On 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.