Students for Justice in Palestine – the Netherlands
Last Tuesday, February 27th, Revolutionaire Eenheid (Revolutionary Unity) and Anakbayan hosted an event with Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh. The journey towards and aftermath of this event was plagued with Zionist efforts to stop this event from taking place. Rasmea Odeh is not only a survivor of torture, deportation and 10 years of Israeli imprisonment, but also an active community leader and an influential Palestinian figure making the oppressed voices of the Palestinian people heard. Besides the struggle for Palestinian liberation, Rasmea has stood side by side with Black, Latino, Filipino and other marginalized communities fighting against oppression and violence in the United States. Upon arriving in the Netherlands, Rasmea Odeh and the organizers have received threats and violent backlash from the Zionist lobby and institutions supporting them.
Rasmea: ‘I ‘m not a terrorist and my people are not terrorists.’
Despite Rasmea’s brave commitment to justice and equality, she has been demonized and called ‘terrorist’ for a false conviction made 49 years ago because of her political activism by the Israeli government. The same government of a state created upon the detriment of approximately 500 Palestinian villages and the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians out of their homeland, fostering an Apartheid system until today. Ethnic cleansing continues today in the form of expulsions, collective punishment, imprisonment and Israeli-only illegal settlements. During her stay in the United States, Rasmea faced another charge alleging immigration fraud for failing to disclose her conviction by an Israeli military court in 1969 for an alleged involvement in a supermarket bombing in Jerusalem, Palestine.
The failure of legal institutions to protect Rasmea and serve justice elucidates how these institutions work as they are intended to work: to serve those in power and target the most vulnerable and oppressed. The military trial and conviction that took place 49 years ago in Israel was used as a ‘legal’ basis to convict a 67-year old woman in a second American sham trial leading to a recent second conviction victimizing the victim instead of the aggressor. The immigration fraud charge has been an obvious pretext used by the US government to prosecute Odeh’s Palestine activism.
Dutch mainstream media has also consistently labelled Rasmea Odeh as a controversial (ex-) terrorist. This is unsurprising considering the Dutch media’s track record of often racist, minority stigmatizing and uninformed reporting. The complicity of Dutch media further became obvious when one of the members of the Revolutionary Unity was personally targeted in an article for expressing support for Rasmea Odeh and the objectives she stands for.
Rasmea Odeh serves as an example, of which there are many, on how revolutionaries throughout history have been demonized for challenging oppressive systems by being portrayed as terrorists instead of terror-survivors.
Remembering Nelson Mandela’s words on Larry King live in 2000:
‘I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists.’
Dutch institutional complicity
Ever since the announcement of the event featuring Rasmea Odeh in Amsterdam, the organizers and Odeh have been subjected to Zionist defamation campaigns and backlash attempting to prevent the event from taking place and thereby silencing Palestinian voices. The evening was on anti-imperialism, from Palestine to the Philippines, and about revolutionary women leading this struggle in their communities outside their home country.
In the Dutch parliament, the Dutch racist and fascist PVV party of Geert Wilders, has advocated against Rasmea Odeh’s visit by arguing in favor of an entrance embargo to ban Rasmea from entering the Netherlands. The VVD party of PM Mark Rutte, a conservative ruling party, wants the Justice Officer of Amsterdam to be present at the meeting ‘to observe and prosecute anti-Semitic comments’.
Spokesperson of Revolutionary Unity, Maas Hoeder responded stating that:
“The Dutch Zionist organization CIDI knows damn well that we struggle against all forms of discrimination. It is a misconception that all Jews support the Apartheid state or that everyone who legitimizes their human rights abuses is Jewish. We struggle against all forms of Apartheid, including the ‘Israeli’ state.”
Initially, the event was supposed to take place in the Nassaukerk, a Protestant church in the centre of Amsterdam. Following the announcement of the event the church faced the backlash from the Zionist lobby and the media in the Netherlands. The church cancelled on the organizers, who immediately worked on securing a new location, which would not be announced publicly but through a registration system, to ensure attendees would not be a threat to Rasmea or attendees to the event. Unfortunately, on the day of the event the Zionists managed to obtain this location and publicly announced it. Immediately, the HTIB (Nelson Mandela Centre) cancelled the event. Leaving organisers with very little time to find a new location. These venues chose to shield themselves from the power and abilities to inflict consequences of the Zionist lobby.
Under extreme pressure but with equal determination, the organizers refused to let the Zionists win. De Verrekijker (‘DV’) was a true savior in this instance, in agreeing to the use of the space, they protected freedom of expression and the right to organise. DV is an informal autonomous space for the academic community at VU university campus offering a platform to different organizations and groups.
Despite the Zionist defamation campaign, the constant venue change and misconstrued reports on the event, the event still attracted a diverse and engaging audience who were asking various questions and were sharing experiences. It was interesting to witness how older generation activists took time to speak directly to the young students attending, creating a sense of inter-generational unity and empowerment. Rasmea shared painful memories from her childhood such as having been displaced and therefore forced to live in tents in refugee camps. It was a heartwarming evening where different topics were discussed and solidarity against all types of oppression was emphasized. Having attended the event, one could immediately detect the contradictions with the negative framing that was taking place on the outside by those who wished to see the event canceled.
VU University’s selective censorship
The consequences of holding this event in DV have been severe. VU university announced the closure of DV. The DV is not just a space where students occasionally come together but also safe space and second home for many. The threats deployed by the University to close down this space is a clear form of collective punishment for uplifting Palestinian voices and standing in solidarity against Zionism and thereby against the silencing of Palestinians.
De Verrekijker issued a response stating:
‘(…) It is sad to see that the university can’t handle controversial discussion and immediately threatens to shut us down. We believe that the content that is taught and discussed at the university cannot be dictated by the media or biased third parties, De Verrekijker sees the importance of offering a safe space for open discussion and learning, as the VU should. We consider the censorship of the VU to be against academic free speech, targeted and unreasonable. We are calling for people to come to De Verrekijker to show their support and to stop the potential eviction. We invite everyone to come to help, bring food, blankets, mattresses, your friends and hang out. We will not give in to a University board that curbs its’ students right to academic freedom. We will defend De Verrekijker for as long as it takes.’
The recent repression has not been the first by the University. In 2015, VU University already banned a debate on Israel-Palestine organized by Students for Justice in Palestine (SRP) from its campus after Zionist pressure. However, during the same month, the Israeli ambassador was invited to come speak on campus by the University.
The double standards deployed by the university raise questions on who has a say on what happens on campus, is it the community of critical students or the Israeli lobby? Why is the university proactively censoring pro-Palestinian voices? Why is the university controlling spaces that are meant to be autonomous and free?
Calling themselves the free university, it is unfortunate to note that this freedom is not extended to those challenging the status quo.