AMP staffers face ‘discriminatory charges’
Taher Herzallah and Kareem El-Hosseiny are the only two Arab and Muslim protesters, who are also staffers at American Muslims for Palestine. The four others are of White Jewish origins from the groups CodePink and IfNotNow. Despite all protesters being arrested for disrupting the hearing, only the Arab protesters were criminally charged while three protesters were forced to pay a small same day fine and one protester had their case transferred to traffic court.
Herzallah and El-Hosseiny may face six months in jail and a $500 fine. AMP, IfNotNow, Code Pink, and many others feel as though they were targeted for selective prosecution and that these are discriminatory charges on grounds that they were based on racial, religious, and ethnic bias.
They rejected the plea deal offered at their first appearance in D.C. Superior Court on March 28 and there has been a call to action to have their charges dropped at their next hearing on April 20.
In an exclusive interview with Palestine in America (PiA), Herzallah and El-Hosseiny discussed developments in their case, their first court appearance and the campaign to have the charges against them dismissed.
PiA: According to a statement in Mondoweiss, you were surprised to find that you would be tried in federal court. Why do you feel this is discrimination? Have you been arrested before for civil disobedience and do you think that it was taken into consideration?
Taher Herzallah (TH): This is clearly discrimination because no other protesters that were protesting with us are facing federal charges. This is clearly an act of discrimination by the government against those of us who are Arab or Muslim descent which is the clear problem that we are having.
Kareem El-Hosseiny (KE): See, if it were only Taher maybe, but it’s not because it’s me as well and I have never been arrested before.
PiA: How do you feel about the Twitter storm to get media coverage about the discrimination you are facing and the rally for your next court appearance?
KE: The support has been fantastic. It’s good to see people from all different sides of the Palestine solidarity movement in support with us including our Jewish allies. As for the rally for our April 20 court appearance we are expecting a good turnout.
PiA: What about media coverage? What media outlets have covered the disruption and have they covered the discriminatory charges you are facing?
KE: At the time of the disruption we did get some pretty good media coverage because it is a big deal. Outlets such as Haaretz, Mondoweiss, Washington Post, Huffington Post have covered the disruption, but few have covered the charges.
PiA: During the Senate Committee’s opening remarks, Senator Bob Corker (Rep-TN) warned you about the difficulties that protesters might face in regards to disrupting. What are your thoughts on this?
TH: Senator Bob Corker’s warnings that he couldn’t back us up and have the police not arrest us for disrupting were not in regards to any specific laws, but I think it’s the quorum of that particular gathering. They made it very clear that anybody who protested would be promptly arrested and detained. The law has remained the same as far as protests are concerned but in that particular case we received the warning from Corker.
KE: We knew we would be immediately removed but we didn’t know we were going to be arrested.
PiA: In a previous interview with PiA, Taher said that Palestinian activists in the U.S. should not be discouraged in partaking in civil disobedience because of family, community, or career pressures, but given the new law passed in the Israeli Parliament on March 6 banning individuals who participate in BDS has your position changed? What would you say to Palestinians living in the U.S. who have family and property in Palestine?
TH: For those who have family and property in the West Bank and need to go back, I cannot speak for them because I am not in that position but I understand that people need to make certain considerations in context to the laws that are passed in the Knesset. As far as I am concerned, I feel that we will continue to push the bar and challenge the system that currently is in place otherwise what we are going to see is not even gradual change. What we are going to see is the maintaining of the status quo long term. So we want to make sure that we are able to challenge it and continue to take action when necessary.
PiA: Could you tell me your thoughts on the expected results and outcomes of your next court appearance?
KE: I can’t say what we expect to happen because I can’t presume to know the thoughts of the judge, prosecutor, or defense. But I know we hope to get the case dismissed because the obvious racial discrimination.
PiA: How and in what ways have the Jewish allies supported you through these events?
KE: They are coordinating and organizing the rally to support our case of dropping the discriminatory charges and they are spreading awareness about them.