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Exile and the Prophetic: The Holy Land 5 were railroaded

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

The Holy Land 5 were railroaded. Whatever they did or didn’t do in relation to charities and Hamas, it couldn’t have been anything that wasn’t done – and is still done – by Jewish – and non-Jewish – supporters of Israel.

The robo-calls of the Presidential campaign, which I receive by the dozens each day now, can’t change that fact. Neither Presidential campaign has touched any of the issues posed by the Holy Land Five.

In the national imagination the Holy Land 5 don’t count for much. Yet the Orwellian prison doors they live behind are important to consider. They represent the underside of an American society that honors Jews and to which we pledge our allegiance.

If as a society we decide not to allow funding of entities overseas, I’m willing to hear the arguments, if it’s done across the board. If as a society we return to the isolationist part of American history that abhors foreign entanglements, I’m willing to hear the arguments, if it’s done across the board. But if Jews can enable the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the settling of their land, then Palestinians and others can enable their own struggle against it. It’s an obvious principle of fairness.

So investigate the Holy Land 5(s) of the world and call me to testify. See what everyone is up to. I’ll say yes to that request as I did with the Holy Land Five.

In the meantime it’s better to accept the fact that if you are for justice – and will testify publicly to that effect – you’re going to be a pariah.

Pariahs are outsiders, even if they’re supposed to be insiders. In fact, the most interesting pariahs are insiders who have turned outside – for the sake of justice.

You can’t be prophetic without being a pariah. Being a pariah and being prophetic are one in the same.

You can also become a pariah by practicing injustice. Being a pariah and practicing injustice are one in the same.

Pariahdom is like a coin with two sides. When you flip the coin you don’t which side will turn up.

Pariah status is in the eyes of the beholder. As victims of anti-Semitism, Jews were once pariahs. As enablers of Israel’s abuse of power, Jews are now pariahs.

Being a pariah has risks. It also has advantages.

Being a pariah on the outside of power demands a peculiar discipline. Marginalized pariahs develop a devastating insight into the powerful. They perfect critical survival skills. One of the skills is critical thought.

Being a pariah on the inside of power demands a peculiar discipline. Empowered pariahs practice injustice as a way of life. One of the skills is censoring critical thought.

Developing critical thought, Jewish pariahs thought their own thoughts. Jewish pariahs thought for others – for the benefit of non-Jews, too.

Practicing injustice, Jewish pariahs have ceased to think for themselves. We think for others – for our own benefit.

Being a pariah isn’t a romantic idle. There are consequences no matter which side of the pariah coin you’re on.

Jews shouldn’t court pariahdom for the sake of being outsiders. However, it’s fascinating to see how often Jews have been so defined. It comes back to the essential instability of Jewish life. The two sided pariah coin is the only coin Jews have. Sometimes Jews haven’t had a choice in the matter. Today, the choice is ours.

When forced pariahs and conscious pariahs come together, they become allies against the powerful who practice injustice. On the Jewish side, the powerful define the storm as anti-Semitism. Yet the real storm facing Jewish conscience is institutionalized injustice. At one time institutionalized injustice was aimed against Jews. Now it is perpetrated by Jews in the Israeli occupation and settlements of Palestinian territory.

The Holy Land 5 were railroaded. They are the victims of institutionalized injustice, too. It’s all tied together.

Is there any option but to testify?

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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5 Responses

  1. seafoid on November 2, 2012, 11:06 am

    The HL5 are victims of US punitive justice where the sentence is designed “pour encourager les autres” and bears no relationship to the “crime”. . The US specialises in such travesties . There are many wasting years in US prisons who wouldn’t even be jailed in Europe. For Muslims it’s “one strike and you’re out”.

  2. pabelmont on November 2, 2012, 11:07 am

    Thanks for this essay. Yes, if Jews can give their own money to Israel (and engineer the far greater gift of USA’s money to Israel, by now way over $100B), then surely (as a matter of ethics) Palestinians in America should be allowed to give money to hospitals in Gaza.

    But the law allows the Secretary of State to put names on a list of “terrorist organizations” (and there is a list of terrorists at Treasury also, and who knows maybe even more lists). And to the listed organizations, Americans are not allowed to give money.

    And who made this sickening law? Or, to put it a bit differently, who contrived that the State of Israel and many of its quasi-governmental and private organizations are not on these American lists of terrorists?

