel responsible for anything it did in an act of war.
So that flies in the face of international law, and that’s one of the reasons we felt we had to object to that. We had to go back into court and say no, that’s wrong. I think we have a moral obligation to do that. They could conceivably overturn that, but find, for other reasons, the facts that the judge found — and remember, there’s only one person hearing this. The judge in this case, in Israel, the judge is also the jury — so he determines what’s fact when it comes out of there. And that’s much harder to get overruled, once he’s heard it.
I don’t know what could come out of this, in the end, but again we just have to pursue it.
Cindy Corrie: And there will be, as we understand it, a considerable period of time before we know what the outcome is. We were told originally that they can take as long as they want, the panel of justices that will hear it, in making their decision, but we were told to expect it to be up to a year before they come back. And again, that’s similar to our Supreme Court process, where we hear what gets argued in the court and then [it’s] at the end of the session before we actually find out what the Supreme Court justices decided.
Craig Corrie: The exception is that there’s no session over there, so there’s never that endpoint that actually forces them to hand down a ruling.
NBF: Cindy and Craig, how can people follow the appeals process when it begins next week, and where can people go for more information on the Rachel Corrie Foundation?
Cindy Corrie: I hope that people will go to the Rachel Corrie Foundation website, www.rachelcorriefoundation.org, if they look on the homepage up at the top there is a link to the trial section. The Rachel Corrie Foundation is trying very hard to provide information about the trial, about these legal proceedings, and providing information about the associated issues.
I feel like we continue to want to come back to thinking about the treatment of human rights observers and human rights defenders, the other American human rights observers who have been injured and killed, and also the Palestinian ones in these years. And really, all around the world, this is an issue now.
So I think bringing attention to that is very important and I hope people will use the focus on Rachel’s case to think about that more and what we can do.
Gaza is very much in our minds, and there’s information on the website about Gaza and some of the connections we’ve been making there during the past year. Gaza is — Rachel would be sad to find that it is as closed … Gisha, the Israeli human rights organization, calls it “closure,” what’s happening now, and it’s as difficult a situation as we’ve seen in many years.
So all of these things are deserving of attention and we hope people will go to the website and learn what they can.
Craig Corrie: I think it’s not only possible to learn from the website but you can participate in some ways, at least — it’s kind of beyond Cindy’s and my technical ability, but there will be friends tweeting. The Rachel Corrie Foundation — you can friend us on Facebook, you can follow the tweets, but you can retweet and can help pass the word out there.
I think for all the reasons that Cindy mentioned, it’s a good time to focus on some of these issues and help get the world focused on that. And people can participate in that process.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: A few weeks ago, members of Students for Justice in Palestine at New York University, NYU, slid mock eviction notices under the doors of thousands of students in two separate dormitories, an action replicated by many student Palestine solidarity groups on campuses across the US. The action is meant to highlight the rampant home demolitions carried out by Israel against Palestinians, and the mock eviction notices clearly state at the bottom that this is not a real eviction notice, which college students should be able to understand clearly.
However, as has been the case at other universities where Students for Justice in Palestine chapters have organized similar mock eviction notice campaigns, such as Northeastern University in Boston, anti-Palestinian groups on and off campus have falsely accused SJP of targeting only Jewish students, and have claimed that the direct action is anti-Semitic.
Such claims were fired off by local New York media and Israel-aligned news outlets against Palestine solidarity activists at NYU, with some Jewish-Zionist students saying they felt “unsafe” on campus because of these mock eviction notices. One blog post in the Times of Israel attempted to claim that one of the dormitories was known for having quote “a high concentration of Jewish residents,” yet even the NYU vice president for public affairs debunked this claim and said that the dorms had never had such a reputation.
According to students, the NYU administration launched an investigation into the direct action and attempted to have a quote “restorative justice” meeting with a rabbi and an Imam, conflating Palestine solidarity with religious prejudice.
Student Shafeka Hashash, whom I spoke to on Thursday, said that many of the members of Students for Justice in Palestine are Jewish themselves, and that this was not a religious issue, but rather one of justice and human rights. The university has now requested that SJP members attend a meeting with the administration.
