A Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath

So She Lost Her Texas Elementary School Job

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Map: Palestine Legal

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, December 17 2018

A children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children of her own.

Amawi began working in 2009 on a contract basis with the Pflugerville Independent School District, which includes Austin, to provide assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community. The children with whom she has worked span the ages of 3 to 11. Ever since her work for the school district began in 2009, her contract was renewed each year with no controversy or problem.

But this year, all of that changed. On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.

She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

The language of the affirmation Amawi was told she must sign reads like Orwellian — or McCarthyite — self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading:

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Lawmakers Consider Adding Measure Protecting Israel

Senator Richard C. Shelby, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has objected to unrelated bills clinging to his panel’s work. (Erin Schaff for The New York Times)

Emily Cochrane, New York Times, December 17, 2018

WASHINGTON — Just days away from a partial government shutdown, lawmakers are weighing adding a contentious measure to a stymied spending package that would keep American companies from participating in boycotts — primarily against Israel — that are being carried out by international organizations.

Critics of the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of Palestinian rights organizations, say the bill infringes on First Amendment rights and is part of a broader effort on the state and federal levels to suppress support for efforts to boycott, divest investments from and place sanctions on Israel, a movement known as B.D.S.

“The crux of it is silencing one side of the Israel-Palestine conflict,” said Manar Waheed, the senior legislative and advocacy counsel for the A.C.L.U. “Anything that creates a penalty for any First Amendment-related activities is an infringement of the First Amendment.”

The bill, known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, is one of several pieces of pet legislation that lawmakers are advocating in the final days of the session, hoping to add to a package of seven spending bills that need to pass to keep the government fully funded past Friday. President Trump has said repeatedly that he will not sign any spending bills unless they contain at least $5 billion to begin building a wall on the border with Mexico.

As the package languishes, lawmakers see an opportunity to give their bills life before the current Congress ends this month. Other pieces of legislation that could be added include the so-called Blue Water Bill, which would allow Vietnam-era sailors who say they were exposed to Agent Orange as they served offshore to receive the same health benefits as those who were exposed on land. Other lawmakers are seeking to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which was extended with a brief stopgap spending bill two weeks ago.

But so far, neither the White House nor congressional Democrats have signaled that they are willing to negotiate on wall funding, so none of the bills have a moving vehicle to latch onto.

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Curbing Speech in the Name of Helping Israel

A Senate bill aims to punish those who boycott Israel over its settlement policy. There are better solutions.

Senator Ben Cardin speaking at the J Street National Conference in April. (Michael Brochstein/Sipa, via Associated Press)

The New York Times Editorial Board, December 18, 2018

One of the more contentious issues involving Israel in recent years is now before Congress, testing America’s bedrock principles of freedom of speech and political dissent.

It is a legislative proposal that would impose civil and criminal penalties on American companies and organizations that participate in boycotts supporting Palestinian rights and opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The aim is to cripple the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as B.D.S., which has gathered steam in recent years despite bitter opposition from the Israeli government and its supporters around the world.

The proposal’s chief sponsors, Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, want to attach it to the package of spending bills that Congress needs to pass before midnight Friday to keep the government fully funded.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobby group, strongly favors the measure.

J Street, a progressive American pro-Israel group that is often at odds with Aipac and that supports a two-state peace solution, fears that the legislation could have a harmful effect, in part by implicitly treating the settlements and Israel the same, instead of as distinct entities. Much of the world considers the settlements, built on land that Israel captured in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law.

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Collective Punishment Against Families

Israeli Forces Blow up Building Belonging to Abu Hmeid Family for the Third Time

Ref:135-2018, December 15, 2018

As part of the collective punishment policy adopted by the Israeli forces against the families of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks against Israeli soldiers or/and settlers, on Tuesday early morning, 15 December 2018, the Israeli forces blew up a building belonging to the family of prisoner Islam Abu Hmeid in al-Am’ari refugee camp in central al-Bireh. Blowing up the building came two days after the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netenyahu’s decision to expedite the demolitions of the houses belonging to Palestinians carrying out attacks. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) accordingly condemns this new crime, which is added to the series of Israeli crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). PCHR also emphasizes that the crime is part of the Israeli forces’ collective punishment policy against innocent Palestinians in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits collective penalties and reprisals against protected persons and their property. PCHR calls upon the international community to offer protection to the civilians in the oPt and ensure the application of the aforementioned convention.

