Tag Archives: human rights

Oral arguments in Holy Land 5 case set for today

Echoes of Korematsu

by Noor Elashi

(AUG. 31, 2011) — As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and my father remains incarcerated in a modern-day internment camp, the time in which we live begins to feel less like 2011 and more like 1942. But this week could determine whether today’s justice system is capable of rewriting the sad chapters of our history. I say this week because on Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the long-awaited oral arguments in the Holy Land Foundation case, involving what was once our country’s largest Muslim charitable organization.

Meet my father, Ghassan Elashi. The co-founder of the HLF. Inmate number 29687-177, sentenced to 65 years in prison for his charity work in Palestine. He is an American citizen from Gaza City, who before his imprisonment, took part in the immigration rally in Downtown Dallas, joining the half a million people wearing white, chanting ¡Si, se puede! The prison walls have not hindered his voice, as he writes to me, heartbroken about the homes destroyed during the earthquake in Haiti, the young protesters killed indiscriminately in Syria, the children lost to the famine in Somalia. Most frequently, he writes to me about the Japanese-American internment.

Now meet Fred T. Korematsu, who after Peal Harbor was among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans ordered to live in internment camps. This was in 1942, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military detainment of Japanese-Americans to ten concentration camps during World War II. Mr. Korematsu defied orders to be interned, because he viewed the forced removal as unconstitutional. So on May 30, 1942, Mr. Korematsu was arrested. His case was argued all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against him, stating that his incarnation was justified due to military necessity.

Nearly forty years later, in 1983, Mr. Korematsu’s case was reopened, and on Nov. 10, 1983, the conviction was overturned. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel notably said, “It stands as a caution that, in times of international hostility and antagonisms, our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”

Fast-forward six years. It’s already 1989, when my father co-finds the HLF, which becomes a prominent American Muslim charity that provides relief—through clothes, food, blankets and medicine—to Palestinians and other populations in desperate need. Then, in 1996, President Clinton signs the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, giving birth to the Material Support Statute, a law that in time would come under fire by civil libertarians for profiling and targeting Arab and Muslim Americans.

Two years later, in 1998, Clinton awards Mr. Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest citizen honor, condemning Mr. Korematsu’s persecution as a shameful moment in our history.

Three years later, the towers fall.

And President Bush declares a “War on Terror.”

In 2001, President Bush signs the Patriot Act, which strengthens the Material Support Statue. The law’s language is so vague that it gives prosecutors the authority to argue that humanitarian aid to designated terrorist organizations could be indirect, and therefore, a crime.

In my father’s case, he is charged with conspiring to give Material Support in the form of humanitarian aid to Palestinian distribution centers called zakat committees. Prosecutors admit the zakat committees on the indictment were not designated terrorist groups, but according to the indictment released in 2004, these zakat committees are “controlled by” or act “on behalf of” Hamas, which was designated in 1995. Their theory is that by providing charity to zakat committees, the HLF helped Hamas win the “hearts and minds” of the Palestinian people.

The HLF case was tried in 2007, lasting three months, and after 19 days of deliberations, the jury deadlocked on most counts. The judge declared a mistrial and the case was tried the following year.

In 2008, after essentially the same arguments, the retrial ended with the jury returning all guilty verdicts, and in 2009, my father was sentenced to 65 years in prison, for essentially giving humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

In 2010, my father was transferred to a “Communications Management Unit” in Marion, Illinois—the aforementioned modern-day internment camp. The CMU received the nickname “Guantanamo North” by National Public Radio since two-thirds of its inmates are Middle Eastern or Muslim. The purpose of this prison—which has another branch in Terre Haute, Indiana—is to closely monitor inmates and limit their communications with their families, attorneys and the media. Thus, I only get to hear my father’s voice once every two weeks, for fifteen minutes. And our visitations take place behind an obtrusive Plexiglass wall.

