Dear Professor Finkelstein,
When we first heard that former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert was coming to the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, about 30 of us Palestinian activists (mainly students) RSVP’d.
We arrived at the event. They checked our names off and gave us pink wristbands to go in. But once you were in, no re-entry was allowed. So we stayed in the lobby and waited for other activists. We all gathered together and planned out what would be an internal disruption. We were to each stand up and say something to disrupt Olmert’s speech every 2 minutes or so. Some of us would also be holding a banner from the balcony, facing Olmert that said “Goldstone Report” to make him nervous during his speech. While we were doing this, of course a protest would also be held outside.
Once we got into the lecture hall, it felt like a checkpoint. An IDF soldier and U.S. secret service were everywhere. After getting our items searched and going through a metal detector, we were finally allowed in. We all spread around, some of us in the main area and others on the balcony. It seemed as if the security had Palestinian radar, as their eyes were on us the whole time. One young Palestinian man who was wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh I believe, was racially profiled. Because of his skin color and attire, he made some members of the crowd a bit nervous, so the security warned him and his friends who were sitting with him not to disrupt.
Olmert comes in to speak, and after literally 10 seconds from the beginning of his speech, Ali Abunimah disrupts him, standing up and saying that a war criminal should not have freedom of expression, and also expressed his disappointment with his Alma Mater for inviting a murderer. He was escorted out by the police.
After that, approximately every minute or two, someone else stood up and disrupted Olmert’s speech. One student read off the names of people in Gaza that were killed at Olmert’s hands. Others repeatedly mentioned he was a war criminal and asserted that he had blood on his hands for the murders of 1,400 Palesitnians in Gaza, as well as 1,200 Lebanese.
After each person was escorted out by the police, cheering ensued. Olmert was getting nervous or frustrated, as he kept laughing and smiling. However, he began instigating the Palestinian crowd by saying more extreme statements as the disruptions died down toward the end. It seemed as if he WANTED more interruptions. Perhaps he anticipated disruptions and didn’t write a speech. He kept talking about how Israel had been terrorized for 60 years, and is merely trying to defend herself. He also mentioned that Israel is and always will be a Jewish nation. According to Olmert, Jerusalem has always been fully Jewish, and if you dig under the Temple Mount, no history of Palesitnians can be found. This made us activists even more angry.
During the lecture, a young male student stood up and interrupted (as usual, no different from any others). A police officer, who WAS NOT wearing a uniform, just regular attire, comes up and grabs him! From where I was sitting, it looked like he was choking the boy. Another member of the crowd, who was this boy’s good friend, got up to defend him and tried to push the man off him, not knowing it was a police officer. Another police officer, in uniform, arrested him.The police officers at the event were generally very unfair and harsh on the Palestinian activists. The Zionists in the audience were also getting increasingly hostile, one of them throwing a book at our activists.
I was one of the last to disrupt. After my shout I was escorted out by a police officer. On the way out, I said shalom to the IDF soldier and joined the crowd outside protesting.
I believe that Thursday was a huge success for us. Olmert didn’t get to speak. About 30 of us stood up and interrupted him throughout his speech. He was constantly getting disrupted. As one of our disrupters said, a war criminal should never be allowed to speak unless it’s in front of an international court. I’m proud of the Chicago activist community for having the courage to look Olmert in the eye and tell him exactly what we feel.
A friend in Gaza contacted me and told me they heard what we did, and that people in Gaza were so proud of us in Chicago. It made me proud of what we did, and it was a historical day I will never forget. But Olmert is still on a speaking tour across America. His next stop: San Francisco. I hope the activists there come out strong and refuse to let him speak as well. As one the students who disrupted said, “Justice will be served.”
Dr. Finkelstein, I wish you were there. But no worries, you were there with us in spirit.
Sincerely, your former student,