NYU SJP member Kumars Salehi wrote in The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday that the mock eviction notices action and the invented controversy around it has created more conversations on campus about Israeli policies than ever before. Last week, in an article on Mondoweiss, Kumars added, quote: “NYU SJP has many Jewish members, all of whom supported the action. They reject the premise that criticism of Israeli policy is anti-Jewish. They reject the Zionist project of an ethnically discriminatory state that privileges Jews at the expense of an indigenous population, and they find the equation of being Jewish and being a Zionist deeply offensive.”
Shafeka Hashash, co-president of NYU Students for Justice in Palestine joined me from New York City on Thursday to talk about the current situation at NYU. I began by asking her to talk about the mock eviction notices action itself, and whether she agrees that this action has created more discussion on campus around Israel’s occupation than ever before.
Shafeka Hashash: We wanted to do it, of course, as an educational awareness campaign, because of home demolitions, and actually if you saw an article that was put out yesterday, there was a hundred home demolitions that were issued for Bedouin houses in the Negev. So we wanted to do a big education awareness campaign, something that was a direct action.
Of course, we all wrote it together and everything, we read over it and whatnot. But I think it is absolutely right, it created more discussion on this than ever before, because people would try and frame the issue as it being disruptive, and we made sure to bring it back to “it’s not disruptive, we don’t like that we’re spreading these facts about human rights abuses.”
And now the discussion has been taken hostage by these very Zionist [voices], but at the end of the day, that flyer was published by ABC News. And what did the flyer say? The flyer says the facts about home demolitions, the 160,000 Palestinians being left homeless because of [Israel], Judaization, et cetera.
So we aren’t proud that the conversation was held captive by these other groups, but at the end of the day, there are people who saw those facts who hadn’t seen it their entire lives before. And that in itself is a huge accomplishment. ABC News is a national network. And The Wall Street Journal also published the flyer.
So on campus, because we’re definitely talking about it, especially when the media was appearing in front the dorms, and were they talking about it in the greatest way afterwards? No. But beforehand, when kids were reading it, I’m sure it was something that a lot of kids had never thought about before.
Does this mean that everyone’s joining the SJP movement? No, the purpose of this campaign wasn’t “join our club, now we’re expecting 2,000 kids to suddenly be enrolled in SJP”; the purpose was to educate people on one small facet of the occupation, and that much it did do.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Shafeka, what’s the next step for NYU SJP on this issue, and how are you pressing forward?
SH: Our next step is to attend this meeting, which we did agree was fine, because we refuse to say we did anything wrong, the university can feel free to believe we did something wrong, but we refuse to agree to that. So we refuse any punishment that comes out of that. But this meeting wields no punishment, this meeting isn’t a normalization tactic to talk to the Zionists, in fact one of the RAs [Resident Advisors] who’s going to be there argued that there’s nothing about the issue. It’s just there to discuss the whole idea of people getting flyers. Which is fine. From their point of view, that’s a valid thing to discuss.
In terms of us, we’re pushing forward with our statements and of course that’s a lot of work, but one other thing this has shown us is that we’ve mobilized support so quickly and so incredibly, and we have a faculty petition that in a couple of days got a hundred signatures of faculty saying they would stand up for us and protect our right to free speech if the university were to take any actions against us.
Even people I know in general who I’m friends with, acquaintances with, who aren’t political people, have discussed it with me, and we’ve talked about it in our politics recitation, so I would say we’re doing a lot of dialoguing.
But I would say that SJP can move forward — we think this action was fantastic, and we’re planning more direct actions for the future, especially around the Nakba commemoration, and at the same time we’re trying to move past this action and know that we have more work to do. We have our divestment resolution to keep doing work on, we have future direct actions to start working on, so at the same time, we think this action is great but there’s still more work to be done regarding closing this action, but we have more work to do as an SJP — because we want more things to come around. This action isn’t going to be the thing that stifles our future work, either.
NBF: Shafeka, if people want to learn more about NYU SJP, where can they go?
SH: They can go to our Wordpress, which is www.NYUSJP.wordpress.com. It’s a great resource. And our email is justiceinpalestine DOT clubs AT nyu DOT edu.