Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Case of the Holy Land Five

http://www.counterpunch.org/ March 23, 2010

My Father's Unjust Incarceration

The Case of the Holy Land Five


A decade before my father received a 65-year
prison sentence, he handed me an unusual book,
one that ultimately shifted the way I perceive
the world. It was titled Magic Eye, and it
contained pages of what seemed like simple
multicolored patterns. But each page had a hidden
gift, a sensational truth. By diverging your
eyes, my father told me, you’ll see an unexpected
image. It seemed to challenge everything I’d ever
known. I stared at the flat, distorted artwork
until it transformed into a faded silhouette and
then a three-dimensional shape like a group of
dolphins or a rose-filled heart. Years later, as
I flip through the pages of my family’s
narrative, I see images that are far less whimsical, and indeed, painful.

Last week, U.S. attorney Jim Jacks filed a motion
asking the federal judge of the Holy Land
Foundation case to transfer my father­Ghassan
Elashi, the charity’s co-founder­and his
colleagues to a prison that closely monitors its
inmates. If transferred to either of these
so-called “Communication Management Units” in
Terre Haute, Indiana or Marion, Illinois, my
father’s phone calls would be more limited than
they are now, in Seagoville, Texas. His letters
would be monitored, his visitation time would be
reduced to four hours a month and his
conversations would be restricted to English, which is his second language.

Perhaps this may seem like an illustration of an
effective justice system at work. But if one
diverges his or her eyes, the camouflaged truth
will slowly unfold, until it comes into focus. I,
for one, see a hazel-eyed girl with pale skin and
soft dark curls losing her home uponIsrael’s
creation in 1948. The young woman, now my
paternal grandmother, often tells me about her
banishment from Jaffa, a once vibrant Palestinian
city known for its orange groves and turquoise
beach. I also see a man who was expelled from his
native Gaza City in 1967 and was not allowed to
return. I grew up hearing stories from this man,
my father, about the plight of Palestinians, whom
he called “a voiceless population” suffering from
occupation, starvation, demolished homes,
uprooted trees, constrained movement and a devastated economy.

As I look deeper, I see the Holy Land Foundation
rise to stardom in the eyes of human rights
activists worldwide who had witnessed this
charitable organization alleviate poverty in
Occupied Palestine through bags of rice, boxes of
medicine, conventional humanitarian aid. I see my
family scrutinized throughout the 1990s due to
agenda-driven reports linking my father to
terrorism­reports written by individuals who saw
the HLF’s strength as a threat, for they wanted
Palestinians to remain weak and desolate. I see
President Bush shutting down the Holy Land
Foundation three months after Sept. 11, 2001,
calling the action “another important step in the
financial fight against terror.”

I see my father and his colleagues tried in 2007
and almost vindicated. I see him tried a second
time and convicted in 2008, thereby receiving a
life-long sentence. In both trials, prosecutors
argued that the HLF gave money to Palestinian
zakat (charity) committees that they claimed were
controlled by Hamas, which the U.S. designated a
terrorist organization in 1995. To prove this,
prosecutors called to the stand an Israeli
intelligence agent testifying under the pseudonym
of Avi who claimed he could “smell Hamas.” The
prosecutors intimidated the jury by showing them
scenes of suicide bombings completely
unaffiliated with the HLF, and they used guilt by
association by linking my father and the other
defendants to relatives who are members of Hamas.
The defense attorneys’ argument was simple: The
Holy Land Five gave charity to the same zakat
committees to which the American government
agency USAID (United States Agency for
International Development) gave money.
Furthermore, none of the zakat committees
included in the HLF indictment were named on any
of the U.S. Treasury Department’s lists of designated terrorist organizations.

Nationally respected human rights law professors
such as David Cole have associated the Holy Land
case with McCarthyism, and other experts have
called it a miscarriage of justice. The book that
my father gave me had this subtitle: A New Way of
Looking at the World. If one looks at our world
with a fresh pair of eyes, he or she will see
that Jim Jacks’ request for harsher prison
conditions is unnecessarily cruel, and that
supporting the appeal process is the only way to
achieve justice. He or she will also see that the
Holy Land Five are political prisoners, and that
we live in a twisted time, a time when
humanitarians are pursued relentlessly for political purposes.

Noor Elashi is a Palestinian-American and writer based in New York City.

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