Mondoweiss Online Newsletter


The aftermath of a bombed home in Gaza

Dec 09, 2011

Ruqaya Izzidien

The room in Migdad Elzalaan’s home where his uncle was killed.

(All Photos: Ruqaya Izzidien)

At 2am on Thursday 9 December the first of three Israeli airstrikes hit meters away from the home of Migdad Elzalaan in northern Gaza City. The attack killed Elzalaan’s uncle and injured 13 of his family members. Israeli authorities claim to have targeted a nearby military base, but the only reported casualties were civilian.

Elzalaan’s younger sister’s bed covered in rubble.

Elzalaan’s home- which the United Nations repaired after a nearby airstrike in the 2008-2009 war- was severely damaged and his uncle’s house was completely destroyed.

Shattered plates and glasses in a destroyed kitchen.

During the airstrikes, the 20-year-old went to his uncle’s home next door where he rescued his 6-month-old cousin from the rubble. After the final bomb, he unearthed his uncle from the rubble. Migdad explained, “[My uncle] told me, ‘Look after our family, look after the children. Look after them,’ and then he died, right in my arms.”

The possessions and toys of the family lay sprawled across the house, dishes from the last meal are still left in the sink and large cement bricks remain where they landed in the children’s beds.

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The destroyed roof.

Iran: If it had been a fighter jet not a drone, ‘U.S. bases would have been pounded’

Dec 09, 2011

Annie Robbins

rq 170
RQ-170 Image: David Cenciotti via The Aviationist

The Pentagon is still spinning wheels around the truth, claiming The US Drone Shown On Iranian TV Was Likely Just A Model.  I don’t think they are really  in denial,– just not ready to face the American people and tell them their cutting edge ‘super secret’ drone,  is in Iranian hands, what Martha Raddatz @ ABC characterizes as an intelligence ‘bonanza’.

Early Thursday, U.S. officials said, and ABC News reported, that the craft displayed did not appear to be the highly sensitive RQ-170 Sentinel and might be a model, in part because U.S. imagery indicated the Sentinel had not landed intact. Later, however, officials said it was possible that the Iranians had reconstructed the drone for display on television, but that the evidence was “inconclusive.”

Pentagon spokesperson Capt. John Kirby said Thursday that U.S. officials were examining the footage aired in Iran for clues.

Reconstructed for display on television? That’s some talented fast paced model makers!  Today the new mantra is that the photos are  fueling debate over whether the drone in the photos is real. Delay, delay, delay.

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Iranian MP Esmaeil Kowsari

Meanwhile in an interview with the Fars News Agency today Iranian MP Esmaeil Kowsari , Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee deputy chairman, said if the downed U.S. spy drone had been a jet fighter, “conditions in the region would have changed by now” and Iran would have “pounded all U.S. military bases across the world.”

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Ambassador Mohammad Khazaii [Tehran Times]

 Tehran Times is reporting that the Iranian Government has requested that the U.N. condemn the U.S. ‘for aggressive moves” violating Iran’s air space and called on the body to adopt  “clear and effective measures”‘  … to  “fulfill its responsibility to safeguard world peace and security“. Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaii sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as well as General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, and Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador. Khazaii sent the letter on Thursday in response to the US invading its air space .

“Upon instructions from my government, I have the honor to draw your kind attention to the provocative and covert operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the U.S. government, which have increased and intensified in recent months,” the letter said.

The letter added, “In the continuation of such trend, recently, an American RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, bearing a specific serial number, violated Iran’s airspace.

“This plane (flew) 250 kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas, where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Khazaii also wrote that Iranian government regards the U.S. provocative move as an act of hostility against Iran, which is in clear contravention of international law and the basic principles of the UN Charter.

All this against the backdrop of the US threatening draconian sanctions on Iran.

Gingrich says Palestinians are an ‘invented people’

Dec 09, 2011

Philip Weiss

In an interview with Steven Weiss of the Jewish Channel, picked up by Ben Smith. He also says, “I think it’s delusional to call it a peace process.” Gingrich:

“I believe that the Jewish people have the right to have a state, and I believe that the commitments that were made at a time–remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940’s, and it’s tragic.”

