Dr. Sami Al-Arian, Palestinian political prisoner, is held in a prison hospital, after a debilitating 60-day hunger strike seeking to draw the attention of the nation and the world to the injustice visited upon him, jailed for his commitment to justice and dignity for his homeland. This is not a scene from an Israeli jail, however, but from a U.S. prison in North Carolina. Al-Arian’s hunger strike ended at the pleas of his family – yet without justice for Al-Arian, whose imprisonment is part and parcel of a U.S. government policy of targeting Palestinian activists, as well as the broader Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities, in an internal “war of terror” whose policies run parallel to that being waged abroad.
The case of Sami al-Arian is a story of persecution, perseverance, and, ultimately, the determination of those in power to criminalize resistance and punish Palestinian activism, subverting not only the principles of justice but also their own criminal justice system in order to do so. Sami al-Arian, 49, is a Palestinian refugee who has lived in the United States for over thirty years and has, for the last decade, alongside his prominent role as an activist and leader in the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities in the Tampa Bay, Florida area and nationally, his work as a professor of computer science at the University of South Florida, and his personal life as a husband and father to five children, waged a prominent battle to protect fundamental rights within the U.S. from an assault through secret evidence, racist detention policies, and an all-out assault on community organizing and solidarity work within targeted communities. Al-Arian has lived with over a dozen years of surveillance, and eight years of FBI agents shadowing his movements. Today, he is imprisoned, despite the fact that he was convicted of nothing by a jury, despite a parade of witnesses and years of harassment.
Dr. Mazen al-Najjar, Al-Arian’s brother-in-law and a fellow professor at USF, was arrested in 1997, presumably for a minor visa violation, which, at the time, should have been a simple problem to correct. However, as a stateless Palestinian refugee, al-Najjar was instead imprisoned for three and one-half years on the basis of secret evidence to which Al-Najjar was never given access. Al-Najjar’s case became a primary target of the then-Clinton Administration’s demand to be able to hold and deport people on the basis of secret evidence, a case that is haunting today in its relevance to the thousands of men held around the world – and the nearly 400 held at Guantanamo Bay currently – imprisoned by the U.S. government with evidence they cannot confront and with no legal process to ensure any sort of real hearing. In the late 1990s, however, secret evidence had not yet assumed its terrifying and major place in the government’s extra-legal arsenal of imprisonment and detention. Sami al-Arian played a leading role in the campaign to defend his brother-in-law and obtain his freedom – a fight in which, it seemed, they were victorious, as, in late 2000, Immigration Judge Kevin McHugh, describing the government’s case – based on secret evidence – as “devoid of any direct or indirect evidence” to support Al-Najjar’s detention, ordered his release. By mid-2001, a bill to restrict the use of secret evidence was progressing through Congress, all but one of the non-citizens held on secret evidence had been freed, and even George W. Bush had expressed, during his campaign, disapproval for the practice. (Bush’s statement against secret evidence, in a twist that now seems bitterly ironic, helped to secure the support of many in the Muslim and Arab communities; in Florida, Al-Arian himself was key in mobilizing those communities to support Bush’s campaign.)
Both Al-Arian and Al-Najjar were prominent activists in the Muslim community, deeply involved with the Islamic Community Center of Tampa Bay and the Florida Islamic Academy, as well as dedicated advocates for the Palestinian cause. The organizations Al-Arian co-founded at the University of South Florida, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) and the Islamic Concern Project (ICP), produced volumes of educational materials and held numerous events and conferences, helping to link their Islamic work with the struggle to free Palestine from occupation and oppression, as well as providing educational perspectives often silenced or unheard within U.S. discourse around Palestine. Al-Arian was an exemplary founder and leader of community institutions that provided immense support to the strengthening of the Muslim community in Florida, as well as the national and international trend of Islamic work for justice in Palestine. Amidst the defense of his brother-in-law, he was also president of the National Committee to Protect Political Freedom.
