Mohamed K. Mohamed:
Good afternoon everybody, thank you all for joining us today again, especially after our spring snowstorm. Just to get it out of the way, as always, if you could please silence your cell phones so we can avoid any interruptions. My name is Mohamed Mohamed, I am the executive director here at the Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center, and as always, it is a pleasure to welcome you all here today, on behalf of our board of directors and staff, and welcome of course to our online audience. And it is also a great pleasure to introduce our distinguished speaker, Miko Peled, who will be speaking about his latest book called Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. Now, before I get started with a summary, a short summary of the book, and Miko’s bio, just a few words from Steve Fake who’s with Just World Educational and Just World Books, and he’ll just be speaking a little bit.
Thank you everyone for coming, I represent Just World Books and Just World Educational, we have a number of books that we’ve published including Miko Peled’s book, both of his books actually, that are available for sale in the back. I’m also here representing Just World Educational, which is our sister nonprofit, 501c(3) organization. We are very proud to have organized a speaking tour with Miko Peled on this issue of the Holy Land Foundation Five, a case that we think deserves far more attention and speaks to a number of broader issues of civil liberties and political prisoners in the United States. We also have organized a number of other great events in the past year, and forthcoming in this year we are bringing the Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh back to the U.S. for another tour this fall, and we also have a campaign we’re calling War Hurts Earth, centered around Earth Day which is April 22, so we’re doing events building up to that with the purpose of bringing the anti-war movement into the environmental movement, uniting those two issues because war has a huge impact on the environment. So we have a lot of great programming, including on palestine, so visit our website, JustWorldEducational.org, and again, thank you all for being here, and I will turn it back to Mohamed.
Mohamed K. Mohamed:
So, in July 2004, federal agents raided the homes of five Palestinian-American families, arresting the five dads. The first trial of the Holy Land Foundation Five ended in a hung jury. The second, marked by highly questionable procedures, resulted in very lengthy sentences for “supporting terrorism,” by donating to charities that the U.S. government itself, and other respected international agencies, had long worked with. In 2013, human rights activist and author Miko Peled started investigating this case. He discussed the miscarriages of justice involved in it with the men’s lawyers, and heard from the men’s families about the devastating effects the case had on their lives. He also traveled to the remote prison complexes where the men were held to conduct unprecedentedly deep interviews with them. Injustice traces the labyrinth courses of this case, presenting a terrifying picture of governmental overreach in post-9/11 America. Copies of the book will be available for purchase after the event, and Miko will be available to sign them, so please grab them.
A little bit about Miko Peled: he’s the author of The General’s Son and Injustice, and was born in Jerusalem in 1961 into a well-known Zionist family. His maternal grandfather signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His father, Matti Peled, fought in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, and was a general in 1967 during the Six-Day War, when Israel conquered Gaza, the Golan Heights, the Sinai, and the West Bank. Later, General Peled became a peace activist, and was a leading proponent of an Israeli dialogue with the PLO. Miko will speak for about 45 minutes, after which we will have a Q&A session. Again, we ask that you wait for the mic to come to you before you ask a question so that everyone online can hear as well. And for the online audience, you can tweet your questions to @PalestineCenter. Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Miko Peled.
Thank you Mohamed for the introduction and for inviting me to be here, and thank you all for coming on this beautiful afternoon. It’s a real pleasure to be here. Last time I spoke here was when The General’s Son had just come out, around five years ago or so, and it’s always nice to come here for events. I like this place a lot. So, as Mohamed was summarizing the book, he basically summarized the book. My interest in the book was a result of meeting some of the family members of what were known as the Holy Land Foundation Five. I really didn’t know about it much, and this was right after my first book had come out and I was speaking in Dallas. And some of the daughters of these five were among the student group that invited me to speak. Beside the fact that this story is very confusing and very troubling, for obvious reasons, especially when you hear from the family members so there’s a lot of emotion, the more I delved into it, the more I talked to the people around me about the story–the five men ran a charity, were accused of terrorism, received incredibly long prison sentences–you share this with people, and the responses I got I found very troubling.
The responses I got were mainly, “Well, it’s impossible. These things do not happen in the United States. We have a good justice system. We do not have political persecution. These things don’t happen.” The second response that I got, that was very troubling, was, “Well, they must have done something. If they received these long prison sentences, if they were actually convicted in a court of law, then they must have done something.” The reason these things were troubling–well, there were many reasons–but mainly it demonstrates the lack of willingness on the part of Americans to accept, number one, that there is political persecution in America and there has been for a very long time. All you have to do is talk to members of Black America and people who were involved in the effort for civil liberties and so forth, and find out how many Black Panthers are in jail–still in jail, on trumped up charges–so, they don’t know that this took place in America, that an injustice like this is actually part of American heritage, it’s part of American history. And the other thing is that the justice system is not pure, it is not apolitical, it is very politicized and is involved, and has participated in, the political persecutions here in America for a very long time. I mean, some of us, I’m sure some of you have heard of the case of Sacco-Vanzetti in the 1920s, two Italian immigrants who were framed and executed. So this is something that is very troubling that Americans don’t know this, and really when I say Americans don’t know this I’m mainly speaking about white, privileged America. These are probably the only people in America who would see this story as an erosion of civil liberties, because for those particular groups within American society there never have been civil liberties. So it’s not really an erosion, it’s a reality.
