Student coordinates livestream watch event

flyer advertising livestream of Defense for Children International - Palestine v. Biden hearing
J Frank / The Mossy Log

On Friday, Jan. 26, Blaise Harrison ’25 hosted a livestream of Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) v. Biden, the federal lawsuit brought against President Biden, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in November of 2023. The CCR represents groups including Defense for Children International and Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization. The CCR’s website encouraged people worldwide to hold watch events for the hearing, which included a pre-hearing briefing as well as testimony from plaintiffs and an expert witness.

The briefing began at 7:30 a.m.  and the hearing began at 9:00 a.m. It had been scheduled to end around 12:30 p.m. but it lasted until 2:00 p.m. Harrison reserved Albany 218 for anyone to drop in to watch the six and a half hour livestream. Over the course of the hearing, about ten students filtered in.

“The event is intended to heighten awareness and spark conversation on our campus about what is happening in Palestine right now. The livestream will also be about Israel and the United States’ parts in it,” an email from Harrison stated. “There will be community guidelines posted and event-goers will be asked to follow them so the space and people within are respected.”

Harrison sent out this email on Thursday, Jan. 25 to many departments, asking people to forward it so that the information could be spread quickly. Given the short notice, they were pleasantly surprised to see so many students attend. 

“I decided to do it on Monday or Tuesday of this week, which is already a quick turnaround in terms of scheduling everything … The fact that I was only able to confirm the room the day before definitely lowered my expectations,” Harrison said. “We had ten people show up throughout the whole thing, so that’s far above my expectations.”

Harrison has made it an ongoing goal to cultivate spaces for community and conversation on campus. They described what inspired them to organize an event for this livestream. 

“I saw online that there was a call for a Global Strike from January 21 to 28 by Bisan (Owda), who is a Palestinian journalist in Palestine right now. Then I saw action lists online of what you can do. (With) the Global Strike the main thing is being noticeably absent from the economy. If you can’t … what you can do is to be educating, be visible in public space,” they said. 

They described the need that they have noticed for an unaffiliated space to hold discussions about the war. 

“I’ve seen leaflets and posters in JR Howard scattered around since the first or second day of school this past week. I wanted there to be discussion about what’s happening right now. I’m feeling like there’s no space for community, like a non-club associated, non-specific (space),” Harrison said. “(A livestream) was the simplest thing I could do that would educate, call attention.” 

The livestream watch event was a welcoming, unstructured gathering where students had the opportunity to discuss openly and ask questions during breaks in the hearing. 

“Two people ended up staying to the end, and we had a great conversation, like, ‘What were they saying at this point?’  because we didn’t really understand the legal stuff. Then I had some question prompts that people answered,” they said. 

Harrison encouraged people to be open to learning and expanding their  viewpoints.

“The intent … is not to have a pro-Palestine or pro-Israel event. This is supposed to be educational and a conversation space for people to reflect,” they said. “So the question prompts that I had…were more around, ‘What have you learned (about) how the legal system in America works? What are your reflections? What are your emotions based on this?’”

Harrison gave a breakdown of what went on over the course of the livestream itself. They first explained what occurred during the pre-hearing briefing.

“They had scholars and first person perspectives, a variety of different voices that were talking about what this case meant. That was easier to follow and also emotionally impactful, something to keep in one’s mind as an activist being like, ‘Oh, here is a facet of what’s happening that I haven’t seen before,’” they said.

The CCR website described the briefing as a time for lawyers, advocates and organizers to share analysis. Plaintiffs invoked the Genocide Convention, which the United Nations adopted in 1948 and the United States signed in 1988.

Harrison described the arguments and the order of events that followed throughout the hearing.

“I think the main two arguments that the … Palestinian side was bringing up were that the US failed, under US law and the Genocide Convention, to prevent genocide,” Harrison said. “The other argument was that US officials are complicit in genocide (under international law). Then there were testimonials, which (were) extremely emotional. Then the closing. The last testimonial, was from an excellent expert testimonial from a professor.”

During the livestream, there were ten testimonials given:  nine from Gazans and one from Professor Barry Tratchenberg, a historian of modern Jewry and the Nazi Holocaust.  I was able to stay to see three of the testimonials.

All three witnesses I saw were asked questions by a plaintiff lawyer. Many pertained to their experiences with displacement, deaths of family members, destruction of homes and ability to communicate with loved ones in danger.

Omar Al Najjar, the first I saw, is a doctor who testified over Zoom from a hospital in southern Gaza. Dr. Al Najjar explained that the hospital where he now works is the fourth location to which he has been displaced.

Next was Ahmed Abofoul, an international lawyer born and raised in Gaza. He now lives in the Netherlands and works at Al-Haq.

“The current situation in Gaza is like nothing we’ve seen before. I was born and raised in Gaza, I lived through, or rather survived, three wars, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never imagined anything like this,” Abofoul said.

He told the court that on his father’s side, he has lost over 16 family members — 15 of them in one airstrike. On his mother’s side, he has lost over 22. Due to communication blackouts, he has been unable to reach some members of his family and is unsure whether they are still alive. 

“One of the hardest things I have to deal with is to hear my family figure out how to manage with one liter of water,” Abofoul said. “I feel guilty when I drink water. Add that to the survivor’s guilt.”

Abofoul spoke to the widespread destruction that has permanently changed the places he once knew. 

“The Gaza that we know no longer exists. Everything that I know no longer exists, from my kindergarten to my elementary school to my university. Every place I have memories in has been destroyed,” he said. “Gaza is one of the oldest cities in the world and the Gaza archive has been destroyed.”

He also discussed how his work has changed since the Israel-Palestine war broke out. He explained that most of Al-Haq’s core legal and research work has been suspended “because of the level of violations they’re facing,” as Abofoul put it. 

Lastly, I saw Laila Elhaddad, an author and mother of four who lives in Clarksville, Maryland whose entire extended family lives in Gaza.

Elhaddad works as a writer documenting Gaza’s culinary heritage. When asked why she decided to participate in the case brought against Biden, she shared her thoughts from an American and Palestinian perspective.

“Israeli forces have killed — massacred — numerous members of my family with active US support. I felt it was my duty as an American whose taxes had been responsible for the deaths of my family,” she said. “As a Palestinian-American, it has made me feel completely invisible to hear our president actively support this.”

During her testimony, Elhaddad recounted a fond memory of walking in a park in Gaza City with her family, eating peanuts, drinking tea and watching the sunset. She then shared that the entire area was destroyed on the second day of the attacks. 

“It has been devastating and overwhelming and it has really left me with a profound feeling of not just sorrow and sadness but helplessness and injustice,” Elhaddad said.

These testimonies were extremely impactful. The event that Harrison organized was an important initiative in our community that encouraged discussion and dialogue.

Case updates are not yet available on the website, at the time of writing this article, on Jan. 27. However, videos of the Zoom hearing can be found under the Defense for Children International – Palestine v. Biden page. 

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