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Recently Convicted, 1 of the Irvine 10 | Other Voices

Schivone headshot - Color x100Taher Herzallah is one of the newly convicted students collectively known as the “Irvine 11”. Ten of the original eleven were prosecuted (one had his charges dropped) by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and, this past Friday, convicted of “disruption” and “conspiracy to disrupt” a public lecture by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine, in February 2010. Herzallah is a senior majoring Political Science and International Affairs at the University of California, Riverside. He is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the national campus coordinator of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP).

SCHIVONE: Students for Justice in Palestine today released a national statement of solidarity that leads with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following his March 1956 conviction for violating the state of Alabama’s antiboycott law: “Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face. But I left with a smile. I knew I was a convicted criminal, but I was of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice.” Walking out of the courtroom following your own conviction on Friday, how did you feel and how do you feel now?

HERZALLAH: That quote really characterized how the 10 of us felt that afternoon.  I feel no shame in what I did.  On the contrary, I feel I was performing my civic duty by speaking truth to power and would be willing to do it again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.

GS: Many activists have expressed shock and anger at the measures the State of California took against all of you – because many activists routinely carry out similar actions as the Irvine 11 but face no consequences. One of the most widely covered examples was organized by a group of American Jewish and Israeli Youth called “Young, Jewish and Proud” who stridently interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the Jewish Federation of North America’s general assembly in New Orleans this past November. The Associated Press reported that “[s]heriff’s deputies escorted [the protestors] out to a chorus of shouts and boos, and they were released without charges.”  You, on the other hand, faced multiple charges, a long trial process and now a conviction and state punishment. What do you believe distinguishes the Irvine 11 case from this and other examples?

TH: First of all, I do want to thank those Jewish youth for standing up against Netanyahu.  Their courage and bravery gave us strength and I commend them for their actions.  Second, we do realize that our protest occurred in Orange County which is known to be a bastion for conservative, right wing residents as well as Zionists.  I also do believe that the fact that we were all Muslim students who protested made the District Attorney feel that we were an easy target to prosecute since the public would take his side in Orange County.  What the DA didn’t know was who he was really messing with.  It wasn’t just us he was prosecuting, he was going against an entire movement, much larger than just 10 Muslim students and he lost the media battle and will eventually lose the legal one.

GS: You’ve said you know the pain of Israel’s occupation firsthand. Would you elaborate?

Taher Herzallah (left).  Photo courtesy of Taher Herzallah.

Taher Herzallah (left). Photo courtesy of Taher Herzallah.

TH: I can never truly say I have felt the pain of Israel’s occupation because I’ve never lived there.  But what I can say is that my family has suffered severely in the Gaza Strip and several of [my] relatives were killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2009.  To say that I understand the brutal reality of occupation would be more sufficient.

GS: Is this what wholly or in part moves you to do this sort of anti-occupation advocacy work in the US?  Why do you believe such work is important?

TH: Definitely.  My motivation comes from my own experiences and understanding of what the situation is like on the ground.  I think that is important because the causes of motivation don’t allow me to sit back and relax while things are happening around me.  I am determined to fight for this noble cause of ending Israeli occupation and for the disenfranchised Palestinian people.

GS: You and I did an interview this past May the day that students and youth interrupted a University of Arizona (UA) lecture by Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Board President Mark Stegeman in order to expose and educate on the Board’s intent to vote on Stegeman’s proposal to comply with the AZ State Legislature’s ban on Ethnic Studies.  TUSD is currently appealing the ban’s implementation at the state level, thanks to the actions of the students. This is what you had to say in solidarity that day (May 3):

“What the state and [TUSD] administration is imposing is an injustice to the intellectual hunger and cultural needs of students. And I urge all students who are passionate about and dedicated to their education…to continue to engage in civil disobedience until their demands are met. …Erasing history from books is more dangerous than not taking kids to school.  And the students maintaining their Ethnic Studies programs at all costs can stop this disease before it spreads to other states.  My best of luck and solidarity to you all, and I hope we hear some good news tonight.”

