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Criminalizing Palestinian Solidarity

Campaigning against Israeli apartheid has resulted in 23 Palestinian solidarity activists facing US federal grand jury.

The United States government has criminalized the Palestinian people, and now it is increasingly treating US citizens who stand in solidarity with Palestine as criminals as well - including those courageously putting their lives on the line to break the siege on Gaza.

I am a Palestine solidarity activist in the US, and one of 23 US citizens who have been issued with a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury as part of what the government has said is an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support to foreign "terrorist organizations".

None of us have given money or weapons to any group on the State Department's foreign terrorist organization list. But what many of us have done is participate in or help organize educational trips to meet with Palestinians and Colombians resisting the US-funded military regimes they live under.

The goal of these trips is to learn about the human rights violations happening in these places and to bring those stories back home to the US, to educate people and to organize to change US foreign policy for the better.

Warranting an investigation

Travel for such purposes should be protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. But a year ago the US Supreme Court decided in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project to dramatically expand the government's definition of what constitutes material support for a foreign terrorist organization.

Now the government considers travel to places like the West Bank and Colombia to be a predicate or justification for opening up an investigation and issuing search warrants to raid activists' homes and seize their belongings. Political speech if made in a "coordinated way" can be construed as material support.

Travel to Colombia was the initial pretext for the investigation into the 23 of us, but it expanded to travel to Palestine. This was confirmed with the recent discovery of files accidentally left behind by the FBI in one of the homes raided last September.

The file includes dozens of questions that the FBI wanted to pose to activists - many of them focused on travel to Palestine and Colombia, two asking activists to name every person they know who has ever traveled to the Middle East or South America.

Civil liberties groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights have decried Holder v. HLP because it imposes guilt on people by association and criminalizes "activities like distribution of literature, engaging in political advocacy, participating in peace conferences, training in human rights advocacy, and donating cash and humanitarian assistance, even when this type of support is intended only to promote lawful and non-violent activities".

The investigation into the 23 of us is viewed by many as a test case for Holder vs. HLP. Conviction of a violation of the material support laws means a prison sentence of up to 15 years - and what happens with our case will set a precedent for many social justice movements in the US. But it will particularly - and perhaps more immediately - impact Palestine solidarity activists who campaign to end US aid to Israel and in support of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Palestine solidarity movement in the US at risk

The Palestine Solidarity Movement has gained significant ground in the US in the past few years. Consciousness of the oppressive nature of the Israeli apartheid regime has been raised in the wake of Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon - when the phrase "Dahiyeh doctrine" was coined to describe Israel's wholesale destruction of civilian infrastructure. The winter 2008-09 invasion and air attacks on the trapped civilian population in the Gaza Strip further exposed Israel's cruelty, and the execution of nine humanitarians aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last year showed that Israel knows no bounds - and that the impunity it enjoys needs to end before the next massacre is perpetrated.

Activists in the US play a key role in efforts to bring Israel's war crimes and occupation to an end, as the US government bankrolls the Israeli military with our tax dollars, and shields Israel from accountability through diplomatic bullying and the veto at the UN Security Council.

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© 2021 Al-Jazeera English

Maureen Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy is managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and a Palestine solidarity activist based in Chicago.

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