My father and his co-defendants—now called the Holy Land Five—are in the final stages of the appeal as the oral arguments approach on Thursday. In the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, defense attorneys will urge the panel of three justices to reverse the HLF convictions based on errors that took place in the trial process.

According to the appellate brief, there’s a major fact that undermines the prosecution’s claim that Hamas controlled the zakat committees: “The United States Agency for International Development—which had strict instructions not to deal with Hamas—provided funds over many years to zakat committees named in the indictment, including the Jenin, Nablus, and Qalqilia committees,” writes my father’s attorney, John Cline. He continues stating that in 2004, upon the release of the HLF indictment, “USAID provided $47,000 to the Qalqilia zakat committee.”

Furthermore, defense attorneys will argue that the district court:

a) Violated the right to due process by allowing a key witness to testify without providing his real name, thereby abusing my father’s right to confront his witness. They are referring to an Israeli intelligence officer who became the first person in U.S. history permitted to testify as an expert witness using a pseudonym.

b) Abused its discretion by allowing “inflammatory evidence of little or no probative value,” which included multiple scenes of suicide bombings.

c) Deviated from the sentencing guidelines when they sentenced my father to 65 years.

When putting the lawyerly language aside, human rights attorneys have deemed the HLF case as purely political, perpetrated by the Bush administration. Likewise, the decision to intern Japanese-Americans was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership,” according to a 1982 report by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

I can only hope that my father’s vindication won’t take 40 years as it did for Mr. Korematsu. Let us learn from our old wrongs.

Noor Elashi is a writer based in New York City. She holds a Creative Writing MFA from The New School.

This op-ed was inspired by a forward written by Karen Korematsu in the upcoming book, “Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice,” which includes a chapter about Noor’s father. You can purchase a copy here.

This article was first published on CounterPunch and is reposted her with permission by the author.


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EMERGENCY APPEAL: Palestinian refugees from Syria in desperate need of emergency care

More than 7,500 Palestinian refugees have been displaced by ongoing fighting in Syria. Of the displaced, an estimated 5,500 are from the refugee camp in Latakia, which came under attack by Syrian forces on Aug.14. Dozens were killed, and UN officials have voiced grave concern about the deteriorating situation. These refugees, particularly women and children, are too frightened to return home, and their numbers are steadily growing, making it difficult for UNRWA to provide emergency services to those displaced from Latakia, as well as Homs, Yarmouk, and Aleppo.

With the cooperation of local authorities, UNRWA staff has set up a temporary emergency office outside of Latakia in order to continue providing critically needed services. UNRWA is currently providing cash grants for food, medicine, and temporary accommodation to more than 6,000 refugees who are sick, hungry, scared and in serious need of help.

Since protests began in mid-March, more than 2,200 people have been killed in Syria. But despite this ongoing violence, UNRWA remains committed to serving the half a million Palestinian refugees in Syria. If you would like to contribute to the Syria emergency appeal to provide grants for desperately needed food, medicine, and temporary accommodation, please click here.

American Friends of UNRWA (AFU) is an independent nonprofit organization that provides support for the humanitarian work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) through advocacy, fundraising and education.

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Diaspora Palestinians unite in condemnation of secret negotiations

Question the legitimacy of PLO and PA as true representatives of all Palestinians

(CHICAGO 01/24/2011) – As Americans of Palestinian heritage, we are extremely concerned by the revelations this past weekend about secret negotiations that took place between Palestinian, Israeli and American officials over the course of several years that offered Israel large portions of Palestinian land, denied millions of refugees the right to return to their homeland and put Islam’s third holiest site – the Al Aqsa mosque compound – on the negotiating table. We are concerned because these concessions are not in the best interest of the Palestinian people; indeed, they raise serious questions about the legitimacy  of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority in their current structure and their acquiescence to and support of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine.

The revelations came in the form of at least 1,600 documents leaked to Al Jazeera by an unnamed or unnamed sources. Al Jazeera, as well as The Guardian newspaper in England, both said they vetted and verified the information they presented to the public.