So that was very troubling for me, and of course then I decided well, I’m going to delve into this some more, and eventually I decided that this was going to be a book that I wanted to write. The question is, how do you put together a book from a story that is so complicated? And the reason it is so complicated is that you have so many different layers. You have the personal layer, which is the story of the five men and their family members and their community. You have another story, which is the judicial system and why and how the judicial system was able to pursue this. And then you’ve got the political story, which is Israel-America relations, without which these men would not be in jail, without which there’s no doubt these men would not be in jail. If they were not Muslim Palestinians, they would not be in jail. And I’ve been studying this case for five years. I’ve read over twenty thousand pages of court transcripts. So it’s not just the story, it’s not just whether it’s likely or unlikely, but when you read the actual goings–on in the courtroom, over two trials, lengthy trials, with many witnesses and documents and so forth–you get a feeling of how things went. Actually, my original intention was to put, not all twenty thousand, but many many of those twenty thousand pages in the book, just so people can read and get a feel of what goes on in a courtroom. But of course the publisher said no, because it would have been a book of some thousand pages or more, and we only put some of that in. But it’s really important to understand, because i didn’t want it to be my word against someone else’s word. You have to really read this to understand.
So what was the Holy Land Foundation? The Holy Land Foundation was the largest Muslim charity in America. And, like I said, they were persecuted and prosecuted because they were Arabs, because they were Palestinians, because they were Muslims, all of the above. Without those three elements, they would not have been in jail. And they were providing relief for Palestine, primarily-for refugees, orphans, and so forth, primarily-but they also provided a great deal of relief here in the United States-after 9/11, after the Oklahoma City bombing. You look at a list of the places they went, the things they did in the United States, it’s overwhelming. They were always there. And they were apolitical–in other words, they did not serve a certain community because of their race, or because of their religion, or because of their political beliefs–they served because there was a need. And, granted, their focus was Palestine, but they were everywhere. Over the years, they developed a fine reputation, really, a stellar reputation, for being honest, for doing a good job. They were following very strict guidelines, Muslim guidelines, in terms of how much money that they were getting, how much, from their donations, was actually being given to charity, which was over 90 cents for the dollar, which is incredible, was actually going to where it going to go. Their taxes were filed on time, every penny that they received was accounted for, you could tell exactly where it came from and where it went. So they did everything right. And because they did everything right, they were creating alliances, they were working with other organizations, both nationally and internationally, and this was exactly the problem.
Why was this the problem? Because we have a reality here, in the United States, whether we like it or not, that anything that’s Palestinian has to be somehow conflated with terrorism. Anything that’s Palestinian, be it children’s drawing–exhibits of children’s drawing from Gaza, some of you may remember there was an exhibit going around, they couldn’t find a place to display it–whether it’s a […] play, you’re not going to find a place to show it, whether it’s a poetry reading, you name it. Anything that is related to Palestinians, there is a problem because it’s terrorism. Certainly, Palestinian resistance, whether it’s a call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), whether it’s armed resistance – it’s all terrorism. And here’s this area that was somewhat untouched: relief, charity. This organization was doing great work, and without understanding how serious this was, they were beginning to change the story of Palestine. And I had lengthy conversations with them as well about this. Why were they targeted? [Because] They were changing the story of Palestine. They were creating a very positive picture of a Palestinian organization, run by Palestinians, dedicated to Palestine. And there was concern, among pro-Israeli groups here in the United States, that this was causing a problem, that this was going to change the narrative. And so, in the early to late 1990s, the Anti-Defamation League and others began working on a plan to undermine them, to revoke their not-for-profit status with the IRS, to talk to some of the organizations and companies they were aligned with, they were working with. They had a deal with American Airlines, they were working all over the place, they had built alliances.
So, little by little, to just put enough doubt everywhere that these people were actually supporting terrorism. In 1995, Hamas, which is the Islamic resistance movement in Palestine, was designated a terrorist organization here in the United States. And they said, they’re funneling money to Hamas, which would have been illegal. So that was the reality in which they were operating, but they always believed that because they did everything right, because they did everything above board, because their paperwork was always done right, because their taxes were always filed on time, and so on and so forth, [that] they had nothing to hide, that they had nothing to worry [about]. Because if you have nothing to hide, that’s the assumption, you have nothing to worry about, you’ve done nothing wrong, everything is above board. And then 9/11 took place. And right after 9/11, obviously there was a sense of hysteria here in the United States, especially here in Washington, D.C.: something had to be done, somebody had to be arrested, somebody had to be killed. And so the powers that be, the Treasury Department, the Department of State, knew that by December of 2001, which was when the President was going to make a statement, they had to give him something. And the sense was, well let’s round up the usual suspects. And it was December 4th, 2001, President George Bush stood up and said, Holy Land Foundation has been designated a terrorist organization. They’re a major terrorist funding network, therefore they will be shut down and their assets were frozen. Well, the President spoke, and he must have something.