I never got the opportunity to ask you: Why do you feel these sorts of inter-movement solidarity are needed or necessary?  Some activists within each movement say there are enough problems to deal with and that the individual movements should engage their own issues and problems first and foremost before “helping” any other movement.  What do you think?

TH: I think inter-movement work is absolutely necessary to our work as Palestine activists.  It’s important to realize that many other movements seek to challenge the status quo because of its oppressive nature.  Human struggle to protect human dignity is not just confined to one movement or cause, it runs through a plethora of other issues that we should all be engaged in.  Yes, it is difficult to mobilize on just one front but it’s important to be ready and willing to work with other like-minded individuals to maximize and manifest true change.

Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a Chicano-Jewish American, founder of Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Arizona and co-founder of UA Students for Justice in Palestine. He is also a volunteer with migrant justice organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes. He currently attends Arizona State University and can be followed on Twitter via @GSchivone. His column, Other Voices, appears here on alternating Mondays.

6 Older Responses to “Recently Convicted, 1 of the Irvine 10 | Other Voices”

  1. Anna
    September 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    These students weren’t arrested for their political views–they were arrested after disrupting a university-sponsored event like hooligans. Activism and hooliganism don’t have to go hand-in-hand. This was not civil disobedience, it was uncivilized rudeness. These 10 need to get over themselves and learn that part of activism, and the cycle of changing the system, is listening to what “the other” has to say. They have just shown themselves to be closed-minded.
    This is one of the biggest problems that I have with the SJP movement; they don’t want to hear ANY voices other than their own and those that are very similar. This is not true activism. It is not respectful. It will not go anywhere, and it will not achieve peace OR justice. You cannot expect people to listen to you if you don’t listen to them.
    I hope that next time, they will take the more mature path and find other ways to express themselves. I am disgusted with them for their self-righteous blatherings and for this “interview” that is nothing but brown-nosing. Try asking some hard questions, Gabriel, not just pandering!

  2. Yakov Wolf
    September 26, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    Thanks for this interview. I am shocked and appalled at this display of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia andthe blatant violation of the Irvine 11′s First Amendment rights, and will work to raise awareness of this injustice within my own Jewish community.

  3. Elke Weiss
    September 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    There was no violation of free speech. Even First Amendment expert Erwin Chemerinsky, who thinks the students shouldn’t be prosecuted thinks they are guilty as sin.

    –I strongly disagree with those who try and defend the students as engaging in free speech. The First Amendment does not protect the right of people to go into an auditorium and try to shout down a speaker. No one has a First Amendment right to go into my class, or to a city council meeting, or to a court session, or into an auditorium on campus and keep a speaker from being heard. No court would find that the students were engaged in protected speech. The students violated California law, which makes it a misdemeanor offense to disrupt a public meeting. The jury which found them guilty faithfully applied this law to the facts of the case.—

    I would feel the same way if Zionist students disrupted a lecture.

    Freedom of speech does not mean a heckler’s veto.

  4. Mikhael
    September 27, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    The so-called “Irvine 11″ did not have their First Amendment rights to free speech, protest or freedom of assembly curtailed in any way. As students and American citizens, they had every right to peacefully protest Ambassador Oren’s lecture outside the auditorium, distribute pamphlets against Israel or Zionism to people attending the lecture, or otherwise let their views be aired. They also had the right to attend the lecture and enter into civil debate with the ambassador at the question-and-answer session. They were determined, however, to prevent Ambassador Oren from speaking and concertedly and deliberately disrupted him from doing so.

    If pro-Zionist student activists used the same tactics to disrupt a Palestinian spokesman from addressing a university audience they would merit the same sanctions. It is outrageous that anybody can see these kids as martyrs for free speech.

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  2. DA: “History requires us to draw a line in the sand against this sort of organized thuggery.” « Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism - October 4, 2011

    [...] of American Muslims for Palestine. “I feel no shame in what I did,”Herzallah said in an interview published last week. “On the contrary, I feel I was performing my civic duty [...]

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