For this work, Sami al-Arian was targeted for spying, harassment and intimidation – none of which silenced nor stopped his dedicated activism. Following the events of September 11, the repressive mechanisms of the state swung into action; Mazen al-Najjar was re-arrested, on the same immigration charges, and later deported. Al-Arian, prominent as a spokesperson and leader in the Muslim community, was invited to appear on notorious right-wing TV talk show host Bill O’Reilly’s program. While Al-Arian was informed that he was to speak about the response of the Arab and Muslim communities in South Florida to September 11, instead, he was confronted with an ambush by O’Reilly based on his commitment to the Palestinian cause, a commitment that O’Reilly, working from a campaign based on the work of die-hard Islamophobes like Joe Kaufman and Steven Emerson – who sought to blame the Oklahoma City bombing on Muslims – sought to criminalize, attacking Al-Arian on the air, and declaring that if he were the FBI, he would be watching Al-Arian. The response to the O’Reilly show on the part of the University of South Florida administration was swift, and in line with the repressive post-September 11 environment that saw thousands of Arab, Muslim and South Asian men rounded up, detained for little or no reason, and deported, as well as the passage of repressive legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act: Al-Arian was placed on leave from USF, which claimed that it could not ensure his security.
While al-Arian had campaigned for his brother-in-law’s civil liberties for years, his were now under attack. Faculty unions supported him in his campaign to preserve his ability to teach and work. Nevertheless, the worst was still to come. On February 20, 2003, Al-Arian was arrested on the basis of an indictment that charged him, as well as three co-defendants, fellow community activists Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz and Ghassan Ballut, with various charges centered around the allegation that they provided “material support” to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian resistance organization designated by the U.S. State Department as a so-called “Foreign Terrorist Organization.”
Like the persecution of Mazen al-Najjar, this prosecution had its roots not solely in the post-September 11 repression of the Bush Administration, nor in the infamous PATRIOT Act, but rather in legislation passed during the Clinton Administration that has played a major role in the criminalization of resistance internationally, and the criminalization of solidarity within the United States – the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This law, targeting international movements of resistance to U.S. imperialism, formalized two previous Executive Orders by President Clinton, creating a list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” to be designated by the U.S. State Department, to which “material support” was forbidden and could be criminally prosecuted. This list of so-called “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” was not restricted to Palestinian (or even Arab or Islamic) organizations and political movements – indeed, it has come to include such diverse examples of resistance to imperialism as the Communist Party of the Philippines and its associated New People’s Army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. However, its genesis was as part of the U.S. effort to enforce the Oslo process upon the Palestinian people.
The U.S. was deeply involved in the early to mid-1990s effort to destabilize the Palestinian movement and create a willing Palestinian security force for the benefit of their Israeli occupiers, a process deceptively titled a “peace process” that, nevertheless, brought little to no peace for Palestinians, no real autonomy, a deeper and wider network of Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza, and no justice whatsoever for the millions of Palestinian refugees and exiles, who, after sixty years, continue to be denied their right to return home to their original homes, lands and properties, from which they were forced in the Zionist military campaign to conquer Palestine and ethnically cleanse it of indigenous Palestinians in 1948. Despite decades of valiant struggle by the Palestinian people within and without Palestine, as well as the vast weight of international support – outside that of U.S. imperialism, which heavily funded and armed Israel, as a Western settler colony within the heart of the Arab world – the post-Gulf War and post-Soviet international political environment, combined with an illusory promise of some relief for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and accentuated by the political weakness of important sectors of the Palestinian leadership within the Palestine Liberation Organization at the time in their belief that making concessions to the occupying power would in some way help to obtain meaningful independence, or at very least, some form of Palestinian state, led to the ratification of the “Oslo Accords.” The following decade brought nothing but more misery to Palestinians, as the assassinations of Palestinian political leaders, the military occupation, the tripling of exclusive Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the introduction of closure and economic isolation of the West Bank and Gaza, and a vast network of checkpoints and roadblocks failed to materialize anything like independence or a state, while Palestinian citizens of Israel continued to live under an apartheid regime as second-class citizens at best and Palestinian refugees continued to be denied their rights. It is not surprising, therefore, that many Palestinians and Palestinian political organizations rejected the Oslo accords as improper and destructive to the process of national liberation, instead creating a “Palestinian Authority” with no real power except for its authority to serve as a security force for the occupier and oppressor, in its assigned role to root out and suppress Palestinian resistance to occupation. The Islamic organizations in Palestine, Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) and Islamic Jihad, rejected Oslo, as did the Palestinian Left, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In time, the brutal realities of Oslo led to the Al-Aqsa Intifada, often termed the “Second Intifada;” however, this Intifada was far from only the second Palestinian uprising for national rights, but rather the latest in a long history of uninterrupted struggle for national liberation that had been proceeding since before the Zionist occupation of Palestine, from the time of British colonialism in Palestine in the early twentieth century.