And the problem was that there was nothing, there was no proof. So now the government had to work very fast, backwards, to build the case. Now, when this took place what was very interesting was this: The Holy Land Foundation, the guys that were actually working within the organization–because not all five were actually involved in the day to day running of the organization–they were not concerned, because they said, “We did everything right, obviously the government’s afraid, obviously there’s a sense of hysteria, this will pass.” They hired a good team of lawyers, and they sued the government, which is what you do. The government does something arbitrary, we have the tools, we have the regulations, we have the laws, we can sue the government. So they sued the government, they put together a file with evidence that made it absolutely clear they did nothing wrong. The government, on the other hand, had presented what’s called the administrative record, which is how the government explains why they did what they did. The administrative record had newspaper articles, a few photocopies of faxed documents that came from the government of Israel, no statements under oath, nothing was notarized, nothing was clearly dated, and some statements that were saying yes, these guys were supporters of Hamas. The defense team had a huge body of evidence showing exactly how they did everything right and how this whole claim that they were funding Hamas had no foundation to it. And they presented it to a court here in Washington, D.C., and then they realized there was something wrong.
The judge dismissed the case and struck the evidence from the record. Now, this is problematic in and of itself, but there was one particular item that was particularly troubling. In the government’s administrative record, there was a statement that was apparently made by one of Holy Land Foundation’s employees in Jerusalem saying that they had actually given money to Hamas. Well, this is problematic. Obviously, if an employee says it, it’s problematic. So when this came up, the defense team contacted this individual’s lawyer in Jerusalem to find out what went on. She said, “He said no such thing.” I have all of his statements, I have all of the police records, because he was arrested in Jerusalem as well. The Israeli government was also coming down on them. So, all of his statements were sent over here, they had a translation firm translate, notarize it, under oath, and he said the exact opposite. He said, “We had never given money to any political or military organization.” The correct translation was in the evidence that was struck from the record. The wrong translation was in the government’s file that was accepted. When they went to appeal, the appellate court said, “Perhaps the judge should not have struck the evidence from the record but this is not a normal case. We’re dealing with national security issues.” And therefore it stood, the decision of the lower court stood. Moving forward a little bit, the defense lawyers suddenly found out that the government is planning a criminal case, is investigating and planning to indict them on criminal charges, and they said what could the charges possibly be, they did nothing wrong and all the evidence shows they did nothing wrong.
And that’s when the government began to change the story. So the new story was, not that they were giving money to Hamas, but that they were giving money to organizations that were controlled by Hamas. Now, they were working with organizations that were vetted and approved by the CIA and the State Department. They were working with organizations that the American Counsel-General in Jerusalem said were good and legal and clean organizations. They were working with local charities that the entire world, the United Nations, the Red Cross, et cetera, were working with. So, in other words, they were working with organizations that everyone accepted as good and honest organizations. There was no evidence that they were governed by any political organization or military organization. So the government brought in two expert witnesses, anonymous foreign nationals from Israel. One was a member of the Israeli secret police, the Shabak, and one was a member of the Israeli military intelligence. To this day, nobody knows their real name, nobody knows their qualifications, nobody knows their credentials, nobody knows anything about them except that they claimed that they knew everything about Hamas. And regardless of what the evidence showed, they said that they can “smell” Hamas. This is a court of law, this is a court here in the United States. They can smell Hamas. The government also brought in thousands and thousands of documents that were confiscated by raids the Israeli military conducted in offices in the West Bank: poorly translated, faxed over, photocopied, no sworn statements, nothing under oath, things were not dated. When you look at this stuff, it is beyond belief. Beyond belief. The vast majority of the documents were classified; a small portion of the documents were declassified so that the defense team could look at them. It was a kangaroo court that was beyond belief. And, by the way, having these two anonymous witnesses was unprecedented. This was the first time in the history of the United States that two foreign nationals were allowed to testify as expert witnesses.
As you have heard, the first trial ended in a hung jury. The government changed its story again, tweaked the indictments, changed the charges a little bit. They weren’t all charged with the same charges, the indictment was different. The second judge allowed for evidence and witnesses that the first judge did not allow, and at the end of the second trial they were all convictions. They came out with all convictions. Now, before I tell you about the convictions, and how they came about, it’s really important to understand how they came about with this connection between charity and terrorism. It’s not something that comes to mind naturally or immediately. I mean, someone’s got to sit in a room and really be creative. How do we take relief work and conflate that with terrorism? So, what they said was this – they said: Holy Land Foundation was giving support to orphans in Palestine – they had an orphan support program. Why were these children orphans? Because their fathers were terrorists. And it is well-known, well-known. This was said in a courtroom by expert witnesses, by PhDs who sit in think tanks here in Washington, D.C. and advise the President. It is well-known, that if somebody knows that their family is going to be supported, then of course they would volunteer to become suicide bombers. I mean, wouldn’t we all? It is well-known. So not only was it support for terrorism, it was encouraging terrorism, because who wouldn’t go blow themselves up for a few dollars, right, so that their kids could get charity money? This was said in a court of law by experts. And that’s why I said earlier, you have to read the transcripts to believe that this kind of nonsense was allowed.
