While the eyes of the world fall on one American disaster in the shape of Hurricane Sandy, the world casually ignores another.
Today the US Supreme Court denied the Holy Land Five appeal essentially ending their legal appeal process.
I am sure most of you have never heard of them. The Holy Land Five are five men – Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad el-Mazain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader and Abulrahman Odeh. The “crime” these men are accused of is raising funds for Hamas, the democratically elected paramilitary organisation representing the Gaza Strip. The West deems them a terrorist organisation, it seems America and its allies only accept democracy if it approves of the choice of candidates.
I digress, what these men actually did was raise charitable funds for the Gaza Strip as a legitimate charitable organisation. After 9/11 George W. Bush’s government closed down several Islamic charities including “Benevolence International Foundation, Global Relief Foundation, Kind Hearts USA and the Islamic American Relief Agency”. The Holy Land Five were never found guilty of giving charity to a designated terrorist organisation. Instead, they were convicted of conspiring to give charity to zakat committees that prosecutors argued were fronts for Hamas.
The Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until three months after 9/11 when the Bush administration shut it down following a claim from that the group had donated a portion of their foundation funds to schools and hospitals in Gaza. After subsequent raids on their homes and offices, arrests, and two trials (the first ending in a hung jury), the Holy Land Five was convicted of conspiracy under the Material Support to Terrorists statute and received sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years in Federal Prison.
A lot of the prosecution rested on the testimony of an “Israeli intelligence officer” named “Avi” who did not testify under his real identity. For the first time in American history someone was allowed to testify in a US court under complete anonymity. “Avi” claimed that the organisation “smelt of Hamas”. Can anyone “smell” the injustice in that?
Let us forget for a moment that Hamas are the elected representatives of the Gaza Strip in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The zakat committees that the HLF donated to are not listed anywhere by the US as terrorist organisations nor has there been any proof linking them to Hamas. In fact USAID—an American government agency—has continued providing funds to the same zakat committees listed in the indictment well beyond the time that Bush shut down the HLF.
What is happening here is a clear attack on American citizens trying to support Palestinians. I have spoken many times on my distaste for religion, but these men are not Islamists hell bent on wiping Israel off the map. These men are good men, men dedicating their lives to trying to provide education and healthcare to a people under siege.
There is too much historic injustice against the Palestinians for me to write about in one blog post. But even if we look at the last 10 years of history from the region, from the 2nd Intifada till now, the message from the US and Israel is clear – support the Palestinians and you will be labeled a terrorist or an anti-semite. Palestine does not exist and Palestinians are second class citizens who do not deserve human rights or statehood.
What Israel and successive US administrations can not stop is the growing voices of dissent. The HLF case is just one of many injustices committed against the Palestinians for daring to demand their freedom. They are not the first and they will not be the last. No matter how many charities they disband, no matter how many innocent men, women and children they incarcerated, displace or kill, the Palestinians will not go away. They will not be silenced and neither will those of us who stand up to injustices like this. We will not stop until every man, woman and child can live alongside each other as equal citizens regardless of race, colour or creed.
We have seen it before with Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, even in the face of death or imprisonment these men fought for freedom, liberty and justice, everything we are told the American Dream represents. In reality, when these men speak out, those in power rush to strangle their message. Nothing scares governments more than its people, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt are all testaments to that.
What happened today is a travesty of justice. The US judicial system wants to silence the voices of a 21st century civil rights movement. They do this because our voices are loud. They do this because our voices are more terrifying to their power systems than any hurricane.
Right now that road seems so long, but one day, with unity and courage, our combined voices will drown out those who stand in the way of justice and equality.
Free the Holy Land Five. Free Palestine.
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