In 1995, however, President Clinton sought to shore up an unjust process built on an attempt to make the national movement of the oppressed collaborate with its oppressor by issuing an Executive Order that declared a “national emergency” to deal with the “threat posed to the Middle East peace process” by Palestinian resistance – as well as Hezbollah, for continuing Lebanese resistance to the occupation of Southern Lebanon, and froze all transactions with twelve named groups, including HAMAS, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, the DFLP, and Hezbollah. This Executive Order was soon followed by the push for the 1996 law, which went beyond freezing transactions to creating a criminal offense of “material support” to these organizations. This served an important objective in attempting to isolate Palestinian resistance and ensure Palestinian submission to Israeli rule. As a nation largely in exile, the Palestinian and Arab community in the United States – and around the world – was deeply involved in political and charitable activity to support its brothers and sisters inside the occupied land and living in refugee camps in the Arab world. In addition, the larger Muslim community was also actively involved in supporting Islamic peoples and movements against occupation in Palestine and elsewhere. The resistance organizations criminalized through this repressive legislation were not merely organizations engaged in armed struggle. On the contrary, they were – and are – engaged with all facets of Palestinian life. They are the political organizations of Palestine, and their activists are involved in social programs, community programs, unions, women’s organizations, student organizing and all aspects of social and community life – and the U.S. government has been quick to deem large numbers of such organizations to be “front groups” for resistance organizations, which, if honest, completely ignores the way in which a national liberation movement functions. Such movements are grounded in the people – in grassroots organizing, social programs and community involvement. The resistance belongs to the people, and cannot be uprooted merely by a law prohibiting financial support. However, if observed through the lens of the U.S. government’s political interest in aiding Zionist colonialism and repressing the Palestinian movement for liberation, it is clear that these laws targeted not “terrorism,” but instead, the entire national liberation movement of the Palestinian people, criminalizing its institutions and its movements. (After all, if the U.S. was interested in securing peace and ending “terror,” clearly the swiftest mechanism it would have for doing so would be to immediately end its billions of dollars in annual support – including its provision of the latest U.S. military machinery, from “Apache” helicopters to M-16 rifles – to the Israeli regime and to impose sanctions upon that regime for its conduct of terror against the Palestinian and Lebanese people.)
The criminalization of resistance should be seen within the context of the history of international solidarity inside the United States for national liberation movements, most of which are readily branded as “terrorists” by the imperialist forces opposing them. Take, for example, the movements in support of the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s, or the movement against South African apartheid. Both the Sandinista movement and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) were denounced as “terrorists,” as was the African National Congress – an organization with offices in major U.S. cities whose presence was able to lend vast coordination and strength to the anti-apartheid solidarity movement. In light of this repressive legislation and the U.S. government campaigns against these organizations in decades past, it is difficult to imagine that they would not be on the “Foreign Terrorist Organization” list of their day – leading to devastating and dramatic consequences for the solidarity movements that proudly supported those popular national liberation movements and their resistance. The El Salvador and Nicaragua fundraisers of the 1980s branded illegal, would legislation to ban funding to the contras or the Salvadoran dictatorship ever have been passed? The ANC branded an “FTO,” would, within the U.S., the anti-apartheid movement today be such a singular example of a successful solidarity movement? In the early part of the twenty-first century, when it is popular to declare that one opposed apartheid in South Africa all along, it is often forgotten that the U.S. government and its mainstream spokespeople for decades supported South African apartheid in all of its brutal settler-colonial horror, as today it supports Israeli apartheid in its own settler-colonial horror, and designated the African national liberation movement as “terrorists.”