According to PCHR’s investigations and eyewitnesses’ accounts, at approximately 01:30 on the abovementioned day, Israeli forces backed by military vehicles and around 150 soldiers moved into al-Am’ari refugee camp in central al-Bireh. The soldiers stepped out of their military vehicles and deployed between houses while around 30 of them topped the roofs of many houses. A large number of the Israeli soldiers raided a residential building belonging to the family of prisoner Islam Abu Hmeid to apply the demolition decision which the family was informed of previously under the pretext that a marble stone was thrown on the head of an Israeli soldier during an incursion into the camp on 06 June 2018 and led to his death. Dozens of the camp’s residents and Palestinian activists along with International human rights defenders and Chairman of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, Minister Waleed ‘Assaf, stood in front of the building attempting to prevent the demolition. However, The Israeli soldiers forced them, including the 60-year-old mother of Islam, who was alone living in the building, to evacuate the building by firing sound bombs and teargas canisters directly at them while they were inside. The Israeli soldiers also beat up and pushed them, including photojournalist Mohammed Hamdan after breaking his cell phone, with the firearms’ muzzles.

Following that, a large number of Israeli soldiers raided and searched the residential houses in the vicinity of the building. They forced the residents to evacuate them immediately and forcibly, causing fear among them. The residents were forced to leave towards al-Bireh School, in the center of the camp, where they were detained for 3 consecutive hours before the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) crews were allowed to transfer them to the PRCS office adjacent to the camp. They were more than 500 civilians, including children, women and elderlies, detained in a very cold place. In the meantime, dozens of young men and boys gathered and threw stones and empty bottles at Israeli soldiers who deployed throughout the camp. The soldiers fired heavily rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at them, wounding 6 young men with rubber bullets in addition to other civilians and journalists suffering tear gas inhalation and fainting. Meanwhile, an Israeli military force was demolishing the internal walls of the building with special equipment and planting a large quantity of explosives inside it in preparation for blowing it up. At approximately 06:50, the 150-square-meter building comprised of 4 floors was blown up and completely destroyed. It is noteworthy that the Israeli forces demolished the house of the Abu Humaid family for the third time as the first time was in 1994 and the second in 2003. Moreover, the family of Abu Hamid had a son who was killed previously by the Israeli forces and has 6 prisoners serving their sentences in the Israeli prisons, the last one was Islam who was arrested on 13 June 2018.

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Green Riding Hood . . . Pain Dwells within Her Ribs

A Non-violent Woman is Eventually Targeted by the Israel Defense Forces

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), December 4, 2018

Around a month and a half after being injured by the Israeli forces, pain so far dwells in the body of Palestinian woman Malinah al-Hendi (34) and hinders her responsibility of taking care of her family.

Malinah, mother of six children, was shot by an Israeli sniper with a bullet that penetrated the right side of her abdomen while its shrapnel settled in her back to remain a source of suffering and concern, a reminder of difficult moments when she almost lost her life; and a witness to the most prominent form of violence the Palestinian women suffer from on the World Day To End Violence against Women.

The details of the incident seem to be present in the memory of the wounded woman as if it was today, and how not to be when her body pulses with pain every moment.

Malinah said to PCHR’s fieldworker that: “On Friday, 26 October 2018, as every Friday, I was participating in the Return demonstration, east of Khuza’ah village, but this time, the demonstration moved from its ususal location in the northern side of the Return encampment to its southeastern side, precisely in front of the Israeli diggers.”

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Winning Essay “Dear Blockade”

Gaza Essay contest winner Tarneem Hammad
Gaza writer Tarneem Hammad receives award at the Gaza AFSC office.

Gaza Unlocked Blog Team, American Friends Service Committee, December 3, 2018

Tarneem Hammad, 24, was born in Saudi Arabia, but now lives in Gaza and is an English literature graduate from Al-Azhar University. For part-time work, she is an English language trainer. Tarneem loves languages and in addition to English and Arabic, knows a little French. Writing and reading are both hobbies. Tarneem wishes to help develop a public library in Gaza that looks like it came from Harry Potter stories. She also wishes to deliver the voice of voiceless people through her writing. She says, “I write because I can.”