We now have clear evidence that the PLO and the PA do not with truth or integrity represent Palestinians’ interests. The documents show that the PLO’s lead negotiator Saeb Erekat was willing to concede large portions of East Jerusalem by allowing Israel to annex a number of settlements in exchange for virtually nothing. These colonial enterprises have been built in direct contravention of international law – including Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – which prohibits an occupying force from moving its population into the land it occupies.

Ceding most of East Jerusalem and also giving Israel control of a large portion of Jerusalem’s Old City, including a portion of the Al Aqsa mosque compound, endangers the sanctity of the city not just for Palestinians or Arabs, but for the world’s billions of Christians and Muslims, from which their religious heritages are derived.

We are aggrieved that PLO negotiators were willing to deny the right of return to the nearly 9 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced people, in addition to exclude them from participating in any future referendum to determine their own future and status. The right of return is an individual and a collective right guaranteed by international law. It is an inherent right that can not be bartered or traded away by a third party.

To read AMP’s action items, click here.

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Gaza commemoration events focus on becoming active in the cause for Palestine

Laila El-Haddad, author of "Gaza Mom," her new book based upon her blog of the same name, speaks at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois in Chicago on Jan. 8. Photo/American Muslims for Palestine

(CHICAGO 01/10/2010) – The best way to honor the victims and survivors of Operation Cast Lead is to become active in the cause for Palestine. That was the main message at events in Milwaukee and Chicago commemorating the passage of two years since the Israeli onslaught against the Palestinians of Gaza that killed more than 1,400 people and wounded 5,300.

“Two Years Later: Besieged Gaza Still Standing Tall,” is the theme of a series of nationwide events hosted by the American Muslims for Palestine, which kicked off during Christmas weekend at the MAS/ICNA convention in Chicago. Throughout the weekend, several hundred guests filled the halls at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, the Islamic Community Center of Illinois in Chicago and Al Aqsa School in Bridgeview to listen to presentations by Laila El-Haddad, author of “Gaza Mom,” her new book based upon her blog of the same name.  She was joined by attorney and activist Othman Atta in Milwaukee and Bridgeview.

Laila El-Haddad and attorney Othman Atta prepare to speak to hundreds gathered at the Islamic Society of Milwaukee on Jan. 7. Photo/American Muslims for Palestine

El-Haddad, who is from Gaza but now lives in Maryland, presented a Power Point filled with unique videos and compelling pictures from her recent visit to Gaza. While documenting the still-deteriorating conditions in the Strip, which Israel has held under siege for four years, El-Haddad also focused on signs of rebirth and the indestructible spirit displayed by the Palestinians living there.

“People there really resent it for Gaza to be called a place with no food. There’s a siege on freedoms, not a siege on food,” El-Haddad said.

El-Haddad was in Gaza for several months last summer conducting research for her next book.  She interviewed dozens of people and mood was the same everywhere, she said.  “People are sick of the siege. They just want to live normal lives,” she said.

Yet, the spirit of the Palestinians of Gaza is not broken, which is proven especially by the creative ways in which they are adapting to the facts on the ground.

From fish and oyster farms and dairy farms to the manufacturing of ovens from clay and grinding gravel from debris left over from Israel’s demolition of thousands of homes, factories, schools, mosques and municipal buildings, the residents of Gaza are showing true entrepreneurship and fortitude in dealing with the inhumane situation in which they are living, El-Haddad said.

AMP exhibited dozens of pictures with captions in chronological order that told the story of the four-year-old siege and Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week offensive two years ago that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. In the picture above can be seen Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old Turkish American whom Israeli commandos killed aboard the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010; also Israeli commandos shoot and club Mavi Marmara passengers in a photograph captured by one of the humanitarian activists and smuggled off the vessel. Photo/American Muslims for Palestine

These measures are necessary because despite Israeli occupation authorities’ promises last June to ease the blockade, the clamp down in many cases has only become worse, according to the United Nations and various NGOs. Most building supplies and many foodstuffs are still prohibited, and except for a few truckloads of strawberries, exports from Gaza still are not allowed.

