The Criminalization of Palestinian Solidarity Activism by the US, Israel
Earlier in the week, it was reported that Israel passed a law punishing people who advocate for a boycott of the settlements. The law is definitely not only a blow to freedom of speech in Israel but also another act of repression against Palestinian solidarity activism in Israel.
Also, this week the Committee to Stop FBI Repression put out a statement in solidarity with activists who have engaged in flotillas to Gaza. The group of antiwar and international solidarity activists, who have each been subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury over the past months, all for exercising their civil liberties, condemned the State Department for seeking to make delivering humanitarian aid to Palestinians a crime. They called out the State Department for “threatening arrests, trials, and lengthy prison sentences for Americans on board the solidarity boat named, “The Audacity of Hope.”
This is Part 1 of my interview.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Israel has passed a law to punish those who are boycotting the settlements. I was wondering if you could provide some background and reactions to this development and what you think this means for people seeking to engage in Palestinian solidarity activism in Israel.
MAUREEN MURPHY: It’s worth putting this piece of legislation into the general context of the series of really draconian and politically motivated legislation that has been passed by the Knesset or is under consideration. Earlier this year, the Nakba law was passed, which basically penalized groups that observe a day of mourning regarding the establishment of the state of Israel, and that’s a direct attack on the Palestinian community.
There’s a bill that I think is still under consideration called the loyalty oath bill that will require civil society groups and individuals wishing to gain Israeli citizenship to pledge allegiance to the Jewish and democratic state. And then, there’s been a number of laws that are intended to dictate the curriculum that are used in Palestinian schools in Israel. So there’s a heightened and escalated number of laws that are being used to, one, attack the Palestinian community in Israel and, two, to penalize Israeli civil society, especially human rights groups which assisted with the UN fact-finding mission (better known as “The Goldstone Report”).
There’s been a number of these kinds of laws and, instead of allowing civil society to operate, with this new law, the boycott law, it’s effectively preventing civil society from holding the government accountable to international law. And it provides protection for the whole settlement project in the occupied West Bank by preventing people from being able to speak out about it and by muzzling and critics and human rights groups that document the settlement project in the West Bank.
I think it’s also worth noting that Israel has actively prevented or tried to prevent ties of direct solidarity between Israeli activists and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by making it illegal for Israeli citizen to enter certain parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And, it’s also for years turned away and deported international solidarity activists or even people working for international development agencies or civil society groups, to prevent them from accessing and build relationships with Palestinians and outside observers from witnessing what’s happening on the ground.
GOSZTOLA: What can you say about how the US is involved in providing cover or reinforcing the kind of policies that Israel wants to enact?
MURPHY: The United States has always been bankrolling the Israeli occupation and gives I think $3 billion a year to the state of Israel or something like that. It’s always provided diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations through the veto at the UN Security Council. So, Palestinians have always been denied any route towards justice, whether it be in the Israeli court system or at the UN level. And, even when people attempted to put Ariel Sharon on trial for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, basically the United States bullied Belgium into changing its universal jurisdiction laws, saying that NATO headquarters will be pulled out of Brussels if the court case moved forward. So, nobody has been held accountable for that grave injustice that happened in 1982.
Now, it’s United States policy to help Israel combat what it calls the de-legitimization of Israel and we’ve seen this—Obama has said this is state policy and the US State Dept through one of its spokespersons reiterated this last month. And, we see this through the US government scuttling the Goldstone Report at the UN and through preventing any kind of accountability for the Mavi Marmara massacre at the UN, even though a US citizen was executed by Israeli forces during that attack. And, now of course, with Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project and the material support laws regarding material support for foreign terrorist organizations, we’re seeing how these counterterrorism tools are being used to try to criminalize people doing solidarity work with Palestinians in the United States.
The investigation for which I’ve been subpoenaed for is an illustration of this. I think it’s going to fan out further now that the US State Department was warning activists who were participating in the US Boat to Gaza that they could potentially be prosecuted under the material support laws for their participation in the flotilla. Their bogus argument is that they are providing material support for Hamas by participating in the flotilla, even though the flotilla really wasn’t about humanitarian assistance but it was about breaking the siege on Gaza—the siege that has been imposed in partnership with the United States.
GOSZTOLA: I’d like you to address one talking point that has been coming from the State Dept, not because it’s legitimate but because it’s being used to go up against people who are trying take on the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and that’s namely that we’ve had State Dept spokesperson Nuland saying there are ways for humanitarian aid to be delivered so in that case because there are countries involved perhaps there shouldn’t be independent organizations delivering aid. Just in describing her language I already have a tough time repeating it because it’s so fraudulent. Can you speak to her argument?
MURPHY: The US government knows that the people doing these kind of solidarity direct actions are not bringing in any kind of aid that’s going to — It’s symbolic. It’s an act of solidarity so it’s just totally a false and disingenuous on the part of the State Dept. And, we’ve also seen in the past how Palestinian community organizers have been put in prison because of their work giving more than symbolic assistance to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
So, it’s just really cynical and it’s completely unjust that the US government will fund the occupation, fund the Israeli military, provide the white phosphorous bombs that were used against Palestinians and Gaza and meanwhile say that they are going to prosecute and put in jail people who give money to the Palestinians who are trying to survive under Israeli occupation. And so the five men who were associated with the Holy Land Foundation, some of them are serving out sentences as long as sixty-five years in prison in the United States because they were giving direct assistance to charities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. And, I think it’s not up to the US government who, when and how people should be giving humanitarian assistance especially when the US government has played such a terrible role in creating the situation the first place that has resulted in people needing humanitarian assistance.