In an interview on Sixty Minutes with Bob Simon, Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren made a chilling remark, the significance of which must not be overlooked. The interview was shown at the end of a report by Bob Simon on the situation of Christians in the Holy Land. Apparently when the ambassador heard about the report being made he called the Chairman of CBS and complained that his sources told him the report was going to be a “hatchet job.” At the end of the report Simon said to the Ambassador that he had never had anyone react to a story before it was even aired and before anyone had a chance to view it. The Israeli ambassador seemed taken aback for a second or two, but then he collected himself, and replied: “Well Bob, there’s a first time for everything.”
Israeli influence over America is not new and it has been well documented. From American politics to economic issues, to issues of foreign policy and national security Israel’s influence has shown its marks everywhere. Now, Israel’s influence has infiltrated the “holy of holies” of American democracy, the judicial system. As the ambassador said, “There is a first time for everything.”
The case of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) in which five Palestinian American Muslims were convicted and sentenced in a US court to decades behind bars based on questionable testimony by two anonymous Israeli intelligence officers, demonstrates the invasive nature of Israeli influence in American courts. There is an abundance of information about this case so we won’t get into too many details here, only to say that HLF, at one time the largest Muslim charity in the US was accused of providing “material support to Hamas.” It is a bewildering accusation to say the least. HLF provided much needed charity to Palestinians by raising modest funds for orphans and widows that had to qualify in order to receive these funds, and contributed to libraries and hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli authorities began a campaign against HLF in 1996. They closed down the HLF office in Jerusalem and arrested the local director, a Palestinian from Jerusalem. He was interrogated by the Israeli police, and the internal security service (Shabak). He was asked repeatedly if the organization has ties to Hamas and if moneys were given particularly to orphans whose fathers were members of Hamas who became Shahids, either through suicide attacks or because they were killed by Israel. He repeatedly claimed that HLF was not affiliated to Hamas, and that all recipients had to go through the same screening process by social workers who determined if they qualified for aid.
He showed that HLF did not in any way favor the orphans of Hamas “Shahids.” Still he was charged, convicted and had spent several years in an Israeli prison.
Israel skillfully manipulated the anti Arab and anti Muslim hysteria that took hold over America post 9/11 to pursue its campaign against HLF in the US. And indeed in 2002 the WSJ quoted Presidnet George Bush, who gladly served Israeli interests in this regard saying:
“The facts are clear,” Mr. Bush declared. “The terrorists benefit from the Holy Land Foundation, and we’re not going to allow it. … Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers [and] to recruit suicide bombers and support their families.”
None of the things Bush said constitute clear facts, nor were they true.
Still, the Holy Land Foundation offices were placed under watch by the FBI, its main officers’ phones were tapped, their meetings recorded and a case was built against them. In 2007 a trial took place ending in an acquittal on most counts but the jury remained hung on a few charges. The judge declared a mistrial and a year later, in 2008, convictions with unprecedented long sentenced were meted out to the defendants. One juror said: “If they had been a Christian or Jewish group, I don’t think [prosecutors] would have brought charges against them.”
The justice department congratulated itself on a job well done in a piece on the FBI website declaring that this was the largest terrorism financing prosecution in US history.
The Israeli Internal Security Service, the Shabak, posted on its website that one of two Israelis that testified in the HLF trial that brought town a terror financing organization, was an employee of the Shabak and that his testimony played a crucial role in the bringing convictions.
In 2009 officers and volunteers of HLF, who became known as the HLF 5 were given unprecedented sentences for “funneling $12 million to Hamas.” $12 million is a laughable amount that only serves to demonstrate the absurdity of the accusations and the modesty of the HLF operations. In a discussion I had in Jerusalem where I described the jail sentences the HLF 5 received I got looks of disbelief. One Muslim leader who was present and was familiar with the HLF and with Hamas finally commented: “HLF was so small, how can anyone think it had any impact on Hamas?” Indeed.
In an affidavit by Israeli attorney Lea Tsemel it was made clear that Israeli security officers regularly lie in court in order to get convictions. In an interview to Israeli press, retired chief interrogator of the Shabak admitted this too. “The security officers know that an Israeli judge will always believe their testimony over that of an Arab.” he said. Now this is true of judges in the US as well. As the ambassador said: “There is a first time for everything.”
After being found guilty in the second trial, Mufid Aabdulkader, Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammad El Mezaine and Abdulrahman Odeh were immediately sent to Federal prison in Seagoville, Texas (this was November 24, 2008). Judge Jorge A. Solis who presided would not let them stay out until sentencing. He told all defendants they had 5 minutes to say goodbye to their families.
”The judge said we would have to choose 3 people from each family to say goodbye, because there were too many people. I let my three daughters say goodbye, so I did not even get to tell Mufid goodbye. It would not have taken that long if the judge had let us all say goodbye, perhaps 10 minutes.” Diana Abdukader, Mufid’s wife told me.
Sentencing took place on May 27, 2009. The prosecution tried to have the five men moved immediately to CMUs, but the families fought to have them stay at Seagoville where they could be close to their families. They were successful at keeping them there until April 22, 2010, when all but one were moved to the CMUs. Abdulrahman Odeh, went to general population at FCI Victorville in Adelanto, CA. Mufid and Ghassan were sent to Marion CMU, while Mohammad El-Mezzeine and Shukri Abu Baker were sent to the CMU in Terre Haute Indianna.
The following was written by Mufid Abdulkader, describing their transfer to the CMUs. Mufid is one of three defendants with whom I have been in touch for close to a year now via email and phone. All three had given me permission to publish what they had written to me. This is the first of several articles I mean to publish with material written by the HLF defendants.
“Dear brothers & Sisters, our trip to USP Marion started way before Thursday April 24, 2010, the day we were moved from Seagoville to USP Marion in Illinois. The trip went from Seagoville to Texarkana Texas to Oklahoma City to Philadelphia to Ohio to St. Louis, Missouri & finally ended when we were bussed (3 hours trip) from St. Louis to USP Marion in Marion Illinois. It was 6 days of pain, extreme discomfort, racist treatment by guards, we were singled out to be screamed at, it was a show of disrespect and racist behavior on many different levels.
On Wednesday March 31, I was suddenly called by the guard & told to see the Counselor. Once I saw the counselor, he immediately told me that he has received orders to handcuff me & move me to the Special Management Unit (SMU) at Seagoville. He said it was orders from way above (meaning the Warden) & he does not know why, he just followed orders. So one by one, El-Mezain, Shukri, Ghassan & I, were taken and placed in the SMU. The condition at the SMU are terrible. In the SMU you are held for 23 hours in a solitary confinement in a small cell. You are allowed 1 hour outside the cell (called recreation). It means literally to be taken out of your cell in handcuffs & placed in a cage closed from all sides including the top.”
“This only happens only Monday – Friday. On weekends you are kept in your cell for 24 hours. You are handcuffed thru a bean hole in the cell’s door prior to you going out of the cell, whether to go for the 1 hour recreation, see a doctor (very rare) or visit your family or get a hair cut. Getting a hair cut while handcuffed is a very painful experience. If the doctor needs to x-ray anything, you stay handcuffed & it is your responsibility to get in the position to take the x-ray for any part of your body (hand, leg, arm, ..etc) & suffer the pain caused by the handcuffs.”
“When you go see your family it is only thru thick glass windows. Hand cuffs are only taken after you are placed in the 4X5 feet room with thick glass and a phone. After you enter the room they open the bean hole & you extend your handcuffed hands (in extreme pain) to be removed. After the visit is over, again they open the bean hole & handcuff you again before they open the door to take you back to your cell. You cannot touch your family & only talk to them thru the one phone & they take turns to talk to you.”
“After 21 days they moved us to another cell. Then came the day we were expecting: Around 10 AM, 3 guards came & asked us if we want to go to outside recreation (the 1 hour outside) and we said yes. A few minutes later they came & they handcuffed us and and we were thinking that we were going to the outside cages for the one hour recreation & instead they took us to R&D (Receive and Discharge) Dept. This is the department where they receive inmates & ship them out. Now we realized that they were shipping us out of Seagoville & that was it!!! Ghassan & Shukri left their medical eye glasses in their cells & they asked the guards to get them & that is when the guard started screaming at Shukri & Ghassan.”
“They put a big handcuff around each leg with heavy chains and then handcuffed the hands from the front with heavy chains and tied the handcuffs from the legs and the hands together. This was done for all inmates but for us they had a special treatment. They used what is called the black box. The black box is a box that tighten your hands handcuffs & legs chains together make it extremely difficult to move your hands even to touch your face. It was very difficult to move especially when the handcuffs were very tight to start with. After that they walk us very slowly to the bus waiting outside. We walk and El-mezain was barely able to walk because they forced him to walk without his cane. He almost fell down several times. It took around 5 minutes to walk about 20 feet (6 meters) to the bus.”
This was only the beginning. Mufid’s account doesn’t ends here, there are pages and pages of descriptions of the horrors that these five men had to endure on their way to the CMU and at the CMU. And, as long as people on the outside sit quiet instead of crying for justice, they will continue to suffer.
Israel is on a mission to destroy Palestine and its people, and as part of that mission Israel holds thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in its jails. This is not new nor should it come as any surprise to anyone. But the Israeli invasion of US politics, media, national security and foreign policy all started at a point when someone said, “There is a first time for everything.”