So, the defense team took the list of the actual orphans that were given support by Holy Land, and they looked at the cause of death of the fathers to find out why did these poor children become orphans. None of the fathers were killed by anything that could possibly be characterized by terrorism. I went another way, I took a look at the suicide missions that were taking place when they took place in Palestine, and none of the people who participated in these suicide missions had children, that is not the profile. So either way you look at it, these orphans had nothing to do with terrorism. But, in a court of law, as one of the lawyers said to me in the Northern District of Texas, “Why ruin a good story with facts?” And the only place in the world where those committees, those charities, were considered to be terrorists, were considered to be controlled by Hamas, was in that courtroom in the Northern District of Texas. It’s beyond belief.
Now, I’m going to show you…I was able to visit four of the five Holy Land Foundation Five. So, Abdulrahaman Odeh received fifteen years. He had nothing to do with the operational side of the organization. He would volunteer, he would go on missions, and many people do this. You know, you go on a mission with a charity organization, you volunteer in another country, you give out food, you give out aid, and so forth. He ran a pantry in Patterson, New Jersey, which is where he lived, and from the very beginning of the case, of the investigation, the FBI came up to him and asked him to “work with us”, to “work with us”, and he said no. They would come to him at five o’clock in the morning and knock on his door, they would stop him on the way to work, they would stop his car in the middle of the road, come out, and try to talk to him, and every time he said no. Eventually, they got angry and they said, “You’re going to pay for this, you’re going to be blacklisted, you’re not going to be able to find a job”, which was all true, except the part where he was going to be sorry. And he said, “You know, […], I’m not worried.” During the trial, he was offered a deal: he’d be out in three years if he was willing to accept a gag order. So he said, “Well, that means that you will be able to say that I signed a plea agreement, that means I admitted to doing something wrong, which will reflect on the other guys. But, because I will be bound by a gag order, I will not be able to say anything”, and he said no. They came back to him again and offered him six months: they said “You’d be out in six months”, and the other guys said to him “Take the deal, at least we know one of us will be free in six months.” He said no.
I sat with him in a visitation room in a prison, federal prison. He’s wearing overalls, these khaki overalls that prisoners wear. He can’t get up to go to a bathroom without permission from the guards, and he’s looking at me and he’s saying “I’m free, I sleep well at night. I am free, I sleep well at night.” Fifteen years in federal prison.
Mohammad Elmezzain, he’s the older of the five, he was kind of the spiritual guy behind the scenes. He wasn’t really involved that much. He would do fundraising and so forth, and he was one of the three that kind of thought up the idea of creating this charity organization. I met him in prison…several times…one of the times I met him was right after Donald Trump was elected, and some of you may recall or may know that Ted Cruz wanted to present a bill to add the Muslim Brotherhood to the designated terrorist organizations. So in other words, they would designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Now this is something that came up, the Muslim Brotherhood comes up a lot in the story and if you get the book you’ll see that I talk a lot about the Muslim Brotherhood and about Hamas and about Islam in general because…it’s an important part of the story. Now, Mohammad Elmezzain is this elderly gentleman sitting in front of me, again, a visitation room in a federal prison wearing these khaki overalls. He’s an elderly man, he’s well learned, he knows the Quran by heart, he has a degree, I mean he’s a well learned man, respectable man. Some kid, guard, you know, tells him to come and go like he’s some, you know, nothing. And he’s sitting in front of me and looking right at me, and regardless of how we feel or what we think about the Muslim Brotherhood, he’s looking straight at me and he says “I am a Muslim brother, and they will never change me, they can’t change me.” We’re sitting in a visitation room in the prison, cameras and microphones everywhere, you know, again, he’s a free man. He said, “This is who I am, this is what I believe.” Again, putting aside for a second all the propaganda against the Muslim Brotherhood in America right now, but this is probably one of the finest men you’ll ever me, and he’s sitting there in front of me, looking straight at me. There are guards everywhere. Again he can’t get up to go to the bathroom, and he says to me, “They’ll never change me.”