    When you walk along the south side of E. 60th Street, Manhattan, just east of the “R” subway station on 5th Avenue, see the brass plaque in the sidewalk — photo here — which celebrates NYC’s hosting of the pre-state Israeli army (freedom fighters, terrorists) which helped perpetrate Deir Yassin and the expulsion and exile of 85% of the Palestinian people in 1947-48.

  3. DICKERSON3870 on November 2, 2012, 11:49 pm

    RE: “The Holy Land 5 were railroaded. They are the victims of institutionalized injustice, too. It’s all tied together.” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: Yes, they clearly appear to have been railroaded. As was Don Siegelman.


    Sami Amin Al-Arian (Arabic: سامي أمين العريان‎; born January 14, 1958) is a Palestinian-American activist who was a computer engineering professor at University of South Florida. He is currently under house arrest in Northern Virginia.
    During the the Clinton administration and Bush administration, he was invited to the White House. In 2000, he actively campaigned for the Bush presidential campaign in the presidential election.
    He was indicted in February 2003 on 17 counts under the Patriot Act. A grand jury acquitted him on 8 counts and deadlocked on the remaining 9 counts. He later struck a plea bargain and admitted to one of the remaining charges in exchange for being released and deported by April 2007. But as his release date approached, he was indefinitely imprisoned for refusing to testify before the Virginia grand jury in a separate case. . .

    SOURCE –

    ♦ DOCUMENTARY: USA vs Al-Arian, 98 minutes
    Film Website –
    Internet Movie Database –

    • DICKERSON3870 on November 3, 2012, 12:24 am

      P.S. ALSO SEE: “The Ordeal of Dr. Sami Al-Arian; Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg Displays Anti-Arab, Anti-Muslim Bias”, By Melva Underbakke, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2007, pages 30-32

