Holy Land Five awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision to see if their appeal will be heard

10/26/12 Janelle Irwin
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Update: 29 October 2012 - The Supreme Court will not hear arguments in this case.

Today, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether to hear arguments in a case against five people from the Holy Land Foundation jailed for giving humanitarian aid to a group alleged to have ties to terrorism. Yesterday a small contingent of local activists waved signs on a street corner near USF Tampa to protest the conviction of the Holy Land Five.

The Holy Land Foundation gave money to a committee that distributed the funds to schools and hospitals in the Palestinian Gaza strip. The organization was shut down in 2001 by the Bush administration three months after 9/11 based on claims that the committee had ties to Hamas. Jared Hamil is with the Committee to Stop FBI oppression.

“But what the U.S. government did and continues to do is frame up Muslims and Palestinian groups to say that they materially support terrorism which the Holy Land Foundation did not.”

Five people from the Holy Land Foundation were first tried for conspiracy in 2007 under a provision U.S. law calls material support to terrorists. That case ended in a hung jury.

“The second trial used a lot of scare tactics and secret witnesses and basically they were found guilty.”

During the second trial, prosecutors were able to interview witnesses without giving the defense a chance to cross examine them. Executive director of the Tampa Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hassan Shibly, thinks the Bush administration was trying to win over voters who were shaken as a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks. He said the same kind of thing is still happening under the Obama administration.

“They supported a law which allows the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens based on mere suspicion. So, the Obama administration is supporting the same kind of laws and policies that allowed the Holy Land Five to get convicted in the first place and I think it’s just a power grab quite frankly.”

In addition to Palestine, The Holy Land Foundation gave humanitarian aide to countries like Bosnia, Albania, Chechnya and Turkey. They also used funds to open a food pantry in New Jersey and help victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and natural disasters in Texas and Iowa. But it was only their contributions to a Palestinian “Zakat” committee that was called into question. Former consul-general in Jerusalem, Edward Abington testified in the first trial that the U.S. Agency for International Development had given aid to the same committee. Council on American-Islamic Relation’s Shibly said there was nothing illegal about the groups the Holy Land Foundation chose to fund.

“The only groups that they were funding were groups that the U.S. either funded itself or that the U.S. didn’t have on any criminal or terrorist watch lists.”

And According to Shibly, the prosecution of the Holy Land Five didn’t just affect their Foundation.

“And in doing so they placed every single Muslim organization on an un-indicted co-conspirator list in that trial so in essence, it darkened the image of every single Muslim organization.”

The Holy Land Five were sentenced to prison sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years. The foundation’s creator, Ghassan Elashi is being held in an isolated federal prison unit for the maximum sentence. The Supreme Court discussion today is the last chance the group’s last legal recourse short of a presidential pardon. Charles Allen waved signs yesterday calling attention to the case even as heavy rain started to fall.

“These men, these five people were essentially persecuted for supporting Palestinian self-determination and supporting, you know essentially just charity.”

Palestinians claim land in the Gaza strip, the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem for a future state. Those territories were seized by Israel during a war in 1967. Since then Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation. Many households only have access to limited water and electricity and travel to and from work is often hindered by Israeli road blocks. Students for a Democratic Society’s Matthew Hastings said not enough people know about the human rights issues facing Palestinians.

“They have this inherent feeling that all people over there are somehow related to issues of terrorism when in fact these are literally peaceful people trying to support their families and friends over there because they’re in a stranglehold from the resources they need and it’s an issue of human life.”

It’s something Michael Blosser with the Committee to Stop FBI Oppression said should make people angry.

“They’re just giving money for humanitarian aid and the fact that they’ve committed no crime and some have been sentenced to 65 years and there’s no outrage – I mean, it’s part to do with the big Jewish influence in our politics, but it also has to do with the media and not doing the investigative reporting that needs to be happening.”

But many Americans are loyal to Israel which is one of the U.S.’s strongest allies. Blosser said that relationship is part of the problem.

“The fact that Barack Obama and the Democratic party had to re-vote in the Democratic convention to say that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel shows you how much of an influence the Jewish lobbyist and the big money that’s involved in the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.”

Yesterday’s protest was part of a national day of action to raise awareness on the issue and call on the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to hear the Holy Land Foundation’s case.

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