Over the course of this fall, being on the side of peace and justice has gradually meant living in a state of fear. Since September, the FBI has subpoenaed and raided the homes of 19 activists seeking and end to violence in Palestine and Columbia. This rash of raids stems from a court ruling this summer that redefines the charge of “material support to terrorism.” Before, material support meant supplying support in the form of finances, weaponry, intelligence, or combat training to political bodies defined by the state department as “terrorist organizations.” Now “material support to terrorism” includes vocal support for such organizations or even advocating open communication with them. For activists in my community, this means that anyone who advocates negotiations with the government in Gaza could be charged with “material support to terrorism,” because Gaza is currently governed by Hamas. Essentially, it is now a crime to promote direct reconciliation between Palestinian/Gaza organizations and Israel/the United States. The government has criminalized opinions that are not in line with our government’s foreign policy, and it is for this reason that peace activists in Chicago, Minneapolis, and across the US have become targets of the FBI.
The raids and subpoenas have been a terrifying new reality I have had to contend with this fall, but it wasn’t until last Friday that these FBI tactics affected me personally. Three members of the non-violence activism community — two Palestinian and one Jewish — were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. What prompted these subpoenas? It had to do with a trip they took last summer to Israel and the West Bank. This trip was a delegation designed to bring to light realities of occupation and conflict for both Palestinians and Israelis.
I know these three very well. I call all of them my friends. I was shocked to hear they had been approached by the FBI. All three of them have been active members of the Chicago community to bring a human rights-based solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have never heard any of them espouse radical or harmful beliefs. They merely ask for Palestinians and Israelis to be held to the same rights and standards. The work they are doing is not even remotely close to advocating terrorism.
Please, help my friends! This charge is completely baseless, and they are at risk of having their lives ruined for promoting peace between Israel and Palestine. The best thing you can do is call US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald! Call 312-353-5300, dial 0 for operator, and ask to leave a message with the Duty Clerk (paralegal). Please don’t allow the FBI to get away with this. Tell them how you feel about the intimidation of activists.
Daniel Kaplan is an intern in the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East program in Chicago. He is a recent graduate from Whitman College. In 2011, Daniel will be traveling to Jordan to study Arabic and volunteer in an NGO.