Third was Mufid Abdulqader. Again, had nothing to do, nothing to do with the Holy land Foundation as an organization. He was a volunteer. He would sing, he would do fundraisers, you know, things that people in the community do during events. Why was he brought in? For one reason alone. His brother was Khaled Mashal. Khaled Mashal was the political head of Hamas for many, many years, until very recently actually. He was really the political face of Hamas, but the two hadn’t seen each other in decades. And it was very interesting, because the beginning of the trial, the prosecutors were saying “Well, we can’t really blame somebody for what a family member does.” At the same time, they kept showing how family connections are incredibly important, especially when you’re talking about crime and terrorism. So they tried to play both ways. At the end of the first trial, he was found not guilty on all charges. Thirty-two charges, the judge read out not guilty thirty-two times. When the prosecution began to poll the jurors, one of the jurors stood up and said “Wait a minute, no no no, I changed my mind. I made a mistake.” So, regardless of the fact that the four men showed that they all signed, the defense team stood up and objected. The judge said, “Mistrial on him as well.” He’s now serving 20 years, 20 years in a federal prison, his wife just had a stroke, you know, God help her. Unbelievable stories.
The CEO, and really the heart and soul of the organization, was Shukri Abu-Baker. And I dedicated the book to his daughter, Sanabel. And the prosecution did something very interesting. They said well, the Holy Land Foundation was established in 1987, and Hamas was also established in 1987, therefore there’s an obvious connection. They left out two pieces of information: the first Palestinian uprising, the intifada, began in 1987, which caused an enormous need for relief in Palestine. Closures, arrests, killing of civilians, there was a huge need. I mean, there was a need before that too. But there was an enormous need that arose as a result of that. Another thing that happened is Shukri’s daughter Sanabel was born in 1987, and she was born with several life-threatening diseases. And so they availed themself of charity hospitals here in the United States, and that was the first time Shukri really became aware of this world of charitable giving and relief work and so forth, and decided that he wants to dedicate his life to make that sort of service available to Palestinians. And that was the drive, she was the drive, and they had a very very special relationship. And that was the drive for him to get involved in that kind of work. Sixty-five years in federal prison.
And the last one, which I was not able to meet for reasons that I cannot explain and were never explained to me, was Ghassan Elashi. He was the non-paid president of the organization, also one of the founders of the Holy Land Foundation. An unbelievable story. It follows to say that these are the five finest men I’ve ever met, that would be an understatement. That would be an understatement. There’s no doubt in my mind, not a shred of doubt that these men are not only innocent but the finest men that we will ever meet. And so the second trial ended with all convictions. These were the […] sentences they received, and the appellate court, when they went to appeal, said that actually the judge in the second trial should not have allowed some of the pieces of evidence that were allowed, and were not allowed in the first trial. However, they said, it was harmless. So the defense team came back and said what do you mean harmless? The first one came out with no convictions, the second one came out with all convictions, and this was the difference. But that was the end of the story. Supreme Court wouldn’t hear the case. There was a campaign to petition President Obama to commute their sentences and deport them, and there were several countries that were willing to accept them and give them citizenship. President Obama wouldn’t do it. And so their legal options have been, really, exhausted.
Now, here’s what I believe to be true: Like I said earlier, these men would not be in jail if they were not Palestinians, if they were not Muslims. They would not be in jail, this would not have been an issue. And of all the different layers of the story, I think the one that is probably the least understood in America, and the one to which–there’s not enough attention to any of this, but really–the one layer to which very little attention is given, is the Israel-American relationship, and what is happening in Palestine. You have to really struggle to get good information about what is happening in Palestine. I see people–I go to Palestine all the time, and people say to me, “So it seems like things are pretty quiet, things are pretty good in Palestine right now aren’t they? I mean, we don’t hear anything.” You don’t know what to say, I mean, you want to pull your hairs out. Things are good in Palestine? So, what I’m going to do now is I’m going to veer a little bit, and I’m going to talk about what is happening in Palestine, and I think that explains why this case is so severe. In other words, the severity of the sentences, the insistence that these people go to jail, the insistence that Holy Land must be brought down, is because they were changing the story and that is a very dangerous thing. Not many people in America really get a grasp of what is happening in Palestine, and you know–Americans, we’re all complicit, because it’s our taxpayers’ money and we give Israel more money than anyone else. So unless we’re standing up and resisting, then we’re complicit. Unless we think it’s good, and maybe then it’s not complicity. So I think it’s incredibly important.
So I’m going to go through that real quickly. You know, when people talk about this country, they always say two names. Israel-Palestine, Palestine-Israel. Has anyone here visited Palestine-Israel, anybody been there, anybody from there? A couple people. So it’s almost like there’s this schizophrenia. It’s Israel, it’s Palestine. It’s Palestine, it’s Israel. It’s Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It’s the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel proper. It’s disputed, it’s not disputed. No it’s an occupation, no it’s not an occupation. Well how could such a small place have so many names, and so many different descriptions? And I think this is because some people are afraid, and some people are just not willing to speak about it with clarity, not willing to speak about it with clarity […] for all kinds of reasons. So the history helps us. Israel was established in 1948. After its forces, that were not called Israeli forces yet, but you know, Zionist forces, conquered 78, almost 80 percent of the land. They conquered it and they named it Israel. Five minutes before that, it was all Palestine. Five minutes before that, it was all Palestine. Once the Zionist forces conquered that part of Palestine, the vast majority of the country, they named it Israel and that was it. It became Israel. And there were two parts left, which made up the 22 percent, that 20 years later Israel decided to take in 1967. They’re called the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I don’t have them on the map because they don’t really have any significance. There is no West Bank geographically, there is no Gaza Strip geographically. Somebody stood there with a piece of paper and drew a line and said, well, we’re going to make the border here and there, and then when we’re ready we’ll take that as well. And it’s exactly what they did, 20 years later they took it.