      [EXCERPTS] On Jan. 22, Dr. Sami Al-Arian was called to testify before a grand jury in Virginia for the second time in as many months. Though he had been acquitted of all major charges and reached an agreement with the government last year that was to end his imprisonment within a few months, the latest round of subpoenas threatens to extend Dr. Al-Arian’s incarceration by up to 18 months. While most observers are wondering what is behind the continued pursuit of a case that was all but concluded, recent revelations have pointed in the direction of one particular individual: a federal prosecutor who has made no secret of his anti-Muslim and anti-Arab beliefs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg’s past actions and statements reveal a disturbing trend that supports the view that Dr. Al-Arian is being punished for his political activism on behalf of the Palestinian people.
      This widespread suspicion was confirmed to everyone who late last year read Kromberg’s words when he opposed delaying Dr. Al-Arian’s transfer to a prison in Virginia until after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
      According to a court motion filed on Oct. 26, 2006 by Al-Arian’s attorney, Jack Fernandez, Kromberg’s outburst included the following remarks regarding Muslims: “If they can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury—all they can’t do is eat before sunset. I believe Mr. Al-Arian’s request is part of the attempted Islamization of the American Justice System. I am not going to put off Dr. Al-Arian’s grand jury appearance just to assist in what is becoming the Islamization of America.”
      Following this undignified tirade, Fernandez asked Kromberg to recuse himself because of the apparent bias he holds toward Dr. Al-Arian as a Muslim activist. Needless to say, Kromberg promptly rejected this request.
      In a Feb. 8, 2007 letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the respected human rights organization Amnesty International called into question Kromberg’s motives. “We are disturbed, too, by reports that the prosecutor leading the grand jury case in Virginia expressed anti-Islamic sentiments when discussing a request with Dr. Al-Arian’s lawyer to postpone his transfer to Virginia during Ramadan, a matter which we understand is currently the subject of a complaint before the court. This raises further concern as to whether these proceedings are being taken to punish [Dr. Al-Arian] for his political profile rather than for legitimate purposes.”
      ● Violating an Agreement
      Kromberg first called Dr. Al-Arian to testify before a grand jury investigating the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a think tank in Herndon, Virginia, last November—despite a plea agreement five months earlier that did not contain a cooperation clause because both parties agreed that Dr. Al-Arian would not be required to cooperate with prosecutors, and that the plea agreement concluded his entire business with the United States government. On the advice of his attorneys, Dr. Al-Arian refused to testify because the situation had all the markings of a perjury trap. As a result of his refusal, Dr. Al-Arian was placed in civil contempt, extending his prison sentence indefinitely, until the term of the grand jury expired in late December without having returned a single indictment.
      . . . Why does Kromberg continue to call Dr. Al-Arian as a witness? Besides the anti-Muslim bias evident in Kromberg’s statements to Fernandez, one need look no further than the racist comments and vindictive behavior exhibited in previous cases he prosecuted.
      In May 1999, Kromberg spoke to the Cato Institute about asset forfeiture in a lecture which was called “shocking” by Michael Lynch. In an article in Reason Magazine, Lynch wrote that Kromberg “admitted that he currently had 10 money laundering cases in which he couldn’t figure out how the people were washing the dough. But still, he knew these people were guilty and was certain they needed to be punished. ”˜Should we let these people get away?’ he asked, before answering in an illuminating way: ”˜Not if we can punish them through other means.’…[Kromberg] bluntly declared that people like him ought to be able to punish individuals they believe are guilty, even if they can’t prove that guilt in a court of law.”
      Rather than advance the cause of justice, this case served as nothing more than an example of the abuses of power by a renegade official. As a result, Dr. Al-Arian’s decision not to testify was lauded by legal experts as the best possible response. . .
      ● Abuse of Power
      . . . In another case, defense attorney Salim Ali filed a motion suggesting that Kromberg acknowledged the torture of Falls Church, VA resident Ahmed Abu Ali by Saudi Arabia. Kromberg’s statement even expressed disappointment that Abu Ali could not have been tortured further in the U.S. According to the affidavit, the attorney asked Kromberg if Abu Ali should be brought to the United States in order “to avoid the torture that goes on in Saudi Arabia.” Kromberg “smirked and stated: ”˜He’s no good for us here, he has no fingernails left.’”
      In a July 2005 article in the Legal Times titled “Putting Islam on the Stand: How far can prosecutors go in using religion to make their case?” Vanessa Blum suggests that Kromberg has exploited a culture of bias against Islam to obtain guilty verdicts from juries. Blum cites the case of Ali Al-Timimi, in which Kromberg “secured the guilty verdict by appealing to religious bigotry against Muslims.” For example, she writes, he told jurors: “If you’re a kafir [non-Muslim], Timimi believes in time of war he’s supposed to lie to you. Don’t fall for it. Find him—find Sheik Ali Timimi—guilty as charged.” . . .
      The Roots of Bigotry
      Kromberg’s bias against Muslims and Arabs may stem from his ideological support of Israel. Following his participation in a 2002 United Jewish Communities mission to Israel, he published a journal of his trip on the UJC Web site. In it, Kromberg makes several generalizations that indicate his distrust of Arabs as an entire ethnic group. “When we left the bus, I for one was nervous, looking around to see if anyone was lurking around with what could be a suicide bomber belt,” Kromberg wrote. On the rights of women, he opined: “Of course, the contrast between the freedom of women in Israel and that of women in the Arab world couldn’t be more stark.”
      Mentioning a briefing by Gideon Meir, Israel’s deputy director general for public affairs, Kromberg made wild claims about a Palestinian media conspiracy, including: “Reporters and stringers in areas under control of the Palestinians know that they will be killed (at worst) or ejected (at best) if they don’t report the stories with the spin the Palestinians want.” He bemoaned a “lack of resources on the Israeli side to provide information to the innumerable members of the press who are fed lies by the Palestinians.”
      Furthermore, Kromberg displayed complete disregard for international law and the American-led peace process, by referring to the Israeli-occupied lands of the West Bank and Gaza in the language of Jewish extremists who advocate their ethnic cleansing. Judea and Samaria are terms intended to dispossess the Palestinians from their homeland and repopulate the occupied territories with colonial settlers. . .


  4. Keith on November 3, 2012, 1:53 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “The Holy Land 5 were railroaded. They are the victims of institutionalized injustice, too. It’s all tied together.”

    Indeed, it is all tied together as the laws and courts are refashioned to accommodate the needs of corporate feudalism. In many ways the predictable consequence of voting for the lesser of two evils again and again. Voting for evil one last time. Until the next time. Just like last time. Trapped on a train headed in the wrong direction but afraid to jump. Fear is a powerful thing. We have reached the end of growth, only pillage remains for the masters of the universe. Survival of the species an afterthought, if even that. For most, the good times get harder to come by without weeping. Dark times await.

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