“Dear Blockade”

Dear Blockade,

I was 14 when I first met you. You never asked me to be friends, you just took over my life. You grew as I grew. I’m writing to you because you’re a part of my life. Blockade, you’re wrong and I want you to know that you’re wrong. You make things difficult, more difficult than I can imagine. Some days I can’t get out of bed; other days I can’t stop crying.

You’re wrong because you forced me to adapt my life to the humiliating shrinking electricity schedule that could be cut for three days in a row. You’re wrong because when I made it to high school, I had to study using candlelight while mum was awake, worried at some point this candle would fall down and burn us sleeping.

My brother Ali walks around wearing a half-ironed T-shirt, knowing that people will excuse him because they know the power went off in the middle. I know that some people can afford the cost of a back-up power generator but not all.

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Winning Essay “30 Minutes . . . A Thousand Times Over”

Gaza Essay contest winner Nadya SiyamNadya Siyam receives award at AFSC office in Gaza.

Gaza Unlocked Blog Team, American Friends Service Committee, December 3, 2018

Nadya Siyam lives in Gaza city and studies English Language and Literature at the Islamic University. She is a writer for the “We are Not Numbers” project where she writes in a narrative style about inspiring daily experiences in Gaza. Nadya also participates in community service activities at local institutions in Gaza. She loves to read, and her favorite genres are historical fiction and thrillers. “I’m highly interested in human rights, and I aspire to get a scholarship and pursue my master’s degree in this area,” said Nadya.

“30 Minutes… A Thousand Times Over”

At times of war you become extra alarmed. You become a navigator as you try to predict how far each bombing is from your house and who of your beloved lives near the area you’ve predicted. And when you’re done with your calculations, you pray you were wrong.

My dad works as an orthopedic surgeon at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa Hospital. Whenever there is an attack on Gaza, dad, along with other doctors, stays at Al-Shifa for days to deal with the huge number of injured they must treat. Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 assault on Gaza, was no different.

My four little siblings, mum and I stayed alone without dad throughout the 50-day assault. Dad used to call us once every day and insisted to speak to each of us separately, even if it was for 10 seconds. Yousef, our youngest, was a year-and-a-half old then. He would hold the phone with his two tiny hands and say the very few words he was able to pronounce “Baba, yella ta’al” (come on dad, come home). Being the eldest, I had to wait until they were all done talking to hear dad’s voice at last.

– Be safe. Take care of your mum and siblings. Distract our little ones. Make sure the door is locked and the windows are open.

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Winning Essay “The Party”

Rahf Hallaq essay winnerRahf Hallaq receives her award at the Gaza AFSC office.

Gaza Unlocked Blog Team, American Friends Service Committee, December 3, 2018

Rahf Hallaq is a 19-year-old sophomore student at the Islamic university of Gaza studying English Literature. She aspires to complete her higher education in Literature and become a professor. Reading is her favourite hobby that started with her love for bedtime stories as a child, and with time developed into an appreciation of literature. Rahf lived and went to school in the U.S. for three years (2005 to 2008) where she began reading and writing in English at a very early stage in her life. Rahf says, “Books changed the way I think immensely; I could feel writers speaking to me through every book I read, trying to form my ideas, make me a better well-informed person. That made me love writing because it made me believe in the power of words. I write because I want to share what I know with the world. I want them to see how people here suffer, feel and think. I want them to see that we are not merely an occupied nation that wants its basic rights but that we have amazing, educated, creative and brilliant people here in Gaza that can achieve great things and make this world a better place if given the opportunity.”

“The Party”

“There’s going to be a party tonight!

It’s 12 a.m. The entire house had gone to sleep and I’m sitting lazily on my desk studying, trying my best to ignore the infuriating buzz of the drones roaming above my head. I read the message my friend sent me, smile and reply with a “yeah!” I have to finish as much as possible before the electricity goes out. So, although I feel extremely tired, I keep working.

There were four killings on the border today and our side threw some rockets at the Israeli soldier camps near the borders as a response. So, as usual, I was expecting a night full of action. But, you see, Israelis never respond to the results of what they started early. They always wait until it’s past midnight so that their mission’s results can be more successfully terrifying.

It is said that waiting for a bad experience to happen is harder than living the experience itself. I can’t say that I’m sitting on pins and needles or that I’m actually scared, however. Situations such as these happen every now and then in Gaza.

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