“The stated policy of the siege is to keep Gaza on the brink of economic collapse,” the journalist and mother of two told the crowd. “But the Palestinians of Gaza are adapting. They have no choice. They just want to live a normal life, like everyone else.”

“Palestinians are steadfast. They will prevail.”

Those were the word with which Atta opened his portion of the presentation. Even so, it is incumbent upon people of faith and conscience to become active in the cause and to work to try to change U.S. foreign policy, he said. Commemorating the victims of Israel’s three-week assault that took place from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009, is honorable, but with that commemoration must come action, he said.

AMP offers a variety of published booklets, brochures and fact sheets free of charge to fulfill its mission to educate the American people about issues relating to Palestine. Photo/American Muslims for Palestine

“Are we here to just mourn dead people, or are we here to learn what we can do?” Atta asked.

Atta encouraged the audience to educate themselves and to become active in any number of ways, from interacting with the media to contacting elected officials. He encouraged those in attendance to avail themselves of the free information and booklets provided by AMP and to join AMP’s mailing list so they’ll be informed of action alerts, events and other activities.

Joyce Guinn, of Germantown, Wis., attended Milwaukee’s event. She is one person who takes Atta’s words to heart. She’s been active in the cause since 2005, when her curiosity lead her to take her first trip to Palestine.

Information about the Middle East conflict provided by mainstream media “didn’t seem to make sense,” Guinn said, so she traveled there to see the situation for herself. She’s made that trip three times now and has plans to return this winter.

Joyce Guinn, of Germantown, Wis., discusses her pro-Palestinian activism in Milwaukee on Jan. 7. Photo/American Muslims for Palestine

“I’ve never met nicer people than the Palestinians,” she said. “Seeing the situation once was enough to convince me. I’m extremely into the Palestinian issue.”

Other featured speakers during the weekend included Sheikh Jammal Said, director of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview; Imam Zaid Hamdan, of ICCI; and journalist Deanna Othman.

Future AMP Gaza commemoration events will be held in Minnesota, California, New York and Virginia.

AMP also is facilitating book signing events for El-Haddad through February in various states, including California, Washington and Oregon.

The American Muslims for Palestine is a national, grassroots organization, whose mission is to educate the American public about issues related to Palestine and its rich, cultural heritage. For more information, visit www.ampalestine.org, email info@ampalestine.org or call 888.404.4AMP.

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PCHR releases new report on Siege on Gaza

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Honor Gaza victims by joining rally in NYC Monday

(CHICAGO 12/21/2010) – The American Muslims for Palestine – in coordination with other peace and social justice activists – will be marking the second year since Israel launched its deadly assault against the Palestinians of Gaza with a march and rally at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 27, at 32nd and 6th Avenues, in New York City.

On Dec. 27, 2008, dozens of Israeli war planes unleashed a rampage of bombing and shelling, killing hundreds of people within a few hours. By the time the three-week assault ended on Jan. 18, 2009, more than 1,400 Palestinians were dead and more than 5,300 were seriously wounded. Critical infrastructure such as water treatment and electrical plants were destroyed, as were schools, mosques, municipal buildings and thousands of homes. More than 50,000 people were displaced.

And the situation in Gaza has only grown worse. Israel’s total blockage on Gaza has prevented most rehabilitation work to take place. Some 25,000 people still are homeless; 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million people rely upon the United Nations for food aid; more than 40,000 children were turned away from UNRWA schools this fall for lack of space. Despite Israel’s promise to ‘ease’ the blockade, recent United Nations reports show that while there was some very slight improvement in some areas they did not reach 2007 levels, which already were in decline because of the siege. But in most economic and humanitarian sectors, the siege has grown tighter and the Palestinians of Gaza have grown poorer and hungrier.

