Of the six protesters who disrupted the Senate foreign relations committee confirmation hearing of Ambassador David Friedman on Feb. 16, 2017, only the Arab demonstrators were criminally charged. The others were released after posting bail, and an additional protester was sent to traffic court.
Taher Herzallah and Kareem El-Hosseiny, both employees of the group American Muslims for Palestine, were arraigned in federal court in March on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and disrupting Congress. They pled not guilty and rejected a plea deal.
The hearing opens on April 20, 2017. If convicted Herzallah and El-Hosseiny face a maximum sentence of six months and a $500 fine, according to a statement by American Muslims for Palestine.
“I’m hoping the judge will look at the discrepancy of how were treated [compared to the other protesters who were not prosecuted] and dismiss the charges immediately,” Hezallah told Mondoweiss, “I am worried that there is some sort of discrimination going on.”
C-SPAN filmed the Friedman’s hearing. The protest was captured in the footage.
Herzallah was the first to disrupt the meeting. While holding a Palestinian flag he stood and shouted, “Mr. Friedman also said that Palestinian refugees don’t have a claim to the land, don’t have a connection to Palestine, when in fact, they do Mr. Friedman. I’m right here. Mr. Friedman, my grandfather was exiled, was kicked out by the state of Israel, Mr. Friedman, and I’m right here, Mr. Friedman, holding up the Palestinian flag, right behind you.”
Herzallah continued speaking as police removed him from the room, “We aren’t going away Mr. Friedman, we were there, we are there now, and we will always be there. Palestinians will always be in Palestine.”
Next, Herzallah was in a hallway and “put up against a wall and arrested,” followed by, El-Hosseiny who similarly stood and spoke while holding a Palestinian flag: “Mr. Friedman is currently building a five-story apartment building in the settlement in the West Bank,” El-Hosseiny said.
Soon after four more protesters stood and disrupted the meeting. One blew a shofar. They were members of the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow, and CODEPink. One by one, they were carted out of the senate meeting room into an adjacent hallway.
“Everybody was put in handcuffs,” Herzallah said. The women were bound with zip-ties, metal cuffs for the men. The group was loaded into the back of a van and driven a short distance to a nearby Washington DC police station. The group was taken into a processing room with computers for booking. Herzallah was moved into a jail cell with one of the Jewish protesters.
“After five hours, they basically started releasing us one by one,” said Herzallah. At that point, he, El-Hosseiny and one more from the group IfNotNow were told by police they would be charged in federal court. The rest would not be charged. Protesters in IfNotNow paid fines of differing amounts, Herzallah said.
But when the three protesters arrived in court for arrangement last month, Herzallah was surprised to find the third, who is not Arab, was told his case was transferred to traffic court. In the end, of the six who had each carried out the same act of protest, only the Arab protesters will be tried in federal court.
“We protested Friedman on the basis that we didn’t want to normalize the settlements within U.S. foreign policy, we didn’t want to normalize the annexation of [East] Jerusalem within U.S. foreign policy, which we think Friedman will do,” Herzallah said.
“We wanted to make senators aware, especially on the Democrat side that the base is shifting,” he added.