So, in ‘67, it wasn’t the beginning of an occupation, it was the completion of a process that began in 1948 which was all occupation. So then, if people say Occupied Palestinian Territories, does that mean that there are some Palestinian territories that are not occupied somewhere? Because, where are they? When people say Israel proper, why is one part of Israel proper and another one is not proper? Because it’s all the same. All of Israel is built on occupied Palestinian land, all Israeli towns and cities are settlements that were built on Palestinian land, all Israeli agriculture uses Palestinian water, so how is one part proper and one part not? We either accept or reject it. We either accept the fact that a foreign power takes a land, changes the name, and makes it its own, or we reject it. But why do we accept one and kind of reject, or are ambivalent about the other? It makes no sense. And then, over the last 50 years, people have been talking about the idea that somehow there will be two states. Israel will retain the majority of Palestine, and then Palestinians will get that little 22 percent. But, what has Israel done since it took that 22 percent? Built for Jews, destroyed Palestinian land, and kicked out Palestinians. So really, 1967 was the finalization of a conquest, the finalization of the establishment of a single state for Jewish people in Palestine. So, we need to be clear about that. Whether we agree to it or not, I think we owe ourselves, and we owe the world, clarity. Basically, we have two choices. We either accept it as Israel, in which case Palestine is crossed off the map, in which case we legitimize what had happened over the last seven decades, the occupation and so forth, the ethnic cleansing, the regime of apartheid, and the crossing out of Palestine, or we reject it and we must then call it Palestine. It’s really nothing to do with politics, it’s more a thing to do with our value system.
Now, I said some big words, and I want to clarify. When we say, or when I say ethnic cleansing, people come out and say, “How can you possibly say ethnic cleansing? Jews would commit ethnic cleansing?” Well, there’s a definition of ethnic cleansing. International law has defined ethnic cleansing. In 1948, Israel pushed out close to a million Palestinians and destroyed their land, and took it over. From 1967 to today, [in] the additional 22 percent they did the same thing. So that’s called ethnic cleansing. Maybe we agree to it, maybe we don’t, but that’s ethnic cleansing. I used the word apartheid, people say, I think Nancy Pelosi once said, “It is unconscionable to think that Jews would ever allow apartheid.” Well, when you have a systemic legal system, where one group has one set of laws and the other one has a different set of laws, that’s apartheid. It’s defined in international law. Now, compare this to what Israel does, it’s very simple: arbitrary arrest, illegal imprisonment, that happens all the time; living conditions calculated to cause physical destruction; of course, denying members of a certain racial group basic human rights, this is the reality. I have an Israeli citizenship; a Palestinian with the same citizenship, even if he has Israeli citizenship, lives under completely different laws, different reality.
And the biggest word of all is genocide. How could anybody suggest that Jews commit genocide? Well, first off, Jews are not different from any other people. They’re not any better, they’re not any worse. And the Geneva Convention defined the crime of genocide. All we have to do is compare the crime of genocide to what Israel is doing. And somebody tell me that it’s not genocide. And the thing is with the Geneva convention, in order to call it a crime of genocide you have to show intent. Well, if you drop a bomb and you kill 20 civilians once, that’s obviously not intent to commit genocide. If for seven decades you drop bombs, and kill, and destroy, on a regular basis, now that’s pretty clear that there’s intent. Knowing full well that you’re killing civilians. And then there’s also the complicity in genocide, which is also a crime, and I very strongly believe that the U.S. government is involved, and has been complicit of that crime for a very long time in Palestine.
You know, Gaza is probably the perfect example. Two million people living without clean water. If you want to kill someone other than shooting them, you deny them water. Healthcare: A child in Gaza with a curable cancer will die, a Jewish Israeli child on the other side of the wall will live, with the exact same disease. Why? Because Israel decides who gets access to healthcare, and Israel decided that two million people in Gaza will not have that access. And of course, there wouldn’t be a Gaza Strip, there wouldn’t be all these poor refugees in Gaza had it not been for the ethnic cleansing campaign, that began in 1948. And this is what Gaza looks like after bombing. I took some of these pictures. This hasn’t changed in years, because they’re not allowed to build. And why is Israel bombing Gaza on a regular basis? Well, what are you going to do? You have this humanitarian catastrophe right on your doorstep, 30 minutes from Tel Aviv, where everybody’s living like this, where you wouldn’t dream of not having clean water or electricity. So what do you do? You either let everybody go home, rebuild, make peace, or–and this is another piece of ingenuity–you kill them, and blame them for being terrorists. And that seemed to work. For years Israel has been bombing Gaza, blaming them for being a threat, even though there’s never been a military force in Gaza, and there you go. Everything’s fine. Two million people. So this is severe.