Meanwhile the United States continues to block international legal bodies from pursuing the findings laid out in the Goldstone Report of war crimes committed during the attacks. Nor has Israel been held accountable for its ‘execution-style’ murder of nine unarmed, humanitarian activists aboard the Mavi Marmara in May 2010.

Since Operation Cast Lead, global mobilization against the occupation and Israel’s illegal and inhumane practices continues to grow. There is an increasing and unprecedented focus and isolation of the Israeli Apartheid policies.

But this has brought with it retaliation against Palestinians and their supporters, from harassment by campus officials to raids and grand jury subpoenas by the FBI.

This repression is a sign that the Zionists and their sponsors in Washington are worried — not only that further crimes will be met with equally fierce resistance, but also because they know Palestinians are more determined than ever to fight on until total liberation, until every refugee can return, until the land of Palestine is free from the river to the sea!

For more information:

AMP-NY: 347.671.9135
AMP-NJ: 917.443.4281

Sponsored by: Al-Awda NY: the Palestine Right to Return Coalition,  Hunter Students for Justice in Palestine, Columbia SJP, American Muslims for Palestine-NJ, American Muslims for Palestine-NY, US Palestinian Community Network-NY, Palestinian Club-Brooklyn College, Siege Busters Working Group, International Action Center, United National Antiwar Committee-NY, New York City Labor Against the War, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Labor for Palestine, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Action


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Report Back from Palestine programs available

A Palestinian boy refuses to cross the street despite an Israeli soldiers repeated requests in Jerusalem on Oct. 14, 2010.

As I’ve written previously I recently returned from my first trip to Palestine and nowI’m reporting back about what Iwitnessed and documented on my two-week tour of the West Bank and historic Palestine.

The presentations are geared for both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. Both programs include a Power Point presentation, videos and a handout, “Grim Statistics: The Impact of Living under Occupation.” This fact finder booklet is invaluable for those needing a quick reference guide to contemprorary issues in Palestine, such as settlements, checkpoints and the Apartheid Wall.

I flew an American airline to Tel Aviv. My first clue of what I was in for came at Philadelphia’s airport when I found my gate concealed behind a long frosted glass wall. We went through three checks and searches before we could even enter the gate area. I was stupidly amazed and at that point I had no clue what I was in for about 10 hours later.

Turns out, my hijab and Polish last name of Szremski threw Israeli airport security into a tizzy. I was detained for seven hours,  and questioned repeatedly about my name, my father’s name, his father’s name. Once, a police officer said, “This looks like a nice Jewish name.”  Well, go figure. It actually is Polish Catholic and belongs to  my ex-husband’s family. But that’s beside the point.

Pretty soon, the name issue didn’t seem all that important to them. Journalism – my vocation – is what really slowed down the process of granting me a visa. The Israeli secret police basically accused me of ‘committing journalism,’ If I may borrow the title from a from a book by Dannie Martin and former San Francisco Chronicle Editor Peter Sussman.

“I’ve read your articles,” the humorless officer said to me. “You know what the issues are.”

Nonetheless, after hours of questioning and searches, I got my visa and entered at long last the Holy Land. I still am having trouble coming to terms with everything I saw and experienced. These two incongruous realities play out against each other in an intricate nightmarish dance. The overwhelming hospitality, generosity and brotherhood of the Palestinian people is juxtaposed with the brutal and incomprehensible, all-encompassing Israeli security apparatus.

Now upholding the mission of the American Muslims for Palestine, it is my duty to bring the Palestinians’ stories home in attempts to raise awareness of what Americans are unwittingly supporting with their tax dollars.

Both programs, “Upholding Faith and Filasteen,” and “Where Jesus Tread: The Holy Land under Occupation,” can be adapted to last from 30 to 90 minutes, including an answer and question session. The program is free. For more information, or to schedule an event at your mosque, church or civic group, please call the AMP office at 888.404.4AMP or 708.598.4267, ext. 22.

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