The Crime Of Being Palestinian
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
Ever since the Palestinians lost faith in the ability of the Arab armies to liberate their land from the Israeli
occupation and took up guns themselves, I, as a Palestinian Muslim in America, have known first-hand what
it means to be held in suspicion for the sin of being a member of that poor nation that was vilified even as it
was being victimized.
Now, the U.S. Congress has gone a step further and is considering legislation that would declare being
Palestinian a federal crime. If passed, H.R. 5500 would create a new category of federal crime:
"international terrorism alleged to have been committed by Palestinian individuals or individuals acting on
behalf of Palestinian organizations." If the act becomes law, an entirely new office will be established in the
Department of Justice solely for the purpose of monitoring Palestinian individuals and organizations.
While such a bill ought to bear the title the "Injustice Against Palestinians and Their Sympathizers Act," it is
instead, with that characteristic falsehood in labeling for which Congress is famous, called the "Justice for
American Victims or Terrorism Act." The bill was introduced by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) and lists, among
its co-sponsors, the infamous Rick Lazio (R-NY). Lazio, it will be recalled, lost the New York U.S. Senate
race this year after making a McCarthyesque attempt to link his opponent Hilary Clinton to terrorism
because some Muslims had contributed to her campaign.
Given the fact that Congress has already passed Draconian legislation to "fight terrorism" in the
Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, why do Andrews and Lazio think this bill is necessary?
What is the purpose of encouraging the Federal government to pursue terrorism charges against
Palestinians to the exclusion of other allegations of terrorism?
The obvious candidate for an explanation is that the most visible acts of terrorism right now are being
conducted by Israeli soldiers and settlers. This horrendous legislation would give the Justice Department the
cue to selectively persecute those accused of violence – provoked by the ongoing slaughter of Palestinian
demonstrators (and innocent bystanders, including children) – while excluding authority to prosecute the
Israeli terrorists who have incarcerated and tortured a number of American citizens of Palestinian origin.
Partners for Peace has documented the cases of American victims of Israeli detention and torture who are
being held without charge (refer to their website www.partnersforpeace.org for examples). The proposed
legislation is designed to prevent these victims from seeking justice because it is the victims and not the
perpetrators who are Palestinian. No wonder the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called this
"Nuremberg style" legislation.
This act is only the latest salvo in a protracted war against Muslims being fought in the media and the halls
of Congress. Ever since the passage of the Counter-terrorism Act, immigrant Muslims in America have been
vulnerable to Israeli-style detention without charge. Evidence against them, if any, is kept secret from them
and their attorneys, making it impossible to refute. Over two-dozen Muslims or Arabs have been held under
this law, in some cases for over three years.
Such procedures are flagrantly unconstitutional, but judges are loath to question the Justice Department
when the mantra of "national security" is invoked. In every case where the judges have eventually become
suspicious and demanded to see summaries of the secret evidence, they have been astonished at its
flimsiness (often hearsay), and the prisoners eventually have been released. But who can give them back
the lost years of their lives when they were separated from their families and unable to pursue their
Currently, two such victims are in the news: Anwar Haddam and Mazen an-Najjar. The former was elected
to the Algerian Parliament in the 1991 elections that were voided by military fiat. He came to the United
States, expecting refuge from the great advocate of democratization of the Arab world. Instead, he was
arrested without charge on secret evidence – this December is the fourth anniversary of his detention.
Mazen an-Najjar is a professor at the University of South Florida who has never been accused of any act of
violence whatsoever. He also has been held for years – apparently, because of his refusal to give evidence
that might be used against yet another Palestinian intellectual accused of nothing, Sami al-Arian.
Dr. Haddam recently succeeded in his appeals before the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA) when that
agency upheld all his positions in a 58-page decision. Nonetheless, the INS succeeded in obtaining a stay
until December 7th, insuring that he will have remained incarcerated for a full four years. His attorney plans
to file a petition for habeas corpus on the grounds that there is no longer any legal reason to hold him. Yet,
in truth there was never any reason to hold him, and the continued stalling by the government
demonstrates once again that his detention is politically rather than legally motivated.
The circumstances surrounding the detention of Dr. an-Najjar are equally appalling. After demanding that
the government produce evidence to support its accusations that he had raised money for terrorist
organizations, after more than a week of hearings, the judge in his case found that that there was "no
evidence that he had engaged in fundraising for any organization." Yet, amazingly, Dr. an-Najjar continues
to sit in prison. The only plausible explanation is that the government hopes to intimidate other Muslims from
speaking out on the Palestinian issue as Dr. an-Najjar has done.
Increasing awareness of these injustices has prompted a growing call for repeal of the secret evidence
provisions of the Counter-terrorism Act. Yet, the act not been repealed. To the contrary, the introduction
of H.R. 5500 shows that there is an insidious move to make statutory the discriminatory manner in which
this unconstitutional legislation has been executed. We are on the brink of moving from a paranoid political
atmosphere in which Muslims and Palestinians are presumed guilty, to a Nazi-style legal system in which we
are guilty by definition.