Has anyone here been to Jerusalem? Outside of the old city of Jerusalem, there’s a community called […]. It’s fifty thousand families, it’s right down the hill from the old city, from the […]. And somebody decided that under these homes is the true city of David. Now, both Jewish and Christian archaeologists, Zionists, have been digging the country for 200 years trying to prove that there was a King David. They still haven’t found any proof. But somebody said they’ll find the proof under these homes, so this is what’s being done. Homes are collapsing because of the digging. Homes next door are beginning to collapse, and when people leave, Jewish settlers come in and take the homes. Every Jewish settler’s home has a guard, they have their own militia which is armed and accountable to no one, and this is also–they can build the City of David archaeological site. And they have tour guides, tour buses here, walking in, completely oblivious to the process that’s taking place in broad daylight, which is complete ethnic cleansing.
Home demolitions in Jerusalem, and this is all over Jerusalem–piles and piles of beautiful homes–and why does this happen? Because they had no permit. They had no permit to build, and therefore they’re destroyed. Well, I know many Israeli Jews that build without a permit. They build a balcony, they build another story, they apply later, they apply and then they start building before the permit comes, they pay a fine, they go to court, takes years. You never see this, you never see the army cordon off the street and bulldozers destroy a Jewish home, never because of a permit. And then entire communities turn into ghost towns. This is all over Jerusalem. These were thriving communities all over Jerusalem, these are ghost towns, ghost towns. Some of these buildings are new. Ghost towns, apartments, businesses, ghost towns. Total ethnic cleansing, absolute ethnic cleansing.
Hebron, if you’ve been to Hebron, you should go drive down to an intersection, and one of the intersections, they’ve got snipers on the main road looking through the sight with their finger on the trigger as you drive by. And they’re not looking for somebody that looks like me. I drive there all the time. And this is Hebron, Shuhada Street. It’s been closed since 1994, was the main thoroughfare in Hebron in the old city of Hebron. Hundreds and hundreds of stores, thousands and thousands of residence, only settlers are allowed and the military on that street. And there’s a campaign that just ended, actually, an international campaign which was run by Youth Against Settlements in Hebron, it’s called Open Shuhada Street, to raise awareness to this reality in Hebron. It’s beyond belief. So there’s a lot that they’re trying to hide. This is why they can’t have the Holy Land Foundation, suddenly, through charity work, revealing all this and legitimizing their work as Palestinians. They really can’t have that.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian girl who was arrested. But, you know, Israel arrests, detains, between five and seven hundred children every year. And in the three weeks after Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, they arrested close to a hundred, just in those three weeks. And again, if you want to get rid of people, harass their children. That’s all we need as parents: if you know your child is going to get treated like this, who’s going to stay?
This picture is Hebron. All these pictures are new, nothing here is old. I’m sure, like I said, you’ve heard of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian girl. Her father happens to be one of my best friends. This is at their home just a few months ago, and as a child she was invited to Turkey and she met with President Erdogan, who gave them a great honor because they’re, you know, a family of fighters–not literal fighters, but you know, resistance–and this little girl, she was very young then, she looked up at President Erdogan and said “Why is it that if we have an Israeli passport you don’t have to pay to come to Turkey, and if you have a Palestinian passport you have to pay to get a visa, and you claim that you support Palestine?” From the mouths of babes. And this is her now, in court. They just signed a deal, she’s going to be in prison for eight months. […] Well, she was arrested four months ago. Their home is being constantly invaded by soldiers. And she was videotaped pushing a bunch of soldiers out of her house, and then slapping one of the officers. And Israeli society went nuts. And the Israeli government went nuts, so they came back at two o’clock in the morning, and arrested her and her mother. And they’ve been in jail, without a trial, since then, and I was there a few weeks ago during one of the hearings before the trial, and the judge said to her specifically–because why does she have to be in jail until the trial? She didn’t shoot anyone. […] I have a daughter, and I would hope she would do the same if men came into her room and into her house, that she would have the courage to push them out and then slap them, which is exactly what they deserve. And these were armed men, so why is she in jail? The judge said to her, because she maintains her right to remain silent, during the interrogations, she’s a danger and she will remain in jail until her trial, and her trial only officially began a couple weeks ago. So, because she retains her right to remain silent, that is why she had to be in jail, she and her mother. And now, they just signed a deal so she’ll be in jail for probably five or six more months. […] And this is, exactly, after they shot her cousin. I mean, this family has lost dozens, more than twenty people were killed just in their family, by, you know, the Israeli military. And here’s one girl who dares to stand up, so I don’t know where the #MeToo movement is, and where Susan Sarandon is, but I don’t hear their voices talking about her. And she did exactly what every young lady should do in this position, but now she’s in jail. So, you know, that’s the reality.