A vast array of charitable institutions and social organizations within Palestine has been branded fronts for the resistance organizations, and it has never been clear which organization will be so described next. In the post-September 11 atmosphere of repression, charities within the U.S., such as the Holy Land Foundation, were shut down and their assets frozen. Yet, even before September 11, the mechanism for the suppression of Palestinian community organizing in the U.S. was activated by the 1996 law and its executive order predecessor. The Oslo process itself was devastating to many Palestinian community institutions, as many fell victim to post-Oslo hopes for the end of the struggle and others sought to reestablish themselves despite the transformation of much of the PLO’s national liberation structure to the new realm of the PA, limited in focus to the West Bank and Gaza, and with a newly circumscribed mandate that fell far short of national liberation. However, these laws were also laying the groundwork for repression of the community and creating fear of action and fear of supporting even purely charitable initiatives for their brothers and sisters in Palestine. Cases like those of Mazen Al-Najjar, combined with the existing immigration-based prosecution of Palestinian activists in Los Angeles, known as the Los Angeles 8, for their entirely legal activities in promoting the Palestinian cause, were part of creating fear in the community. Islamic institutions, which, outside the PLO, faced different post-Oslo challenges than their leftist and secular nationalist fellow organizations in the national liberation movement, yet had maintained a basic continuity of organization in the pre and post-Oslo era.
With the rise of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in Palestine, within the United States, Palestinian community as well as solidarity organizing rebounded in parallel to the upsurge in the movement in Palestine. New organizations were founded and existing organizations were inundated with support and volunteers. Despite repressive legislation, the obvious need of the Palestinian people suffering from the daily brutality of occupation combined with the inspirational example of their resistance inspired activism in the community around the world. Repression, however, fell harshly on these organizations and institutions. Charities that had received funds from thousands, if not millions, were shut down and attacked as “fronts for terror,” while prominent community leaders faced insinuations and, at times, direct prosecution. While initially hailed as “terrorism” cases, in reality, these often revolved around minor immigration matters or financial matters with no relation to alleged “terrorism.” The enactment and enforcement of this repressive legislation led to the defunding of Palestinian institutions, both religious and secular, as funding of the social and community institutions of Palestinian life, as well as for the financial welfare of Palestinian families, were directly impacted by both the freezing of funds and the repressive political climate that created a well-founded fear of persecution for any fundraising that would end up benefiting people outside the borders of the United States.
That so many organizations and institutions have continued to survive and in fact grow is a testament more to the creativity and commitment of the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities – as well as that of solidarity activists – than it is to the limitations of repressive legislation. Many organizations have focused on educating the public in the U.S. about the Palestinian cause, to win their support, while others have found non-governmental organizations and individual families to which funds can be safely distributed without fear of persecution. (It is also to be noted that the U.S., the European Union and others were instrumental in the Oslo era of promoting the rise of an NGO class in Palestine in an attempt to supplant the resistance organizations and the national liberation movement within the Palestinian social fabric, and that this repressive legislation can also be seen as a means of directing funding to approved institutions and attempting to undermine or separate the resistance from the people through this mechanism. However, such NGOs have not supplanted the resistance movements, and those NGOs, while independent of political affiliations with any organization, are often loyal to the Palestinian cause, rather than to the initiatives of the U.S. administration, and it is those NGOs that Palestinian and solidarity organizations in the U.S. have been able to safely support.) Just as the Oslo accords themselves had sought to segment out the Palestinian community -separating Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from those within the borders of the Israeli regime and the largest Palestinian community, those in exile in the Arab world and internationally, the repressive legislation as well as the post-September 11 assault on the community sought to reinforce that division and ensure separation between Palestinians here and Palestinians there.
