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From BDS to the Tamimis, Palestinians Defend Their Rights

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The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah says US-backed Israeli efforts to criminalize the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and to silence protesters like the Tamimi family are backfiring as Palestinians and their allies fight back

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AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. We’re continuing our coverage from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at the conference, “The Israel Lobby in American Policy”, which is being held on the eve of the annual AIPAC Summit in Washington, D.C. My guest right now is Ali Abunimah. He is the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of two books, “One Country: A Bold Proposal To End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse” and “The Battle for Justice in Palestine”. Welcome, Ali.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you, Aaron. It’s nice to be with you without a Skype connection between us.

AARON MATÉ: Agreed. Let’s talk about BDS. We’ve been covering, and you’ve been covering extensively on The Electronic Intifada, these efforts around the country to criminalize BDS, a movement that you’ve been a vocal advocate for. Just this week there was sort of a new step in that, where a Muslim student group at Arizona State University tried to organize an event, and the school sent over a contract saying that the speaker cannot support BDS.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Yeah. I mean, I’m actually happy this has happened, because I think that illustrates as starkly as possible what a gross violation of the First Amendment these anti-BDS laws that are cropping up around the country, including Arizona where this happened. This is a direct attack on free speech. Arizona has one of the most stringent anti-BDS laws that requires individuals or corporations who do business with the state, which would be the context here, because this speaker would be coming to a state university, to certify that they’re not supporters of the BDS movement. So the government has to approve your opinion before you can be a caterer for a state agency, or a builder, or in this case a speaker coming to speak about the very topic that you’re banned from speaking on. I understand that CARE, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has just filed a lawsuit against this, but there are lawsuits in other states.

In Kansas, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against a similar anti-BDS law on behalf of a schoolteacher in Kansas who is barred from contracting with the state as a teacher trainer unless she certifies that she does not boycott Israel. She says she’s a Mennonite, and her personal convictions do not allow her to certify that, because she supports the non-violent BDS movement. In that case a federal judge has already issued an injunction suspending implementation of the law, which is very good news, and I think also again emphasizes the direct attack on the First Amendment that these laws are that are now in 20 states, more than 20 states. And pending in Congress there is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which seeks to do a similar thing at the federal level.

AARON MATÉ: Can that injunction that was issued in the case of the Kansas teacher, can that be used as a precedent in other cases? Do you think that has wider legal implications?

ALI ABUNIMAH: You know, I don’t know sort of those kinds of legal niceties, but there are other cases that have been filed. The Kansas case is the first one in which a federal judge has actually ruled, provisionally, on one of these cases. So I think that’s a very good sign, because what civil rights groups and free speech defenders have been saying all along is that these laws are a direct attack on the First Amendment and that they will not stand. And so it’s really encouraging for those of us who support free speech that in the first major legal test, this is the initial opening.

But we’ve seen other absurd examples of these laws being applied. For example, in Texas a few months ago, after Hurricane Harvey, the City of Dickinson, Texas actually required people whose homes had been flooded or destroyed, they’d been made homeless by the storm, to sign a declaration that they do not support the boycott of Israel in order to receive hurricane aid from the city. Again, it was encouraging that there was so much public backlash to that, that they rescinded that, but what we found when we looked, I actually did some investigation. I found that other cities across Texas, San Antonio among them and others, have already included these anti-BDS clauses in basically all government contracting with the city.

AARON MATÉ: What do you think accounts for this national preoccupation, from the local level to Congress, to put such effort into criminalizing BDS, to target people who want to boycott Israel?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Israel has decided that this is the only way that it can win against the Palestinian rights movement, is by trying to shut it up and by trying to stigmatize and de-legitimize it as something illegal or something criminal, or smearing it as anti-Semitic. It’s actually not just national, it’s international, because the same efforts are happening, particularly in Europe, at the European Union level, and at national level within European states. So this is really something that Israel and its lobby groups are driving to try to criminalize and marginalize the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is modeled on the movement that with broad global support helped to end apartheid in South Africa a generation ago.

AARON MATÉ: So speaking of public relations and Israeli sensitivity to public opinion, this week we had Mohammad Tamimi, who is the cousin of Ahed Tamimi, it was his assault by an Israeli officer, actually him being shot in the face by an Israeli officer, that prompted Ahed Tamimi, this young Palestinian teenager, to slap an Israeli soldier in the face, for which she is still now in prison. And this week, Israel came out and said that Mohammad has admitted that actually it was not the Israeli soldiers who caused these horrific wounds to his face, causing severe brain injuries, he was even in a coma, but actually that he fell off a bike. That’s what they said was his admission. Can you talk about that? What’s going on there?

ALI ABUNIMAH: It’s incredible. I mean, you can’t make this up, Aaron. What happened is that they shot this kid in the face on December 15th at point blank range. There are multiple eyewitness accounts of it. He was shot in the face with a rubber-coated metal bullet, which entered his face and lodged in the back of his brain. The CAT scans have been published in the Israeli media, in “Haaretz”. He underwent incredible surgery in a Palestinian hospital to save his life. They removed a third of his skull, and you see the pictures of this kid, they’re all over the internet, it’s shocking. Half his head is caved in, and his brain is just sitting under a layer of skin. He’s very vulnerable until he has restorative surgery to put back the pieces of his skull that were removed.

Now, this kid is not even allowed to walk around his house, because he is in such danger. Well, a few nights ago the Israeli Army invaded his village in the middle of the night, they took this kid out of his house, they took him in a military jeep, arrested him in the middle of the night, beat him on the way according to his own account, and forced him to confess that oh, he wasn’t shot in the head, despite all the evidence and the eyewitnesses, he’d just fallen off his bike.

And then the next day they released him, and then the Israeli general that runs the occupation, Yoav Mordechai, announced on Facebook that the Tamimi family are a family of liars and the kid confessed that he had fallen off his bike. I mean, this kid had said, “I confessed because I was terrified, and they were beating me, and I wanted to go home. And if I told them that I was out at the protest, they would have arrested me.”

One of the Israeli human rights people from B’Tselem, Sarit Michaeli, tweeted. She said, and I think this really sums it up, that Mohammad Tamimi is the first Palestinian boy in history who denied he was throwing stones, and the Israeli Army believed him. But what it shows, I think, is the sheer desperation, and this has gotten almost no, you know, it’s gotten some attention in other parts of the world, but I think if this kid had been from many other places, this shocking treatment, this shocking propaganda, this shocking treatment of children would get some outrage.

And the one thing that’s worth saying since we’re in Washington and I’m rarely here is that this issue is getting some traction. So a few months ago in December, Betty McCollum, Democratic Representative of Minnesota, introduced a bill, for the first time in history, focused on Palestinian human rights, particularly children. This bill very simply prohibits the use of US military aid to Israel for the military detention, torture and abuse of children. There are currently more than 300 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, but hundreds of children go through that abusive system every year, not least, of course, Ahed Tamimi, who’s been in prison now since December 19th, passed her 17th birthday in prison. And that bill now has 21 cosponsors, which is not nothing in the United States and, I think, provides a kind of rallying point for people around the country to go to their members of Congress and say, “We want you to back this bill.”

AARON MATÉ: Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of two books, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” and “One Country”. Ali, thank you.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.