And I’m sure you know, but if you didn’t you should, that there is a new bill: H.R. 4391, the McCollum Bill, which deals exactly with this issue. Now you know, here’s the thing. Everybody likes to express solidarity,[but] we’ve come to a point where solidarity with Palestine is not enough. The patients on the ground bleeding to death, standing there and cheering on, is not going to do them any good. The patients dying very rapidly, that’s Palestine. We must, we must, we must act. And I think this bill is very good, because for the first time it actually talks about Palestinian rights unconditionally. It actually mentions Palestine, and the oppression of Palestinians, and the mistreatment of Palestinian children by Israel here in the House of Representatives. So I don’t know if you’re in DC, of course we don’t all have a voice, but if you don’t live in DC and you have a member of congress, then you should make sure that your member of congress supports this bill. And it requires, at the end of the day, that the Secretary of State make sure that American funds are not going to the facilities and to the processes in which children are being abused, and the abuse is beyond belief. It’s horrifying. They get dragged at two o’clock in the morning. They’re beaten, they’re arrested, they’re interrogated for hours, they’re transferred from jail to jail, they’re held and treated like adults, like terrorists, not like minors. So this is a good first step, here in the United States. And so I would urge everybody to take action by making sure that members of Congress actually support this bill.
And then, you know, probably the three most feared words in Israel today, and in a way, very much feared here in Washington DC: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, or BDS. And you know, Chuck Schumer said that this was a new form of antisemitism, calling for justice, for freedom, and for equality. And my question is, where is the anti-semitism? So, somehow, equality, justice and freedom do not stand well with Jewish values, is that what he’s saying? Because when we look at the demands of a call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, a call that by the way came from the Palestinian civil society, all we see is a call for ending the military occupation, which everybody says needs to end, full equality for Palestinians, and the right of return for Palestinians to their home and their land. Where is the injustice? Where is the anti-semitism? Somebody stand up and point out where the anti-semitism is, because I don’t see it. It doesn’t even talk about the Jews, doesn’t mention the Jews, doesn’t talk about kicking anybody out, deporting anyone. It’s completely remedial and reasonable.
So, if we are serious about supporting justice in Palestine, rather than looking at the patient who’s bleeding to death and cheering them on, Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions is something we should all get involved in. Every single person’s got to make sure that the store we go to, whether it’s Costco or Trader Joe’s, whether it’s a local grocery, do not, do not, do not carry Israeli products. If you want to go get more serious, start writing a letter or running a campaign. Talk to your neighbors, go to the BDS website and look at their campaigns, there’s a big campaign against HP now. You know, there’s a lot of things that can be done but we’re not working fast enough and I swear to you, I go to Palestine all the time and the patient is bleeding to death very rapidly and it has never been this bad. It has never been this severe. My entire life, you know, Palestine has been part of my life, and it’s never been this bad.
Now we really only have two options, and these options have nothing to do with politics, they have to do with our value system like I said earlier. We either recognize, and legitimize, and accept, the state of Israel, which means genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid. It means violence, racism, and the lies that go on and on and on to justify them. Or, we fight and we resist for a free Palestine, with real democracy, with equal rights, with the right of refugees to return, respect for children’s rights, and so on and so on, and everything that comes with that. It’s a question of values, it has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat or a Green or anything else. Where do our values lie? With racism, or against racism? With violence, or against violence? With the truth, or with the mythology?
And I’m going to leave you with these pictures. This is a picture that I took in a refugee camp not in Palestine but not far from Palestine, and I can promise you that any one of us, if we had to live in this refugee camp, in these appalling conditions, we would not be smiling. We would not have these cheerful smiles. It is beyond belief, these appalling conditions. And the only reason they live in these conditions is because Israel has banned them from returning. They’re probably no more than an hour, hour and a half drive from the homes from which their parents or grandparents were kicked out. So, if you want to see these children back in their homes, not living in squalor for which there’s no reason in the world they should live this way. If you want to see Abdulrahman, and Mufid, and Mohammad Elmezain, and Ghassan Elashi, and Shukri Abu-Baker – if you want to see all of that, then we need to act, and we need to embrace this idea of what a free Palestine means. And a free Palestine is the only reality in which this can happen. The only reality in which the persecution of good men like these will stop, the only reality in which these children and millions like them in Palestine and around Palestine can live like normal human beings. You know, talking about Palestine, there’s plenty of water, plenty technology, plenty of electricity. There’s no reason to live in squalor–the only reality in which this can happen is a free Palestine, a free, democratic Palestine with equal rights, with the right of return, respecting the rights of all human beings as human beings. And it’s all up to us, it can happen next year, it can happen never. It’s all up to us.
Thank you all very much.