On March 21, the New York Times noted that UN officials were observing that Palestinians were “becoming increasingly dependent on humanitarian handouts.” Given the amount of energy expended by the United States and Israel over more than a decade to defund, isolate and undermine Palestinian institutions rooted in the people, this can hardly be seen as surprising. Nevertheless, the United States has opted to continue its war on Palestine, side by side with the war of the direct occupier upon the Palestinian people, and alongside its own direct war on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and its threats upon Iran. It has done so not merely by imprisoning its own Palestinian political prisoners, alongside the 10,000 held in Israeli jails, including 41 members of the Palestinian Legislative Committee, among them Aziz Dweik, the elected Speaker of the PLC from Hamas, and Ahmad Sa’adat, the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, kidnapped with four of his comrades in March 2006 when Israeli military forces stormed the PA prison in Jericho where they were being held at the behest of the Israeli regime. The United States – and indirectly, every U.S. taxpayer – funds the provision of military supplies to the occupier and other direct aid to the tune of over $10 million daily. Meanwhile, the U.S., in collaboration with the EU, has imposed a devastating economic blockade against the West Bank and Gaza, in a new attempt to punish Palestinians for democratically electing a government committed to resistance and national liberation while demanding that government accept the “right” of the occupier state – built on stolen Palestinian land and created as an ethnically and religiously exclusive settler-colonial entity based on the denial of Palestinian rights – to exist as such a state and that the people of Palestine renounce their own right to resist against the occupation that has devastated their lives.
Despite the blockade, Palestinians have not acceded to these conditions, based, as they are, not on any concept of justice or legitimacy, but rather on the perpetuation of occupation without costs. In response, the U.S. administration, as it once attempted to criminalize resistance and demand Palestinians jail and imprison other Palestinians for the benefit of the occupier, has attempted to foment a civil war among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, seeking out willing collaborators for funding and military training. Nevertheless, the commitment of the Palestinian people in their entirety to resisting this attempt has carried the day, despite the best efforts of U.S. envoys. The U.S. government’s war on Palestine, however, has not been limited to the massive support of the oppressor while attempting to isolate the oppressed – it has centered efforts on the Arab League summit in Riyadh taking place this week, attempting to pressure the Arab regimes taking part in the summit – many of whom maintain their power despite despotism and corruption through the support of the U.S. – to relinquish their support for the most basic of Palestinian rights – the right of Palestinian refugees expelled from their land to return to their original properties, homes and lands. The return of six million Palestinian refugees, of course, disrupts the Zionist project to create an ethnically exclusive settler-colonial state on Palestinian land, and thus, generations of Palestinian refugees have been forced to pay the prices of Israeli apartheid, racism and colonialism, kept from their stolen land at the behest of an occupying power, an apartheid state ruling by the gun. The United States government, seeing maintenance of the Zionist regime in Palestine as a primary goal, has devoted itself, through envoys such as Condoleeza Rice, to seek an Arab negation of this fundamental right. However, as much as many of the Arab regimes may be dependent upon U.S. support, they also have legitimacy to retain among their own people, and it is clear that the Arab people do not support the attempts to undermine Palestinian rights sponsored by the U.S., in an attempt to bring about Arab normalization with Zionism.
In the meanwhile, Sami al-Arian remains imprisoned. When his case, and those of his fellow activists, was brought to trial, despite a parade of witnesses including numerous Israelis, through the court, he was convicted of nothing, acquitted on eight charges, while the jury deadlocked 10-2 on nine others. This was the result of over a decade of FBI surveillance, under repressive legislation, in the post-September 11 political climate. It is no accident, however, that Sami Al-Arian was not convicted by a jury; in fact, it was so clear to his defense team that, rather than present their own defense, Al-Arian’s attorney, William Moffitt presented only four words: “I rest my case,” for Al-Arian’s defense, after the close of the prosecution case, and ten of the twelve jurors wanted to convict al-Arian of precisely nothing.
Al-Arian’s case is not an anomaly in this regard. Mohammad Salah and Abdelhaleem al-Ashqar, two Palestinian community activists who were tried in Chicago on “racketeering” charges revolving around alleged “material support” to Hamas, were acquitted of all “terrorism”-related charges in February 2007. As William Moffitt, attorney for both Ashqar and Al-Arian, told the New York Times, “the Bush administration cannot win this war by trying to make criminals out of people who are fighting for their freedom…and two American juries have said that.” The Al-Arian and Salah/Ashqar juries made a very clear statement that the people of the United States are not interested in convicting Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community leaders of “terrorism” for aiding their community and supporting their people under occupation, which, despite the stand of the U.S. government, is not surprising.
