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Muslim persecution since 9/11 with Miko Peled

Host Chris Hedges talks to Israeli-American activist and author Miko Peled about the persecution of Muslims in America following 9/11, especially when they are supportive of Palestinian rights. Peled’s recent book 'Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five,' is published by Just World Books.

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CH: Welcome to On Contact.  Today we discuss the persecution of American Muslims since 9/11, and in particular, those who support Palestinian human rights with author Miko Peled.

MP: Throughout the '90s, they were already--they were tagged.  In other words, it was clear that they were--they were doing too good of a job and getting too good of a reputation for the--for the pro-Israeli groups here.  And so the ADL and other Zionist politicians here in the US were already targeting them.  And they're approaching the IRS to revoke their not-for-profit status, and they were talking to other companies that they were working with and so on.  But this is exactly--if it wasn't for what Israeli is doing in Palestine, then these guys were not in jail--would not be in jail, and if it was not for the relationship that Israel has with the United States, none of these could have been possible.

CH: Since the attacks of 9/11, the FBI has carried out a war against Muslims in the United States, especially those that champion the human rights of Palestinians.  Charities were banned and labeled terrorist organizations, young men often emotionally confused or manipulated into signing under terrorism plots by undercover informants, and arrested, and locked away with great publicity.  But perhaps one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice came when the US government shut down the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Islamic charity in the country, one that provided vital aid to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.  The government in a sham trial sentenced five of its leaders to prison terms ranging from 15 to 65 years.  We are joined in our Washington studio by the Israeli writer, Miko Peled, who served in the Israeli Army and whose father was an Israeli General.  His book "Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Five," is a disturbing look at the failure of our judicial system to protect the most basic rights of Muslims, and the government-sanctioned targeting of Muslims solely because of their beliefs.  So, this is a case study in the aftermath of 9/11 of how Muslim leaders, Muslim charities, Muslim organizations, were tried in show trials and shut down with these activists locked away.  But what's so disturbing is that those who were specially targeted were those who spoke up for the Palestinians.

MP: Yes.  And I think--and I say this all the time, these guys would not have been in jail had they not been Muslims and Palestinians themselves.  The--their connection to Palestine, although they stayed away from politics, you know, completely as much as you can on this issue.

CH: Well, let me just say, because as you--as you document in the book, stayed away, they put up every legal safeguard.  They had accountants.

MP: Yes.  Oh, yeah.

CH: They--I mean they understood that they were under heavy surveillance.

MP: Yes.

CH: So, they--and they work with USAID.  They work with the US Embassy.  They supported these Zakat--we can talk about what those are, the Zakat groups which are hundreds of years old in the Middle East.  These are kind of community organizations to help your neighbor, which US, as you point out, USAID funds.  But you're right.  I mean--so they were incredibly scrupulous about making sure that the money they raised and the money they sent, and the aid they provided did not go to Hamas or…

MP: Anyone else.

CH: …militants in any way.

MP: Right.  In fact, when they were closed down--well, one of the most interesting conversations I had with their lawyers is that when they were shut down by George Bush in December of 2001, they were not concerned because they said, "Look, we did everything right and this is America."

CH: Yeah.

MP: "We're going to sue the government and it's going to be undone.  It's going to be fine."  And then they went, they had a civil trial and the judge tossed the case, and all the evidence that they brought with them.  So, they had an enormous body of evidence to show that they did everything right and they were fully expecting to be exonerated and for everything to be just fine.  But the judge wouldn't have it.  She threw out the case and the evidence with it.

CH: And, well, explain that process because they actually got a trial.

MP: Later on.  And then--and then there was a criminal…

CH: And then--and then they got a hung jury.

MP: And then there was a criminal trial.  So, the first trial was actually a civil trial immediately after they were closed down and designated a terrorist organization, and they were not worried.  They said, "Well, America is panicking of course.  Everybody's afraid.  We're Muslims.  It's going to be fine because, look, we have all the paperwork."  And at the end of that, when that didn't work out, and even on appeal, the appellant--once they appealed the judge's decision, the appellant court said, "Well, perhaps the judge should not have, you know, tossed out the evidence, you know, struck the evidence for the record," and so on.  But this is not a normal case.  This is a special case.  And that's when their lawyers began to understand something serious is happening.

CH: Right.

MP: And then they heard that there was a criminal trial being put together against them, and they said, "But there was no crime.  How could there be a criminal case?"  And they realized that the government had changed the story and created an indictment where they didn't say they're supporting Hamas, they said that the Zakat committees, which whom they were working, were controlled by Hamas.

CH: Well, let's explain what Zakat committees are.

MP: Well, these are basically local charity organizations that work in each city and each community in Palestine.  And they had their board members and they had elections, and they had, you know, they're all documented and they were supported, and they worked along the lines--at first, you know, the--in the--everything they did was congruent with the Israeli law at first when the Israelis were in charge.  And when the Palestinian authority came into play, then they went by the--by these--by their laws.  In other words, everything was completely legal and they were vetted.  They were vetted by the CIA.  They were vetted by the State Department, these Zakat committees.  The only place, and this is what one of the lawyers said to me, the only place where these Zakat committees were considered to being part of Hamas was in a courtroom in Dallas, Texas.

CH: Well, what's interesting is even after they shut down the Holy Land Foundation, which had worked through these Zakat committees, AID still worked through the Zakat committees, giving them, what is it?  $21,000,000?  I can't remember the figure.  I mean significant amounts of money.

MP: Yes.  Yeah.  A lot of money.  Everybody worked with them.  Every--all the international organizations worked with them.  And in the first trial was, like you said, end up with a hung jury.  There were no convictions after the first trial.  The--one of the--one of the witnesses for the defense was the former Consul General, the American Consul General in Jerusalem.  And he also said the Zakat committees were perfectly fine.  Holy Land Foundation was known to be a perfectly legitimate organization that did a great deal of good.  And…

CH: Well, he also--isn't he the person who, in the court case, says that Israeli intelligence is often cooked to influence American policy.

MP: Yes.  Yes.

CH: And it's--and you can't trust it?

MP: Yes, and then…

CH: Now let's remember, he was the head of the consul at the US Consulate.

MP: Yes, in Jerusalem.  And the second trial, the CIA did not allow him to say that.  You know, second trial, there was a gag, and he was--there's certain bits--parts of the testimony that he gave in the first trial he was not permitted to give in the second--in the second trial.  And they brought in two anonymous expert witnesses.

CH: Right.  This is fascinating.  Israelis?

MP: Israelis, yes.

CH: Well, when they--and the--and the Israelis had realized the deficiencies in the trial, the previous trial, for which they were all--there were no guilty verdicts.

MP: Right.

CH: And so they brought in "documents" that proved ostensibly that these Zakat committees were under the control of Hamas.

MP: Yes.  And when these anonymous supposedly experts were questioned by the defense lawyers, or cross-examined I should say, it was clear that they knew nothing about these Zakat committees.  They asked him, "Well, who are the board members and who were the previous board members and have you been to their offices?"

CH: Are you talking about this woman--the woman--the FBI agent who was assigned this?  What was her name, Burns?  Is that correct?  Right.  Right.

MP: Burns, yeah.  Burns.  No.  I'm talking about the actual expert witnesses that came from Israel, the Israeli--the anonymous witnesses.

CH: Right.  Right, right.

MP: When they were cross-examined, they had never been to the Zakat committee offices.  They--they've never met any of the--they knew nothing about the board members.  In other words, there was no way for them to know whether or not they are actually connected to Hamas, other than, what they said was, "We could smell Hamas."

CH: Right.

MP: And that's all the evidence we need.

CH: And the other thing they did was bring in 9/11.  So I remember when they persecuted the great Palestinianactivist, Sami Al-Arian, again, another--the trial is a sham of, you know, or a parody of, you know, what a judicial system could be.  They were bringing out pictures of the Twin Towers.  I mean, it didn't happen, but they do the same thing here.

MP: Well, in the first trial, the judge did not allow it.  The second trial, the second judge allowed evidence the first judge did not allow, including the things that relate to 9/11.

CH: And let's be clear, Hamas--whatever Hamas' sins are--and of course these people had no connection with Hamas, they had nothing to do with 9/11.

MP: Nothing to do or whatsoever with 9…

CH: Zero to do with 9/11.

MP: No.  Nothing whatsoever.

CH: As a matter of fact, which a lot of people don't know, al-Qaeda denounced Hamas as apostates because Hamas, that which rules Gaza, deals with Egyptian officials, interlocutors to negotiate with Israel.

MP: Right.  Right.  I mean, it was a complete sham, the--I mean, the first judge was no friend of the--was no friend of the--of the defendants.  The second judge, Ralph Nader defied him, he said to me he was--it sounds like he was a hanging judge and he was there really to get convictions.  And what they did to the second trial, too, they amended--they changed the indictments, too.  In the first trial there were 30--32 charges against all of them.  And the second trial, they realized that they couldn't get that done so they changed--they amended the indictments and they got all convictions.  And when they went to appeal, after they got all the convictions, the appellant court said, "Well, perhaps the judge should not have allowed all these pieces of evidence but it was harmless.

CH: Okay.  When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about the US government's targeting of American Muslims with Miko Peled.  Welcome back to On Contact.  We continue our conversation about the US government's targeting of American Muslims with author Miko Peled.  One of the things you document in the book, which is very dirty, is the way Israel handed documents to the prosecution that un--or the translation of documents to the prosecution that it subsequently turned out were a complete mistranslation.

MP: Yes.  Well, one of--probably the most egregious case was they had a document, a statement made by Muhammad Anati who was the manager of their office in Jerusalem.  And it came out that in the translation or in the document that the government had, he said in his statement to the Israeli police that actually some money was given to Hamas.  When the lawyers here contacted his lawyer in Jerusalem, Lea Tsemel who's a well-known human rights lawyer…

CH: Who's Israeli.

MP: Who is Israeli, yeah.  And she said, "What are you talking about?  I have all those documents.  He said no such thing."  So she sent the original documents.  The defense lawyers had them translated and notarized.  And it turned out that he said the opposite, but the document that the government had was the wrong translation.  And this was in the first trial, in the civil trial.

CH: And this was provided by the Israelis?

MP: And this was provided by the Israelis, yes.  The problem was that this was in a civil trial, the first trial, and then that was part of the evidence that the judge struck out.  So, the government had--what was--what was--what was in play was the wrong translation.  And then later on in the other trials, also as things were going, as things were happening, as the trial was proceeding, the defendants realized that some of the things that they said was--were misrepresented because of the translation problem.  And there were--there were thousands and thousands of documents that were sent in, that were brought in by the Israelis poorly translated.  Nobody really knows where they say, who touched them, what they really meant.  It was complete chaos.

CH: The FBI also, as you document, pressured people to turn.

MP: Yes.

CH: And in particular, Muhammad Anati.  Explain what they did.  They offered him US citizenship, immunity if he would go into the court and testify that the Holy Land Foundation was linked to Hamas.

MP: Yeah, he was terrified.  They terrified him.  He's in Jerusalem and the Israelis are holding them…

CH: Explain who he was and…

MP: He was--he was their manager.  He was their manager in Jerusalem, of their office in Jerusalem.  And the Israelis were holding him and then--and torturing him and this is a man who's done nothing wrong in his life.  He's, you know, I met him.  He's completely honest I must add.

CH: And as you point, he was terrified.

MP: And he was terrified, and as part of the pressure that was put upon him because they wanted to come here and testify against them.  They--he said something, he shows up and there are all these American FBI--that introduced themselves as FBI agents who are offering him American citizenship or offering him all kinds of things in return for his testimony.  And of course he refused.  They did the same thing with one of the defendants.

CH: And we'll talk about what happened when they refused because then they told him, "You can be blacklisted.  We can prevent you from having employment or ever working for a relief organization again."

MP: This was--this--yeah.  This was--this was the case with--this was the case of Abdul Rahman over here in the United States.

CH: Oh, right, right.

MP: They went on beyond pressure because when he said he was not going to cooperate with the feds, after a while, they came up to him and they said, "You're going to pay for this.  You're going to be blacklisted.  You're not going to get a job," and which was all true.  He was blacklisted.  And then he was only a volunteer.  He was never part of anything that had to do with the management of this organization.  He ran a soup kitchen in Paris and New Jersey and would volunteer on missions.  I mean, he was a--just a volunteer.  And then he realized that his name was in the indictment, included in the indictment.  And as the trial was going on, he was approached several times to cut a deal, but it came with a gag order.  And he said, "Well, if it's coming--if it comes with a gag order, that means you're going to use my--the deal that you cut with me against my friends.  Thank you very much.  I'm not interested."  And they went from offering three years to six months.  And the other guy said to him, "Take the deal.  At least one of us is going to be out of jail."  I met him in federal prison.  He's serving 15 years, 15 years, because he wouldn't rat on his friends and he says to me, "You know what, I sleep well at night.  I'm fine.  I have--I have--you know, my heart is clear."  But it was that serious.  They were that serious and the only reason they dragged him into this was because they were hoping to get a deal and some kind of a plea out if.

CH: Well, and the Israeli secret police, I think you call them Shabak.

MP: Yeah, Shabak, yes.

CH: They are at the same time pressuring people to do--you talk about Hussein.  They want him to wear a wire trap to--a wire to entrap people.  And when he refuses, they give him 48 hours to leave the country.

MP: Right.

CH: Talk about that case.

MP: Yeah.  Selahattin is from Minnesota.  He passed away recently and he was planning to return to Palestine with his family after living here for some 20 years.  And he was going to work for Holy Land Foundation but he landed in the summer of the year 2000 just before the second intifada broke out.

CH: This was the Palestinian uprising?

MP: This is the Palestinian--second Palestinian uprising.  And all hell broke loose and he's finding himself in a warzone trying to help people, trying to use funds and so on.  And meanwhile, Holy Land Foundation has closed down here.  He is over there.  Now he had a Jerusalem ID which allowed him to travel throughout the entire country.  It's a special ID the Jerusalemites have.

CH: Let's just--because you raised that point in the book, there are--it's like South Africa.  There are a series of passes.  So some Palestinians can't enter East Jerusalem.

MP: Right.

CH: Some Palestinians can't leave East Jerusalem.

MP: Right.

CH: Some Palestinians can travel around the--and he had the…

MP: He had the Jerusalem ID which allowed him to travel everywhere which is usually taken away when you have a second passport, but for some reason, they did not take that away from him until he came back to the US for a meeting.  Then he returns to Palestine and at Tel Aviv Airport, they realized that he was still--he still had his ID.  They took it away and then they called him in for interrogation with the--with the Shabak, with the secret police and then there was a whole series of meetings where they basically wanted him to collaborate.  And they would keep him overnight, they would keep him from--for days.  I mean, it's an entire saga that he lived--that he had to live through.  And then at the very end, they wanted to put a wire on him and when he refused, he--they said, "Okay, you got 48 hours to leave," and his family was there and everything.  He--in other words, he's already moved back to Palestine, but what was heroic about what he did was he was left there with nobody to talk to.  He could not contact the guys back here in the US because the operation here was shut down.  And he was left with some money that he knew was very soon was going to be confiscated and he had to quickly distribute the funds, you know, the college…

CH: Which it was scholarships.