Will this be a wedge issue between Republicans and Democrats? J Street, appalled by the Republican positions, did an email blast on Gingrich’s statement and on Jon Stewart’s riff last night on the Republican Jewish Coalition. J Street said, “[T]oday, the political pandering on Israel continued, asNewt Gingrich referred to the Palestinians as an ‘invented people’ and suggested reversing two-decades of American policy and abandoning pursuit of the two-state solution.”

Justin Elliott tweets smartly:

is there way to take Newt’s “they had a chance to go many places” bit as anything other than call for ethnic cleansing?

Two Palestinians dead in Gaza, a story of mourning and peace

Dec 09, 2011

Waleed al-Meadana

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A damaged car from the Israeli bombing that killed Issam Al-Batish and Sobhi Al-Batish (Photo: Reuters)

I was half-asleep, half-awake when hearing my younger brother’s voice murmuring, “an Israeli airstrike hit a car next door, the bodies were burnt and torn apart and the pass-byers say the dead belong to the al-Batish family,” he said.

“What family..? al-Batish what?” I remember that I jumped up out of my bed and hurried to the radio. The first thing that came to my mind was the picture of my friend Mohammed. I imagined him torn into pieces, thrown at the asphalt, and muddied with blood.

A sudden voice broke the rash of my thoughts. It was my mum supplicating to Allah to give their family ‘patience’. “How dare the Israelis bomb a car that is zero meter away from the Baladia Garden and Playground,” blared mum with a furious tone that I have never heard but in very few stances. Yes, how dare they! “There, hundreds of Palestinian children mass to live their early, distorted childhoods,” continued mum. It is, at the end of the day, a playground, not a battlefield. It is where they TRY to forget about all the actions of the brutality of the Israelis they have witnessed over the last course of the decade. Probably they are not destined to grow up children,, or they might be stoning the Israeli fight jets that stained Gaza’s sky with huge, broad, white gas lines that the jets left behind.

Breaking news says the dead are Issam al-Batish and his cousin. But the names no longer matter for me because whoever the dead are, they are Palestinians. I am pretty sure that a Palestinian family has lost a father, or a son, or a brother, or a cousin. It is quite obvious now that the Palestinians are a part of the Israeli conspiracy: they hit us, wound us, kill us, and breed us with rage. And what is the outcome of this ongoing process? The Israeli actions continue, and rage grows. We always pay.

This dramatic play never stops!

Later on I logged in to my Facebook account to assure my friends abroad that my family and I are safe and sound. But the photos of the dead bodies shocked me. At some point, I realized that human morals are doomed! No longer does man respect man. The bodies were recollected and engulfed with the black-and-white Palestinian Keffiyh. The same two colours that tell the whole story of our people; the same two colours that depict the reality we live in and our aspiration; the same two colours that speak both mourn and peace.

Israeli soldier shoots protester in face at close range with teargas canister

Dec 09, 2011

Alex Kane and Philip Weiss


Mustafa Tamimi, a 28-year-old Palestinian from the village of Nabi Saleh, moments before he was shot by the Israeli army and critically injured. “Circled in red are the barrel of the gun and the projectile that hit him,” according to the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (Photo: Haim Scwarczenberg)

Violence rocked the occupied Palestinian territories today, as a demonstrator in Nabi Saleh was critically injured and Gazans continued to brace Israeli air attacks. Four Gazans were killed in the attacks, including at least one civilian.

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Ola Tamimi shouts after watching her brother, Mustafa Tamimi, get shot by the IDF.
(Photo: Anne Paq/

Mustafa Tamimi, a 28-year-old resident of the village of Nabi Saleh, was shot in the face by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tear-gas canister after apparently throwing stones at an Israeli army vehicle. News of the injury quickly came in through Twitter:


Other Twitter users on the ground in Nabi Saleh claimed that at first, the Israeli army was not allowing them to take Tamimi to the hospital. But their troubles weren’t over when the Israeli army allowed Tamimi to go. A tweet sent from the account of the Active Stills photography collective reported: “One of our photographers and 2 friends of Mostafa Tamimi are detained by Security guards in Beilinson hospital.”