While U.S. imperialism wages war on the Arab world, invades and occupies Afghanistan, continues an occupation in Iraq that has brought about the deaths of over 650,000 Iraqis as well as several thousand U.S. soldiers, funds a war on Palestine, funds and arms Israel’s war on Lebanon, threatens Iran, and attempts to criminalize all resistance to its rule as it imprisons thousands around the world, kidnaps and “renders” people to countries where they will be interrogated under torture, and holds hundreds of men at Guantanamo Bay in an international symbol of the apparent impunity of U.S. imperialism and its brutality, the vast majority of people within the United States have seen only misery from these policies. The minimum wage – on which many are forced to subsist – is barely adequate for survival. Millions of people in the United States have no health care, and costs of education have been skyrocketing increasingly out of reach for many. Youth of color in U.S. cities are put on a fast track to criminalization, targeted by often-brutal police and introduced at a young age to the world’s largest prison system. Women’s rights are increasingly under attack, while women – and men – immigrants, who form a major component of the U.S. working class, have been targeted for severe repression. Within the U.S., around solely domestic issues, the right to dissent is under attack, as the administration seeks ever-increasing authority to spy on citizens, tracking everything from library books borrowed to wiretapping millions of telephone calls. Meanwhile, the power of major multinational corporations appears to grow, virtually unchecked. And yet, the administration attempts to sell its bankrupt policies to the people of the United States through scare tactics, racist manipulation, and repression. It deems resistance organizations “terrorist” and attempts to link the resistance of a people against occupation and oppression and for liberation to hatred of Jews – a deceptive attempt to obscure the reality that Zionism, a political ideology based on racism and colonialism, and the regime it has created, is neither representative nor equivalent to Jewish people or Judaism as a religion – while waging a bitterly racist “war on terror” that has been, in reality, a “war of terror” for its victims around the world, including those in the United States.
Despite the resounding defeat for the government in Al-Arian’s case, it expressed its determination to re-prosecute Al-Arian. In this environment, with the stress of years of persecution wearing on his family, Sami al-Arian agreed to a plea bargain in which he would plead guilty to one count of “providing services” to “people associated with” Palestinian Islamic Jihad – the enumerated innocuous activities including hiring an attorney for his brother-in-law, Al-Najjar, and filling out immigration forms for a visiting Palestinian scholar – and swiftly be deported. Despite his over thirty years in the U.S., and the U.S. citizenship of his entire family, he was willing to accept this in order to finally win some peace for his family. However, despite the request made by the prosecution at the entering of the plea that Al-Arian be sentenced lightly, and primarily to time served, the judge on Al-Arian’s case, Judge James Moody – who had shown immense bias during the proceedings of the case, allowing numerous Israeli witnesses to testify about the costs of Palestinian resistance to Israel while allowing no testimony about the suffering of Palestinians, or Palestinian rights – sentenced him to an additional sentence while lecturing Al-Arian about his “guilt” in a manner that was, in fact, completely rejected by the jury in the case. Al-Arian and his co-defendants, like Salah and Ashqar, were not convicted, or even charged, with anything even related in the most remote degree to an attempt to harm anyone within the United States, or even the government or military of the United States – every charge against them pertained only to the Palestinian struggle for national liberation against Zionist occupation. Al-Arian was scheduled to be deported following his sentence, in April 2007. As part of his plea, Al-Arian secured a promise that he would not be called upon to cooperate in any additional government prosecutions. Nonetheless, Gordon Kromberg, a Virginia prosecutor who has assailed “the Islamization of America,” targeted Al-Arian as part of his fishing expedition in Virginia targeting Muslim organizations there through a wide-ranging grand jury. Despite Al-Arian’s plea, Kromberg has demanded Al-Arian testify before his grand jury – attempting both to lay Al-Arian open for charges of perjury and force him to serve as a witness against fellow community leaders and activists as part of a government witch-hunt.
