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On July 23, a Palestine-based committee for the support of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida, announced its campaign in a one-page ad in the Palestinian daily Al-Quds. It stated that Dr. Al-Arian’s arrest, due to his honorable support for the just Palestinian cause and for the right of Palestinians to live as a free people, sets a dangerous precedent and is a violation of the right to free speech and expression. The committee also urges human and civil rights organizations worldwide to ask U.S. authorities to release Dr. Al-Arian, and to halt the politically-motivated case against him.
The Florida-based Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace is covering Dr. Al-Arian’s trial, and below follows their latest update, including testimony from Birzeit University professor, Dr. Abu Amr, who described to the courtroom the realities of life under military occupation, including the daily violations against Palestinian schools and universities.
Dr. Sami Al-Arian’s trial entered its seventh week on Monday. Throughout the trial, many observers have noted that the government has been giving jurors a distorted, inaccurate and biased representation of the Palestinian Israeli conflict, specifically excluding anything to do with the Palestinians’ suffering under Israeli military occupation (or their circumstances in general). In fact, Palestinians are only mentioned as perpetrators of violence or violent acts.
But last week the courtroom finally got a glimpse of life under occupation, when the government brought Palestinian legislator and academic Ziad Abu-Amr to testify.
Dr. Abu-Amr was called to testify about an affidavit he wrote in 2000 for the case of Dr. Mazen Al-Najjar (Al-Arian’s brother-in-law), who was detained in the U.S. for nearly four years under the use of secret evidence. The government had hoped their witness would prove a charge of obstruction of justice against Dr. Al-Arian, but instead Dr. Abu-Amr said Dr. Al-Arian had not influenced him in any way when he drafted his affidavit as an expert witness.
Abu-Amr, a professor at Birzeit University who has published works on Islamic movements in Palestine, testified about the effects of Israel’s occupation on Palestinians, including the lack of academic freedom in the occupied territories. One example of this is the Israeli military’s ban on thousands of books from entering Palestinian territories.
Abu-Amr also explained that Israel’s decades-long economic strangulation of the West Bank and Gaza has left an enormous vacuum that must filled by local charities, which in turn must be approved by the Palestinian Authority to operate. Groups operating in the Palestinian territories offer a high number of social services, including clinics and kindergartens, he continued. He said the P.A., which is poor and inefficient, “could not deliver services to people
all over the occupied territories.”
Under cross-examination, Abu-Amr said Israel periodically closes Palestinian universities. He recalled several occasions in which his own university was closed for months at a time, and classes were held in private homes, unions and churches. The ad-hoc university classes were “raided by the Israeli military,” he said.
With the Israeli forces carrying out arrests, deportations, home demolitions, curfews, school and university closings, travel restrictions, etc. against Palestinians, “not a Palestinian home [is] not influenced by the occupation,” Abu-Amr said, comparing the situation to Apartheid South Africa.
Clarifying a number of terms, concepts and figures that have been distorted thus far, Abu-Amr described the first Palestinian Intifada as “a popular, peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation by the Palestinian population.” He said Palestinians use the term “martyr” to refer to those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of their country, including those who “die by stray bullets by Israelis.”
Also during cross-examination, Dr. Al-Arian’s attorney William Moffitt presented Abu-Amr with a flyer of a lecture in which he participated over 10 years ago, sponsored by the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank Dr. Al-Arian helped found. Abu-Amr recalled that the event, titled “Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations: A Palestinian Perspective,” was well-attended and featured well-known, respected and moderate scholars.
For more information please go to www.academicfreespeech.com