The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) has more on what happened:

Mustafa Tamimi, a 28 year old resident of Nabi Saleh, was shot in the face today, during the weekly protest in the village of Nabi Saleh. He sustained a severe injury to his head, under his right eye, and was evacuated to the Belinson hospital in Petah Tikwa. He is currently anesthetized, breathing through tubes, and his condition is described as serious. Tamimi is undergoing treatment in the trauma ward of the hospital, and is expected to undergo surgery later tonight…

The incident took place in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh today, when dozens gathered for the weekly demonstration in the village, protesting the theft of village lands by the adjacent Jewish-only settlement of Nabi Saleh. After the army dispersed the peaceful march, minor clashes erupted followed by a severe response by Israeli forces. Several people were hit with rubber-coated bullets and directly shot tear gas projectiles. Three were evacuated to the Ramallah hospital for further treatment. One protester was arrested.

The demonstrations, which have been held regularly for the past two years have seen hundreds of injuries to protesters by Israeli forces as well as dozens of arrests carried out with the aim of supressing dissent.

The PSCC posted this video of the aftermath of the shooting. Warning to viewers: It is extremely graphic and disturbing.

An IDF spokesperson, Avital Leibovich, tweeted a photo of a slingshot Tamimi was allegedly using to explain the Israeli army’s actions.


Mustafa Tamimi (L) poses for a photo with his parents (front) and brothers in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, 10.9.2010. (Photo: Activestills)

Meanwhile, there has been an escalation in violence in the Gaza Strip. This latest flare-up was sparked by an Israeli air strike in Gaza that killed Palestinian fighters who Israel says were involved in attacks on Israel originating from Egypt’s Sinai.

Ma’an News has the story:

Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that his government was holding intensive talks with regional and international parties to stop Israel’s escalation in attacks on the enclave.

Four Palestinians have been killed since Wednesday and at least 20 injured in a series of airstrikes on Gaza City. The Israeli army expressed regret that civilians were hurt in the attacks, which injured at least seven children.

Speaking after Friday prayers in Gaza City, Haniyeh said Israel’s latest flare up in aggression was preceded by threats of a new military action by Israeli leaders.

Robert Siegel scolds Kalle Lasn

Dec 09, 2011

Philip Weiss

Siegel (photo by Steve Barrett)

The other day on All Things Considered, in an otherwise respectful interview, Robert Siegel scolded Kalle Lasn, the Adbusters founder and Occupy inspirer, suggesting he is anti-Semitic. It happened fast:

SIEGEL: You’ve been very critical of Israel and of neoconservative policies.

LASN: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Some people think you’re out of bounds identifying who are Jews among prominent neoconservatives.

LASN: Yes, and some people think I’m way in bounds as well.

Here are seven Jews who have identified neoconservatism as either a Jewish movement or a movement that has a strong Jewish component:

Alan Dershowitz: (The Vanishing American Jew):

Jews have been active in gay rights, but the recent neo-conservative movement in America has also been dominated by Jews, many of whom had been leaders in the socialist movement of the past.

JJ Goldberg (Jewish Power):

Not all the neoconservatives were Jewish… Nonetheless, they became known as a Jewish group for several reasons. For one thing, most of them were Jews…. Most important, the neoconservatives proclaimed their existence throught two magazines edited and published by Jews…

Jacob Heilbrunn (They Knew They Were Right)

Neoconservatism was forged into an actual movement by [Irving] Kristol and Norman Podhoretz. Even today, the neoconservative movement is best described as an extended family based largely on the informal social networks patiently forged by these two patriarchs…. there were many other figures who contributed to its emergence, both as a movement and as a school of thought. Not all of them were Jews–a fact that has been frequently pointed out by the neoconservatives themselves to refute the canard that neoconservatism is a Jewish movement. Fair enough. Yet the movement’s non-Jewish members were largely bound to the group by a shared commitment to the largest, most important Jewish cause: the survival of Israel.

Murray Friedman (deceased, former vice chair of US Civil Rights Commission):

[book title] The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy….

A new generation of Jewish neocons have lined up behind the Bush Doctrine… If one argues, as I do, that Jewish conservatism has played a little-noticed role in American social and political life for much of the last hundred years, one may wonder why it has gone largely unrecognized.

Benjamin Ginsberg (professor of political science at Johns Hopkins), The Fatal Embrace:

The predominantly Jewish neocons are the chief intellectual spokesmen for all aspects of Reaganite Republicanism that the paleoconservatives find objectionable… One major factor that drew them inexorably to the right was their attachment to Israel and their growing frustration during the 1960s with a Democratic party….

Joe Klein:

You want evidence of divided loyalties? How about the “benign domino theory” that so many Jewish neoconservatives talked to me about–off the record, of course–in the runup to the Iraq war, the idea that Israel’s security could be won by taking out Saddam, which would set off a cascade of disaster for Israel’s enemies in the region?

Ari Shavit [2003]:

In the course of the past year, a new belief has emerged in the town [Washington]: the belief in war against Iraq. That ardent faith was disseminated by a small group of 25 or 30 neoconservatives, almost all of them Jewish, almost all of them intellectuals (a partial list: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Eliot Abrams, Charles Krauthammer), people who are mutual friends and cultivate one another and are convinced that political ideas are a major driving force of history.

The simple explanation of Robert Siegel’s statement is that it was OK to talk about the Jewishness of the neocons when they were a rump group of intellectuals at the margins of Washington. When they gained actual power, and played a crucial role in a disastrous decision (Iraq war), the subject suddenly became verboten, in part because of fears among Jews (like Siegel) of a recurrence of virulent anti-Semitism. The result has been journalistic abdication from an important story.

Why the tight security at J Street president’s Syracuse talk?

Dec 09, 2011

Ira Glunts

Jeremy Ben Ami
Jeremy Ben Ami

I recently heard Jeremy Ben-Ami, president and founder of J Street, tell a group of Jewish Syracuse New Yorkers that it is in the interest of Israel, the United States and American Jews to have a “two-state solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Ben-Ami was in town to help launch a local chapter of his self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace organization.”  He described his peace vision as one held by the Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, and the U.S. installed Palestinian “Prime Minister” Salam Fayyad.  Based on the audience questions and comments, JStreet Jeremy had at least as many opponents as sympathizers at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) that evening.

Strangely, my main impressions of the evening were not based on Ben-Ami’s remarks, about which I plan to write in the near future, but rather on the unexpected presence of two burly city policemen who were stationed in the lobby near the entrance to the JCC building when I arrived.

It seems relevant to inform you that I am Jewish, live an hour’s drive from Syracuse and know close to nothing about its Jewish community.  As a matter of fact, I know very little about any Jewish community except the one that existed around Pelham Parkway in the Bronx a half century ago.  Most of the information I have learned recently about American Jews comes from websites, newspapers, magazines, television, even blogs.  (Full disclosure: my main source of my knowledge is this website!)

When I saw that the Jewish Community Center was tightly secured by Syracuse’s finest, I first surmised that the police were present to protect Jeremy from some irate meshugenah alter cocker(wild old fart, in Yiddish) who had overdosed on prune juice and was high on tribalism and pro-Israel fanaticism.  Although I initially dismissed this assumption as unlikely, I later learned that it actually contained an element of truth.

After rejecting my own conclusion that the security was about protecting Ben-Ami, I conjectured, more implausibly, that the officers were present to protect members of the Jewish community from insanely overzealous basketball fans, for which Syracuse is well-known.  These fanatics may, I reasoned, blame the disgraced and recently dismissed long-time assistant Syracuse University basketball coach Bernie Fine, who is Jewish, for the unfolding lurid sex scandal surrounding the university’s basketball program.

All ethnic and religious minorities are very sensitive to scandals which involve local celebrities from their own community, American Jews are particularly so.  Fine was not so good for Syracuse Jews. However, the police were not, of course, a defense against offensive Syracuse Orange basketball supporters.

Ironically, it was my friend and ride Pat Carmeli, once a Catholic girl from Long Island, who had married an Israeli, raised a family in Israel, and is now a devoted and tireless local Syracuse area advocate for Palestinian rights, who informed me that other Jewish events she has attended in the Syracuse area were also “protected” by a very visible police presence.  This includes synagogues during morning Sabbath services.

Ben-Ami began his presentation with a startling comparison between the Jews who moved out of crowded New York City in the 50s to build a better life in the then rural communities on Long Island with those who fought in the Irgun**, like his father, who relocated from Jaffe to the city of Tel Aviv. However, I was diverted from contemplating Jeremy’s bizarre revisionist cultural history by the new security deployment in the hall.

The police were now stationed at opposite corners of the lecture room where they projected a heightened vigilance.  It occurred to me that the men in blue were protecting me and some 100 mostly elderly upper-middle class Jews from an attack – but from whom?  Who are these people afraid of: poor African Americans who live in the surrounding area, a group of Jihadists from among the small besieged local Muslim population or some reincarnated Nazi brown shirts whose ghostly presence would re-enact Kristallnacht on Thompson Road in Upstate New York?  Is this heavy security really typical of the Jewish community in Syracuse, or for that matter, in the United States? I wondered.

After Jeremy finished answering questions and retired to an adjoining room to sell and sign his recent book, I learned from an attendee that in addition to anti-Semites, the JCC has to protect itself from possible attacks from ultra-Orthodox Jews.  Whether this potential J Street supporter actually believed what he said is anyone’s guess.  He had proudly indicated that he was a liberal and long-time supporter of the two-state solution.  Maybe this elderly gentleman thought he was demonstrating open-mindedness and ecumenicalism by including members of his own religious group as a possible threat.

The most enlightening portion of the evening came when I joined my friend Pat who was speaking to one of the Syracuse police officers who I will refer to as “John*.”  By this time, most but not all of the attendees had left.   John apparently felt it was not necessary to continue being vigilant and gave us his complete attention.  He is a very charming and loquacious Irish-American who like Pat has a Jewish spouse. We learned that John was “off the clock” and being remunerated solely by the JCC. It was heartening to hear that the security was not paid for by local taxpayers.  Still, I wondered about the propriety of working as private security wearing official police uniforms.

In response to our questions, John said he did not believe police protection was really necessary at this or at other Jewish events.  He volunteered that he had never had to deal with one incident during his Jewish moonlighting.   I was surprised to learn from John that there is a police presence “at every Jewish event in Syracuse, including weddings and Bar/Bat Mitvahs.”  John told us that when he first provided security for weddings and bar/bat-mitzvahs he was taken aback when out of town Jewish cops who were invited to these festivities expressed bewilderment at the security arrangements.  The off-duty guests said that in their hometowns Jewish weddings and other celebrations do not have any type of security, never mind armed-off duty uniformed police officers.

Marci Erlebacher is the Executive Director of the Syracuse JCC.  She is a bright, friendly, popular woman and a highly competent administrator, according to two knowledgeable local people I spoke with.  My 20-minute telephone interview with her corroborated this description.  Ms. Erlebacher contradicted the contention that police were hired as security at all local Jewish events.   She said that whether the police are present depends on the congregation and the type of event.  At the JCC, all events at which the general public is invited have police security, but “a movie about Israel” which only a small number of JCC members would be expected to attend would not require the police.

Ironically, given my initial reaction to the police, one of the J Street’s advance people asked the Director if there could be someone from the JCC present at Jeremy’s talk who would discourage and deal with any member of the audience who objected to Jeremy’s presentation in an inappropriate manner.  Since Ms. Erlebacher had a number of passionate requests that she not allow J Street a venue at the JCC, she had also become worried about audience behavior.  Thus the JCC Director was happy to have the police in the hall to perform crowd control duties.  She instructed them before the event that maintaining audience control would be their responsibility.  Those gathered treated Ben-Ami with the utmost courtesy and respect, without exception.  I doubt if their behavior would have been different if the police were absent.

Ms. Erlebacher told me that the use of security became prevalent in Syracuse after 9/11.  She feels that she is obligated to employ the police, “just in case.”  It is difficult to imagine her doing otherwise, since police are now something that many in the Jewish community have come to expect. Still there are a number of questions, some that are troubling, about the police presence.

To what extent is the perceived need for police at events an appropriate reaction to real dangers to the community?  Could the high level of security be just the result of the upward economic mobility? To what degree is the close identification of the Jewish community with the State of Israel, which is a very security-conscious society be driving the use of police at communal events?  Does the presence of Syracuse police at so many events affect how Syracuse Jews are viewed by the rest of the residents of the city?  To what extent is this police presence typical of Jewish communities in the United States?

My friend Pat said she was very disturbed by the police presence which she has seen at many Jewish events.  She asks, what is this teaching the children about the world in which they live?  Could it be teaching them to develop unnecessary fears of non-Jews?

Jeremy Ben-Ami told those gathered at the Jewish Community Center of Syracuse that Israel must take security risks in order to achieve peace.  Looking around at the police presence and the security-conscious audience, I wondered if many of these people would agree with him.