Al-Arian’s hunger strike came in protest to his sentence, extended yet again, for “contempt” for his refusal to testify, holding to the terms of his plea agreement. The use of grand juries as fishing expeditions in political cases is neither new, nor restricted to this case -however, the attempt to force Al-Arian’s testimony in direct contradiction of his agreement illustrates once more what little regard the U.S. government has for its own principles of criminal justice, in pursuit of a goal of political repression. Of course, Sami Al-Arian is far from the only political prisoner in U.S. prisons. From the many prisoners of the Black Liberation Movement, to Puerto Rican political prisoners, to Leonard Peltier, targeted for his work with the indigenous national liberation movement, to the new charges against Black liberation movement activists from the 1970′s, the criminal justice system in the U.S. has always held political prisoners in its wars against oppressed communities and oppressed nations within the United States. The Al-Arian case is representative of an internationalization of political imprisonment in U.S. jails, alongside the impunity of Guantanamo Bay and its “military commissions” and U.S. secret detention around the world.
However, Al-Arian’s case is not only an urgent call for support for his case, which is in urgent need of public pressure to make it clear that people in the U.S. will not stand for this persecution in our name (and with our money – the prosecution of Al-Arian is estimated to have cost the government $50 million of our tax dollars). Al-Arian, like his fellow political prisoners in U.S. jails, and his fellow Palestinian and Arab political prisoners in Zionist jails, is an inspiration to all of those who struggle for justice. Despite repression and despite the targeting of him and his family, Sami Al-Arian never ceased his work with the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities. While he was under investigation, being shadowed by the FBI and attacked in the press, he traveled coast to coast, continuing to speak out for justice in Palestine and in support of the liberation movement of his people. He is an example of the courage, dignity and bravery of those who resist. Resistance takes many forms – including, for many, like Al-Arian and the others who have been so targeted in these prosecutions – speaking, writing, educating the public and building community-based institutions capable of mobilizing many for justice in Palestine, and it is that example that stands as a reminder of the tasks that are incumbent upon all of us that are also committed to that cause.
The U.S. administration engaged these prosecutions not simply to target a few prominent activists and leaders. Rather, a major goal of repressive legislation and prosecution has always been to silence the community of support for the targeted cause, to quiet activism, to press people to withdraw from their political work for fear of also becoming examples. However, the only successful response to repression has always been struggle and defiance in the face of repression and not allowing our legal and legitimate work to fall silent in the face of repression. The greater the level of activity, the stronger the institutions of the community, the louder and more visible the movement of solidarity, the stronger we are as a movement – and the more repressive forces are pushed back. Indeed, Sami Al-Arian’s case is a striking example of repression, of the targeting of a community leader and – despite it all, his continued resistance and dignity in the face of attempts to force him to join the witch-hunt. With every event for Palestine, every act of solidarity and support for the Palestinian people, every Palestinian Arab community institution that is rebuilt, supported or encouraged, the criminalization of solidarity and the criminalization of resistance is pushed back. If that activism were not so crucial, vital and important, its leaders and activists would not have been targeted as part of the campaign against the national liberation movement. In much the same way, if the right to return were not the core and crucial issue in Palestine – the achievable, indeed, realistic, core issue in Palestine, it would not be under sustained and direct attack from the U.S. and its Zionist allies.
Therefore, in the face of repression, attempted isolation, and the war on Palestine, there is only one real choice and one real hope for those who seek justice in Palestine, and those who wish to build solidarity with Palestine within the United States – holding to the principles to which these political prisoners – those in U.S. and Zionist jails – have shown such deep and vigorous commitment – the right to return, the liberation of the land, the right to resist, the end of apartheid, the undoing of occupation, the freedom for the prisoners – and popularizing them as broadly, as clearly, and as visibly as possible, within all areas of society, while supporting the mobilization and organization of the Palestinian and Arab communities, as well as the organization of the Muslim community, wherever and whenever we can. In the face of such sacrifices, it is the least we can do, and a critical task not only for Palestine, but for all forces of liberation who stand in the crosshairs of imperialism, in order to achieve the decriminalization of solidarity and the empowerment of community organizing for national liberation.
Charlotte Kates is an organizer and activist with NJ Solidarity -Activists for the Liberation of Palestine ( http://www.newjerseysolidarity.org/ ) and Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition. She is a 2006 graduate of Rutgers School of Law, and is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey.