by Miko Peled
Miko Peled, the author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, is now working on a book about the plight of the Holy Land Foundation Five. This is the third of three of his early articles about this issue that we’re happy to publish here. The first two are here and here.
On September 22, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, whose advice is usually followed by judges, recommended that the court should uphold a decision that the lower General Court issued in late 2014 to remove the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, from the EU’s sanctions list due to flawed procedures.
What impact if any might this development have on the case of the Holy Land Foundation Five (HLF-5), the leaders of a charitable organization registered in Texas in 1989, who were tried and sentenced to very lengthy prison sentences in 2008, on charges that the HLF had been illicitly providing financial support to Hamas?
Hamas has been on the United States’ list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations since 1995. It remains there despite the fact that it participated in the elections held for the PA’s legislature in January 2006—and it did so as the result of agreements over the modalities of the election in which the governments of both the United States and Israel participated.
Hamas won those elections, which were internationally recognized as having been free and fair. Since then, its parliamentary leaders have constituted the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority, which includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, though Israel and the United States have vigorously contested that status and have worked dedicatedly and often very violently since 2006 to overturn the results of the election.
During the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) trial in 2008, chief prosecutor Jim Jacks delivered the government’s opening statement. Jacks stated that both HLF and Hamas were established in 1987, which was also the year that the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada began. “The evidence will show” Jacks said, “that date will be shown to be not a coincidence.” In other words, he was arguing that the fact that the HLF and Hamas were both established in the same year somehow helps to “prove” that the organizations were connected! But the reality that Israel forced upon the Palestinians was so severe that the emergence of both a resistance organization like Hamas and a charity organization like HLF is completely understandable, though the two organizations served entirely different purposes and answered very different needs.
Hamas was established in December 1987, in the early days of the Palestinians’ First Intifada (Uprising), in response to a popular demand that the Islamic movement join the movement to resist and end the occupation of Palestine. While it is easy and quite common to criticize the oppressed for opting to resort to armed resistance, it is notable that the United Nations specifically upholds the right of peoples living under colonialism or military occupation to use all means necessary, including violence, to secure their right to self-determination. (Strangely, many of those who find violent resistance unsavory, also like to discredit any form of nonviolent resistance like that of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, BDS. And they even oppose providing any kind of support to the oppressed, vilifying charity organizations like the HLF, or more recently World Vision–see my previous article.)
The people who operated HLF were devout Muslims who cared deeply about Palestine and offered their services to HLF most of them working on a pro-bono basis. Their commitment to charity was an expression of their devotion, as charity or Zakat is one of the highest forms of devotion in Islam. Palestinians are a highly educated, productive, and peaceful society that would not need charity under normal circumstances. But they have not been afforded normal circumstances for a very long time and the harsh reality imposed on them by the occupation of their land and the forced dispersion to which they have been subjected have forced many Palestinians to rely on charity and spurred others to engage in armed resistance.
During the years of the First Intifada, 1987-93, the need for both charity and resistance became acute as the Israeli military’s very violent campaign to suppress the uprising created conditions in which entire cities had no access to food, water, medicine, and the basics of daily life. (We can also recall the order that Israel’s then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin gave the military in 1990 to use “force, might, and beatings” to counter Palestinian demonstrators.)
The rising number of casualties and the mass arrests meant that thousands of families lost their breadwinner. HLF provided a much-needed vehicle for people around the world to support Palestinians in this time of great need. So while it is true that HLF was established the same year as the Islamic Resistance Movement and as a result of the same conditions, namely Israel’s brutality, their goals and their operations were of an entirely different nature.
But in the creation of the HLF and particularly the involvement of Shukri Abu-Baker, who was the chief executive and in many ways the main engine within the organization, there was another determining factor. Abu-Baker is one of two of the HLF-5 who was sentenced to sixty-five years in prison and for him, 1987 was a significant year for an additional, very different reason.
In March of that year, he and his wife Wejdan had their second daughter, Sanabel. Soon after she was born, Sanabel was diagnosed with two life-threatening diseases: Cystic Fibrosis and Beta Thalassemia. This meant that she was constantly under medical care, had to endure lengthy periods of hospitalization and required enormous expenses that were ways beyond the Abu-Bakers’ means.
Sanabel was initially hospitalized at the non-profit Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, which was where Abu-Baker got his first glimpse of the power and capacity of the non-profit world. He was deeply touched by the work that he saw done through charitable giving. He told me that as he and Wejdan witnessed all that was done to save Sanabel, he made a firm decision: “I decided I want to do the same for other children around the world. To utilize the tools of charitable giving for children who do not have the opportunities that we had here for Sanabel.” He credits Sanabel with inspiring him to establish and work with the HLF.
I was fortunate enough to meet Sanabel on several occasions. The first was when I met the HLF-5 families at the Muslim Community Center in Richardson, near Dallas, Texas. A few days after the meeting, on May 23, 2012 I received an email from Abu-Baker in which he passed on an email he received from Sanabel, telling him about the meeting:
Salaam Baba ,
Today all the families met with Meeko. His idea is to write a book specifically about the HLF case. He wants us to tell our stories and he is going to do some research and get some contacts in Palestine to interview the people, see hospitals, schools, and orphanages that received the aid. It’s going to be a big project but I am soo happy this is going to happen, inshallah . His idea is to get it out to the public, to the American media, and hopefully reach the higher judgment here in America.
Oh, and I got a book and he signed it for me. I am going to start reading it today. Inshallah, Inshallah this will be a great project. He mentioned you talked to him yesterday and how excited you were. That’s so good; I’m happy you talked to him…
Yallah talk to you tom inshallah.
(Salam is a greeting that means peace, Baba usually means Daddy, but is often used back by fathers to their children as a term of endearment. Inshallah means God willing.)
Shukri also shared with me the email he wrote back to Sanabel the following day:
Shukran ya baba for the briefing, I’m excited too. This is a project I’ve been contemplating for a long time but maybe this is the time to start it. I want you to stay in touch with Miko, tell him I will work with him every step of the way to make this book a success.
Sanabel was warm and intelligent and a real fighter, but her life was not easy. She was constantly in and out of the hospital and a year later, in May of 2013, Shukri sent me the following email:
Sanabel is on her deathbed fighting for her life… Please keep her in your thoughts. Her mission on earth is about finished. She says she won’t go before she can see me. I said, “Baby I’ll always be with you no matter when or where you go.”
May Allah have mercy on all living things.
5/12/13 5:14 pm
Shukri was not permitted to leave the prison to see his daughter, though it was clear that the end was near. A few days later, he sent out another email:
In the name of Allah the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
Sanabel passed on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 2 AM. She went peacefully and gracefully. She will be buried today.
I praise Allah for what He had allowed me to keep, my remaining daughters, Zaira, Nida, and Shurook and my wonderful wife Wejdan.
In 2008, as the prosecutor ended his opening statement, disregarding the evidence which clearly showed that HLF did not fund Hamas, he merely said the following: “I will close by simply saying the government expects the evidence to show that these defendants and this organization were from its inception, from its creation set up as a fundraising mechanism to funnel money to the terrorist organization Hamas.”
The campaign to reverse the unjust convictions of 2008 continues. Let us hope that the European court’s move towards removing Hamas from the EU’s terrorism list is just the start of a process of unraveling the whole network of lies, allegations, and claims of guilt by association upon which the United States’ case against the HLF-5 was built.