*    John was not the  actual name of the officer.
**  The Irgun was considered, at the time, by the Jewish establishment in both Palestine and the United States to be terrorist organization.

70-year-old Palestinian professor is now a political prisoner –updated

Dec 09, 2011

Philip Weiss

Dr Yousef Abdel Haq
Dr Yousef Abdel Haq

Imagine if an Israeli or Jewish professor, aged 70, was arrested on political grounds. Imagine our State Department’s outrage. We related the arrest of Yousef Abdel Haq, a PFLP leader, in an earlier news roundup. I received this photograph and message from Saed Abu-Hijleh, a poet and lecturer in geography in Nablus.

The arrest of Professor Abdel Haq, on Wednesday, December 7, 2011, aims to silence the voices of Palestinian intellectuals and academics who are struggling to expose the continuous crimes of the Zionist state and who are active on the local and international levels to build solidarity networks that struggle to end Israeli Apartheid in Palestine. Professor Abdel Haq is a lawyer and lecturer of Political Economy at An-Najah National University. He is also one of the main founders and former President of the Palestinian Enlightenment Cultural Center (Tanweer). Professor Abdel Haq is 70 years old and suffers from several chronic illnesses that require medication and medical care and his incarceration by the Israeli authorities constitutes a serious threat to his health and life and thus Israel is responsible for any harm to him that may result from this illegal action. Take action now and demand the release of Professor Abdel Haq and all of the Palestinian political prisoners.

Dr Yousef Abdel Haq Speaking at a rally in Nablus
Dr Yousef Abdel Haq Speaking at a rally in Nablus


Abu Hijleh sends along the above photo of Abdel Haq at a recent rally in Nablus, and says,  “I think it is part of a campaign to arrest progressive/leftist intellectuals and also Islamists who can offer analysis and critique of the policies and actions of Israel and the US in Palestine and in the region after the radical changes that are happening in the wake of the Arab spring and its aftermath…”

Appeals judge upholds sentencing for Holy Land Foundation Five

Dec 09, 2011

Allison Deger

HLF co-founder Ghassan Elashi:

“We at the Holy Land Foundation were giving hope and providing the basic essentials of life to the Palestinians, basic essentials—oil, rice, flour. And what was the occupation giving them? The occupation was providing them with death and destruction. And then we are turned criminals. That is irony.”

On Wednesday, December 7, a federal court of appeals upheld the conviction of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) co-founders and staff, affirming sentences that range from 15 to 65 years, convicted under the Providing Material Support to Terrorists Act. Co-founders Ghassan Elashi and Mohammad El-Mezain, along with the CEO and president Shukri Abu-Baker, volunteer fundraiser Mufid Abdulgader, and HLF New Jersey representative Abdulrahman Odeh were convicted in 2009, after a 2007 mistrial, for providing charity in Gaza.

The prosecution filled the case through an extension of the Material Support to Terrorist Act, which criminalized “assistance” to organizations on the US Treasury’s terrorist list vis-à-vis the Patriot Act. HLF was charged with assisting Hamas–by providing aid to orphanages and hospitals in Gaza–although the Palestinian charities, called zakats, were not on the US Treasury list.

Criminalized charity

The defendants were not convicted for providing material support to Hamas, but for providing humanitarian aid to organizations that also received support from USAID, the United Nations, the Red Cross, CARE, the European Commission–and USAID continued to provide support to some of the same zakat charities after the HLF was shut down by the Bush Administration in 2001.

Writer Noor Elashi, daughter of HLF co-founder Ghassan Elashi comments, “these Palestinian-American humanitarians were convicted of giving material support in the form of humanitarian aid to Palestinian charities called zakat committees that prosecutors alleged were fronts for Hamas, which the U.S. designated a terrorist organization in 1995.”

Defense attorney Nancy Hollander said:

“It’s remarkable. My client was convicted of providing charity. There was not, in ten years of wiretapping his home, his office, looking at his faxes, listening to everything he said, there was not one word out of his mouth about violence to any- one or about support for Hamas. He provided charity. That’s what he was convicted of. And to say that someone or these people who provide charity should get a sentence four or five times longer than someone who professes to come to the United States with a purpose in mind that’s clearly violence shows essentially that these people were convicted because they were Palestinians.”

Twelve years of harassment

HLF was targeted (like Sami al-Arian) prior to the Bush Administration post-9/11 measures. Investigations against HLF began in 1993, when the Clinton Administration froze HLF assets, hindering donations to schools. HLF funds were frozen in a wave of closures to 150 US tax-exempt organization’s bank accounts–targeting mostly Muslim organizations–in a move that brought praise from Yasser Arafat. The 1993 freezing of assets also targeted suspected U.S. supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad–with intelligence provided by the Israeli government–who at the time, were rival political parties to the changing landscape of a post-Oslo PLO. These organizations were viewed by the US as “weakening” the so-called “peace-process” (in 1992 Hamas officials held approximately30% of the elected positions in professional unions in both West Bank and Gaza).

The Forwards Ira Stoll reported in 1996, and throughout the 1990s, public statements were made by Islamophobic figures such as Steven Emerson, and also Rep. Nita Lowey (Dem-NY). Stoll noted Emerson and Lowey asked the U.S. government to revoke the tax-exempt status of the HLF–citing without evidence–that it was “the main fund raising arm for Hamas in the United States.”

Unconstitutional practices by the prosecution

The re-trial of the HLF Five began in 2008, after previously reaching a mistrial in 2007. During the first three-month trial–based on a twelve-year investigation–the prosecution exposed jurors to images from the al-Aqsa Intifada. Juror William Neal said of the first trial, the prosecution “kept showing us blown-up buses and they kept showing us little kids in bomb belts reenacting Hamas leaders. It had nothing to do with the actual charges. It had nothing to do with the defendants.”

In the second trial, “secret evidence” from one of the Israeli informants, known as “Avi,” was used. Avi also stated to the jury that he could “smell Hamas.”

Sentenced to “little Guantanamo”

Elashi and other defendants are currently being held in Communication Management Units (CMUs), or “little Guantanamo,” which are prisons with approximately two-thirds of the population being Arab and/or Muslim, and the remainder being left-political activist.  Most notably, animal rights activistAndy Stepanian, was held for five-and-a-half months before becoming the first prisoner released from a CMU, who has since become an outspoken critic against the detention centers. The ACLU is challenging the legality of the CMUs, as they “didn’t meet the regular approval process, which has to go through the Administrative Procedures Act and go through the oversight of Congress,” according to Stepanian.

The defense hoped to overturn the harsh sentences, for providing humanitarian aid to charities in Gaza, by in-part, appealing the testimony of two-Israeli informants. Hollander, though uncertain of what will proceed, indicates there are a few options, including asking for a rehearing from the “three judge panel that heard the case,” or asking for a rehearing of the entire court, and then petitioning the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, with the additional possibility of filing a writ of habeas corpus.

Elashi, Despite loosing the appeal, is hopeful. Stating in an  interview earlier this year with Electronic Intifada:

“I feel like things are going to get much worse before they get better, and it’s an uphill battle. A lot of people within the families of the Holy Land Five believe that the appeal is going to be the end of it, while I — not as a cynical person but someone who knows about the history of this country, and our very heinous past — probably acknowledge that it’s going to be a little bit of time before these men are exonerated and freed, and vindicated through the court system or through a presidential pardon.”

Football in Burin

Dec 09, 2011

Ben Lorber

burin team
The Burin football team (All Photos: Ben Lorber)

On the 7th of December, a windy Wednesday morning behind the boys’ school in the Palestinian village of Burin, 15 teenagers, dressed in red uniform, took to the football field under the coach’s whistle. As the team began its warm-up exercises, another youth team arrived from the neighboring village of Huwwara, led by its determined coach. Under the morning sun, the football game began. As fans, coaches and players cheered and yelled from the sidelines, a Burin teenager scored a goal in the first ten seconds, setting the tone for the rest of the match. Two hours and two injuries later, Burin came out on top 4-0 against Huwwara, bringing the season’s record to 8 wins for Burin, 1 win for Huwwara, and 2 draws. As the boys walked away sweaty and satisfied, the school bell rang and children poured outside for recess.

huwwara team
The Huwwara football team

In occupied Palestine, the youth football league becomes, not a routine taken for granted, but a rare blessing. “We love to practice and to play,” said the Burin goalie, “but usually we cannot play on this field, because we are afraid of the settlers or the army. And there is nowhere else to play.” Overlooking the boy’s football field on all hilltops, the illegal Israeli settlements of Yitzhar (birthplace of the extremist ‘price-tag’ campaign of violence), Bracha, and a Bracha outpost loom menacingly.

“When times are good”, says Ghassan Najjar, co-coach and former Burin football player, “when there are no attacks, we can play. When times are bad, we cannot get together and have games.” At 21 years old, Najjar’s memories of his own days on the field are still fresh in his mind. “Children here have no outlet. They are lost. They cannot play on the streets because it is too violent, but they do not want to sit at home…my outlet, when I could play, was football.”

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Playing in the shadow of the Yitzhar settlement.

Though the last month has spared the village of settler attacks, Israeli soldiers arrive at the school almost on a daily basis. “The boys’ school,” says Ghassan, “is right by a settler military road that heads up to the settlement. Sometimes the army comes into the principal’s office and says that he cannot let the boys outside of the school to play, for no reason. There is a 24 hour presence of the army outside the school, and the boys are frequently forbidden from leaving.” A football game, like outdoor recess, is a precious window of opportunity for children accustomed to living in fear.

Football- of which the Algerian philosopher Albert Camus, a devoted football goalkeeper before turning to intellectual pursuits, once said “all I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football”- has long cemented Palestinian culture and spirit. Time and again, it appears on the scene as a potent weapon in the resistance struggle, as on October 11, when a football game erupted on the front lines of a hunger strike solidarity protest outside of Ofer Prison in Ramallah.

Once a locus of national consciousness, Palestinian football was deliberately denied international recognition until the Palestine Football Association was recognized by FIFA in 1998. “Prior to 1948”, says Issam Khalidi in ‘Body and Ideology- Early Athletics in Palestine (1900-1948)’, an excellent study of the politics of sport in Palestine,

“there were some 65 athletic clubs in Palestine…these clubs had a tremendous impact on the lives of Palestinian young people, shaping their character and preparing them for social and political involvement…these athletics teams provided a social, national and institutional base for Palestine’s political organization in the first half of the twenty-first century. They developed alongside and in response to Jewish immigration and the Arab-Zionist confrontation. Athletic clubs were important in evoking the Palestinian national consciousness, [and] sustaining connections between villages and cities…the advancement of organized sports in Palestine was closely linked to the development of education. Even though education officials did not emphasize physical education programs in schools, most institutions had competitive football teams.”

In 1998, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, in his book Remnants of Auschwitz, recounts Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s tale of a football match in Auschwitz concentration camp, held between members of the SS and members of the Sonderkommando, a Jewish unit forced by the Nazis to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims. The match was improvised at Auschwitz, during a brief respite from the work of death. “Members of the SS,” remembers Levi, “and the rest of the [Sommerkomando] squad are present at the game; they take sides, bet, applaud, urge the players on as if, rather than at the gates of hell, the game were taking place on the village green.” Agamben comments that this moment of apparent normalcy is “the true horror of the camp…for we can perhaps think [now] that the massacres are over- even if here or there they are repeated, not so far away from us.  But that match is never over; it continues as if uninterrupted. It is the perfect and eternal cipher of the ‘gray zone’, which knows no time and is in every place.”

Agamben was drawn to the simple normalcy of this football match, chillingly suspended in the furnace of utter moral depravity. The everydayness, the banality of Levi’s football match reappears in the timeless normalcy of this Wednesday morning football match in Burin. In the heat of the game, oblivious to its surroundings, football is football. In Burin, however, everyday life is juxtaposed, in the football match, not with, as in Auschwitz, the barbaric evil of the oppressor, but with the resilient spirit of the oppressed. Even in Auschwitz, a mundane game of football, suffused with the smell of burning flesh- a testament to the banality of evil; even in Burin¸ a mundane game of football, surrounded by the foreboding faces of illegal, violent settlements- a testament to the strength of a people’s right to exist.

 In each case, the ‘match is never over’, the struggle ‘continues as if uninterrupted’, and we are reminded and warned of the constant reality of oppression. In Auschwitz, the oppressors were there on the field, and the football game thereby showed itself as a sadistic, macabre dance of death; in Burin, the oppressors sit silently on the hilltops, and the football game thereby shows itself as a spark of resistance, feeding a flame of survival.

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Burin vs. Huwwara

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