Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2013, Pages 66-67

Waging Peace

Hasbara Threats Fail in Iowa City

Threats and harassment from hasbara (Israeli propaganda) operatives across the U.S. and around the world in late September failed to intimidate Nebraska human rights activist Katie Huerter, organizers with People for Justice in Palestine (PJP), administrators of the Iowa City Public Library (ICPL), or Iowa City law enforcement officials. In fact, the audience Huerter addressed at a Sept. 29 event sponsored by PJP at the ICPL was larger than expected.

She had written “a speech with lots of facts, lots of statistics, sound reasoning, and great arguments,” Huerter said, “but in the last week, a lot of hate, a lot of intimidation and attempts to discredit” had caused her to reconsider.

Huerter decided to focus instead on the stories of two courageous women, one an Israeli mother and one a Palestinian mother. Though their lives are different in some ways, said Huerter, they are very similar in others because both have been deeply affected by the fear, oppression and violence attendant upon Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

Huerter met Nomika Zion and Suhaer Khateib when she traveled throughout Israel and Palestine with 23 members of an Interfaith Peace Building delegation in July 2011.

“We landed in Tel Aviv as the Arab Spring was sweeping across the Middle East,” she recalled. “We were there to focus on today’s realities and tomorrow’s leaders, with a special emphasis on young people who are working in these communities using nonviolence to resist the occupation and fighting for their belief in human dignity and equality for everyone who calls Israel and Palestine home. We met with over 30 different Israeli and Palestinian organizations, groups and individuals representing wide swaths of both societies.”

Zion, who lives in Sderot near Israel’s border with Gaza, told the delegation that Israel has become addicted to war.

“It has poisoned the hearts and the minds of our society,” Zion said, “and when we lost our empathy we began to lose the ability to see other people, to see their faces.”

She spoke of the shame and disgust she felt during Operation Cast Lead when Israelis gathered on a hill overlooking Gaza to watch the Israeli assault on the besieged Palestinian enclave, which many consider the world’s largest open-air prison.

In Bil’in, where the acclaimed documentary “5 Broken Cameras” was filmed, Huerter met Suhaer Khateib. Khateib, who earned a degree at Birzeit University, returned to Gaza—where, because of the Israeli blockade, she found poverty, unemployment and homelessness.

“I used to be a different person. You used to be able to hear my laughter from the street, but now, reality is the Wall. We live here, and so do they. We must learn to accept each other,” Khateib said.

“Our pain is the past, the present, and the future. This makes it hard to see a horizon where Palestinians can live together side by side.…You being here, you sharing our stories with the world, that is what gives us hope,” Khateib told Huerter. 

Jason Weeks of PJP read a statement before introducing Huerter to an audience of about 50. “Until three days ago, there has never [since the group’s founding in 2002] been an active, organized attempt to censor any of our programs.…Those who call for censorship here clearly don’t know the community they are dealing with…Personal attacks, slander, intimidation, harassment, and censorship are not the way to solve the world’s problems, and they definitely won’t win the day here,” declared Weeks.

At the request of the ICPL, the Iowa City Police Department sent a uniformed officer to the event. Iowa City’s daily, The Press-Citizen, reported that, “Despite an unprecedented number of threatening phone calls to the Iowa City Public Library…the presentation by Katie Huerter went on without a hitch.”           

         —Michael Gillespie

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