British-Palestinian high school student Leanne Mohamad recently won the Jack Petchy Speak Out Challenge with her moving performance of “Birds Not Bombs.”
[Watch “Birds Not Bombs” here.]
However, a day after her speech, a panel of judges disqualified her from the so-called “biggest youth speaking event” citing that she had violated competition rules.
So what did the fifteen-year-old say that was so outrageous?
Mohamad’s empowering, yet highly controversial speech, described the violent reality that many Palestinians face daily while living under Israeli military occupation.
Recounting her own disturbing experience, she detailed how she escaped the occupation at an early age. But perhaps the most harrowing moment of Leanne’s speech was the mention of her baby cousin who, due to Apartheid blockage, could not receive adequate medical supplies and ultimately perished.
After the decision came to remove her from the contest, Mohamad took to Twitter to express her frustrations.
She tweeted “Why is it called a “Speak Out Challenge” when I am silenced?”
The decision to eliminate Mohamad came after the judging panel received several complaints from anti-Palestinian extremist Edgar Davidson.
Davidson, whose online blog includes an article declaring that “Palestinians are a fake creation,” heavily expressed his “concerns”–aka his discriminatory bias–with Mohamad’s speech to the Speakers Trust, the charity who is involved in training students for the Speak Out Challenge.
The judges (a different panel from the ones that previously voted for Mohamad’s speech to win the regional spot) agreed to block her from the final round of the competition.
Speakers Trust CEO Julie Holness cited that Mohamad was responsible for breaking two key rules: That the speech must include a “positive and uplifting message,” and that a speaker should never “insult the audience or offend others.”
Mohamad’s speech was neither insulting or offensive.
To imply the traumatic death of her cousin that passed in Gaza was offensive to anyone, much less the group that was responsible for it, is simply absurd.
Mohamad not only received a roaring applause after her speech, but also a standing ovation from the audience that received her inspiring message of peace and freedom.
Shortly after the official decision, Mohamad’s video was removed from the Speakers Trust website and YouTube channel.
But her supporters weren’t having any of it.
Mohamad’s powerful speech may have gotten her eliminated, but it didn’t stop her from becoming a viral internet sensation overnight.
With hundreds of shares across social media, and the Twitter hashtag #LetLeanneSpeak, her fans focused on spreading awareness and support for the 15-year-old.
Here are just a few of the many supportive tweets that Leanne received:
Among her group of supporters was Jewish human rights activist Norman Finkelstein. He publicly backed Mohamad, and her choice to speak out about the controversial subject.
“I find this episode appalling. What’s going on across the pond? Have the Brits lost all their marbles? If a Jewish girl memorialized her family who perished in the Nazi holocaust, would she be disqualified on the ground that her presentation wasn’t uplifting or might have offended a Teutonic nationalist?” he said.
The blatant silencing of a young girl’s call for peace and freedom at an event designed specifically for young people to “speak out” further confirms the widespread censorship of individuals who choose to speak out against the treatment of Palestine.
Eventually, an official statement was released claiming Mohamad was ultimately removed from the competition in order to “protect her” from racist attacks and abuse.
Oh, you mean like the one the Foundation and Edgar Davidson are perpetrating?
Funny, because the Foundation’s previous accusations that the teenager was attempting to spread propaganda eventually led to multiple attacks on Mohamad, ironically by the same Zionists that had her expelled.
Unfortunately, it seems that Mohamad’s story is just another classic case of turning a blind eye to the real victim.
Just like the swift removal of her speech and story, the powerful Zionist lobby continues to successfully diminish the history of the Palestinian people and their struggles.
So how will this incident be perceived by future students who want their voices heard? Will they even consider it knowing what they say could be used against them? How exactly did censorship make its way into a contest that is supposed to empower and uplift young speakers?
And more importantly, when will recognizing the human rights violations against Palestinians stop being a taboo?
The incident involving Mohamad has since sparked an online petition calling for freedom of speech involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To view, sign and share, click here.