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Kristen Ess Schurr
Kristen Ess Schurr
Kristen Ess Schurr is a journalist and activist who lived and worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for eight years.
The Irvine 11: Islamophobia is alive and well
Muslim students' arrest for interrupting the Israeli ambassador's speech in California shows discrimination at work.
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2011 11:04
The harsh charges and conviction of the Irvine 11 stand out when compared with the treatment of others who have interrupted political speeches [GALLO/GETTY]

The Irvine 11 verdict has just come in, Friday September 23. All guilty, all charges. Students and organisers say this selective prosecution will not thwart their efforts in future protest. I had the opportunity to address a press conference alongside the Shura Council, Council on American Islamic Relations and Jewish Voice for Peace among others, after closing arguments on Monday.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was in the United States in February of this year attempting to hoodwink college students into believing that Israel was a democracy. These students of Palestinian and Arab descent not only know better as people of conscience and as people who read between the lines of news reports, they also know, based on the first hand experience of themselves or of their families.

They know that the there is no democracy under Israeli rule for Palestinians: Those who live within the 1948 borders are subject to an apartheid system, while Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are under the most brutal military and economic occupation of our time.

"The students ... stood up to the propaganda that allows Israel, after 60-plus years, to still sell itself as victim instead of victimiser."

The students referred to as the Irvine 11 stood up to Israeli Ambassador Oren's lies, his misstatements, his bending of the truth - they stood up to the propaganda that allows Israel, after 60-plus years, to still sell itself as "victim" instead of "victimiser".

Oren was sent here as part of the Israeli "re-branding" campaign to polish its image - an image only slightly tarnished in the US by the murder and injury of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip at the turn of the 2008-9 new year.

How do you rebrand the image of a country that is condemned by more UN Human Rights Council resolutions than any other country in the world? You do so by silencing the truth tellers, by denying the truth and calling those who tell it liars and criminals - and that is what we see happening right now. Prosecution attempts to depoliticise Oren's speech and this trial ring hollow.

The occupied are under no obligation to provide for the comfort or protection of the occupier - just as people of conscience in the United States are under no obligation to provide cover for the lies of Israeli officials.

Targeting Muslim students

At most, these students are guilty of displaying a lack of courtesy by interrupting Oren, but one could very simply argue that the brutal occupation of Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of Bedouins within Israeli boundaries and the major attacks on Lebanon are the discourtesies, not the voicing of opposition to these policies and to those who promote them.

Prosecuting the Irvine 11 has reeked of the anti-Arab, Islamophobic, anti-Palestine and pro-Israeli stance that we are more and more forced to accept as the status-quo, as the US moves further away from what might be considered a democracy.

The United States already spends billions of dollars annually to support the Israeli occupation and is also spending well into the six figures to prosecute these students who spoke against it. This is a "selective and discriminatory" investigation and prosecution of Muslim students - because it was an Israeli official speaking, and because it was Muslims who protested.

Enough. The Orange County District Attorney is selectively prosecuting the students for political reasons and singling them out, based on their faith.

On the very same day that the trial opened against these Muslim students for speaking out against the Israeli ambassador's lies, two non-Muslim women disrupted the speech of former US Vice President Dick Cheney - also in Orange County. Those women were not arrested or prosecuted. Several months before that, three non-Muslim women disrupted the speech of former US President George W Bush - also in Orange County. They were not arrested or prosecuted.

We're not looking to be arrested for speaking truth to power - we are looking for an end to Islamophobia and an end to blind US support of Israeli occupation and apartheid. Prosecute the Israeli ambassador for promoting the blatant breaking of international law, not the students who called him out for it.


Kristen Ess Schurr is a journalist and activist who lived and worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for eight years until moving to the US where she is now CODEPINK's Los Angeles coordinator.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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