Whether legal or political, the Holy Land Five struggle will continue

Holy Land 5 banner Obama HqOn Thursday, Holy Land Five supporters rallied outside Barack Obama’s presidential campaign headquarters in Chicago. (Photo: Roger Beltrami)

“Ultimately the only recourse is likely a political one,” attorney Stanley Cohen tweeted about the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) case yesterday. He may be right.

Of course I (and Stanley, I am sure) hope for the best of all possible outcomes today: that the Supreme Court will announce its decision to hear the last remaining legal appeal of Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu-Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh, immediately recognize the grave injustice that has been done to them, and move quickly to reunite them with their families.

Their imprisonment for more than eight years is an absolute travesty. From secret evidence, to anonymous expert testimony, the prosecution made the Holy Land Five an example of the political climate, rather than trying them for their actions—sending contributions to the same legal zakat committees that also received funds from USAID. Furthermore USAID continued to fund those same zakat charities for an entire year after the U.S. government shut down the HLF. In light this double standard, there is nothing in this case to reassure Americans about the state of our government or our protections under its laws.

“The most important thing we need people to know is that the US government has a certain view of Middle East policy,” Ghassan Elashi’s brother Bayan told me three months ago, after his own prison sentence and deportation to the Gaza Strip:

If anybody has an opinion opposing this policy, the government will use its legal system against them. The courts will yield to the government’s wishes and overlook, and even violate, all the legal and constitutional rights of the individual. They’ll hand him a harsh sentence just to please the government, knowing, without a doubt, that he didn’t violate US law.

Especially if that person is a Muslim or an Arab or a Palestinian or from Gaza.

Recounting current U.S. efforts against Muslims, from the HLF prosecutions to NYPD spying operations to drone killings, civil rights attorney Michael Ratner told the Real News Network Thursday, “What you have is what, I would say, is probably the darkest period in American history in terms of the overt repression of a particular population, through every legal means.”

The crusade against the HLF was, in many senses, a harbinger of later efforts. And its targeting of five Palestinian-Americans, with the close collaboration of Israeli intelligence sources and an anonymous witness, may have foreshadowed what Mark Levine would, in 2011, call “New York becom[ing] the Occupied Territories” in more ways than one. George W. Bush’s December 4, 2011 executive order, which closed the HLF and began the prosecution of its leadership, followed, by one day, a Presidential meeting with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

On Thursday, supporters of the Holy Land Five rallied for their freedom in Chicago, New York, Tampa, and other cities across the United States. This offered a momentary glimpse, and perhaps a rudimentary organizational infrastructure, of the kind of campaign that will be needed if the Supreme Court proves Stanley right and dismisses the HLF appeal. The prosecution – or is that persecution? – of these five men has always been entirely political, and not at all legal; a successful fight against it may need a similar form.

Jerusalem activist Hala Turjman wrote in August that “discourses surrounding the incarceration of Palestinians should not debate whether the practices of the [Israeli Prison Service] are legal, or whether their practices constitute torture, but rather return to the fundamental principle: that of an anti-colonial struggle.”
“Incarceration should not be seen as an isolated ‘problem’ or as a practice that should be legalized, or ‘humanized,’” she continued. “Instead it is a tool used by the colonial power to break the will to resist and is just another form of colonial violence.”

The imprisonment of the Holy Land Five is a conscious act of imperial repression against Palestine no less than those of Khader Adnan, Hana Shalabi, Mahmoud Sarsak, or Hassan Safadi, returning today to his family in Nablus. Like their freedom, the HLF prisoners’ may boil down to a question not of laws, but of solidarity, mobilization, and power.

And if the court breaks with precedent and acts, for the moment, like the highest judicial body of a nation governed by laws, rather than imperial consideration and the shameful pandering of politicians, the Holy Land Five will still need all our support. A Supreme Court appeal requires significant legal resources; the prisoners, I can attest, are always happy to hear from supporters; and their incarceration, which George Galloway rightly called “one of the most monstrous injustices in modern times in America,” cannot be forgotten, by activists or the public, even in the midst of ongoing litigation.

A week ago, one Gaza Strip recipient of an HLF scholarship told me, “We feel sorry for their imprisonment, and we hope the HLF resumes its work very soon.” I am confident that it will, one way or another, whatever it takes. Yalla.
 

About Joe Catron

Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine, where he works with Palestinian groups and international solidarity networks, particularly in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and prisoners' movements. He co-edited The Prisoners' Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange, blogs at joecatron.wordpress.com and tweets at @jncatron.
Posted in Activism, Gaza, Israel/Palestine, US Politics

{ 8 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. David Nelson says:

    Good thing we aren’t a nation of Muslims in the Middle East. If we were, America would be assisting us oppressed citizens to revolt against our regime.

  2. pabelmont says:

    The very fact that USAID continued for a year to fund the same charities as HLF did — and the USA’s failure to list these zakat groups as “terrorist” as apparently required if HLF were properly to be punished under the law — – shows that the USA was not serious about regarding these charities as Hamas-fronts. Ex post facto punishment of HLF people is blatantly contrary to USA’s Constitution, at least in spirit.

    I have few expectations (tho great hopes) that this S/C will agree to hear such a case. It may well wait until the very important legal issues brought up in this case are raised in any easier context.

    I agree with Michael Ratner who

    told the Real News Network Thursday, “What you have is what, I would say, is probably the darkest period in American history in terms of the overt repression of a particular population, through every legal means.”

    except that where he says “through every legal means” I’d say, “using every part of the USA’s mechanisms of so-called justice.”

  3. Joe Catron says:

    Breaking news: Appeal denied.

    link to twitter.com

  4. as i mentioned yesterday (allison’s coverage) i am waiting on pins and needles. so much is at stake here. a travesty of justice of the worst kind.

  5. Joe Catron says:

    A defense attorney’s e-mail announcing the decision:

    link to nidapalestina.tumblr.com

  6. Erasmus says:

    Appeal denied.

    omg!! If that is the last word, who can remain to hope with good reason??
    That decision demasks what US politicians still lable as “democracy” and constitutional principles.
    Absolutely shocking……US of America DEMASKED!

  7. sandhillexit says:

    I think that countries prefer when other people want to use their courts. The petitioners should take their evidence to a European court as the issue of legitimate financial transactions vs black market transactions moving through the international banking system is an important one. Let London or German courts create the precedents. It is a reproach to our system of justice when Arab speakers (180 mio) or Muslims (1 bln) feel they cannot be heard within the American system of jurisprudence. This is another step backward from international leadership. It is also a precedent that undermines Israel ultimately, because a disengaged US really does not need a forward base on the Eastern Shore of the Mediterranean.

    Islam has a remarkable tradition of personal charity, it is a requirement taken very seriously. But many American Muslims are afraid to give other than cash to anyone – because of this case.