MP: Scholarships and, you know, school equipment for kids and all of those types of things and he had to quickly do all that and he did it very quickly and very successfully and he saved a lot of money and a lot of people who, otherwise, not have had their scholarships or their money or their--or the stuff that they--that they should have received.  So, he did some great work back there.

CH: You said the trial was unique in many ways but the most blatant disregard for the protections afforded by the Sixth Amendment was the fact that the judges permitted two key witnesses who were foreign nationals to testify anonymously and using aliases.  They were Major Lior, allegedly an Israeli Army Intelligence Officer, and Avi who was said to be from the Israeli secret police or Shabak.  When they were testifying, no one but the defendant's immediate family members were permitted in the courtroom and they were led in and led out before the jury was permitted to enter.  This I was told over and over again by the lawyers had no precedent in the history of the US Judicial System.

MP: Yes.  Yeah, this was unprecedented.  The judge allowed--both judges allowed this to happen.  And it carried a great deal of weight, you know, the--we're talking about the Northern District of Texas where on the one side you have these Muslims with beards and, you know, accused of terrorism.  Their wives and their daughters are there with, you know, all hijab, so they're clearly, you know, terrorists, visual--you know, visibly terrorists.  On the other side, you have these Israeli, you know, officers who are supposedly experts in terrorism and know everything about everything and there's this admiration here in the US where everything that has to do with Israeli security and they're testifying and they can't really find out anything about them.  And they don't know who they are and what their qualifications are.  And like I said, during the cross-examination, it was made absolutely clear they know nothing about the Zakat committees because they've never been there.  They never--they know nothing about the board members or their--or their activities.  So really they're not experts but, you know, a good story is always much better than the facts and that's really what held.

CH: And you say that after the trial, Shabak issued a report that stated that the testimony of these two anonymous Israeli witnesses, and I'm quoting from their report, "formed a critical factor in the decision to convict the defendants."

MP: Yes, it's on the Shabak website.  I came across it and it's clearly they're congratulating themselves on their contribution to closing down the Holy Land Foundation.

CH: Well, it--I mean, throughout the book, it's very clear that the hand of Israel is very heavy from the moment they go in to shut down the Holy Foundation.

MP: Yeah.

CH: Land Foundation and till the convictions themselves.

MP: Yeah.  I mean, throughout the '90s, they were already--they were tagged.  In other words, it was clear that they were--they were doing too good of a job and getting too good of a reputation for the--for the pro-Israeli groups here.  And so the ADL and other Zionist politicians here in the US were already targeting them.  And they were approaching the IRS to revoke their not-for-profit status and they were talking to other companies that they were working with and so on.  But this is exactly--if it wasn't for what Israel is doing in Palestine, then these guys were not in--would not be in jail, and if it was not for the relationship that Israel has with the United States, none of this could have been possible.  CH: You quote in the book--so we talked about Ed Abington earlier who was the US Consul General in Jerusalem from 1993 to 1997.  And during the trial--this is the second trial, right?  Abington's called up in the second trial?

MP: Both trials.

CH: Both trials, okay.  So Abington discussed the role of the CIA in the consulate where he was with Holy Land Foundation's attorney Nancy Hollander on direct examination.  I just want to read that Q&A.  So she asks, "How often would you and in what form would you see information that the CI collected from Israeli intelligence?"  He answers, "On almost a daily basis in the form of CIA intelligence reports."  Question, she asks, "As a US representative, did you consider Israeli intelligence to be reliable?"  And he answers, "No."

MP: Right.

CH: And she asks, "Why is that?"  And he says, "I feel that the Israelis have an agenda in terms of trying to influence the thinking of US policymakers and that they apply intelligence in a selective fashion to try to influence US thinking.  Sometimes the intelligence was good and sometimes it was not so good."

MP: Yeah.

CH: And that is really the linchpin because what convicted--what resulted in these draconian--I mean, one of these defendants has a 65-year sentence, is really this cooked Israeli intelligence.

MP: Oh, absolutely.  Without a doubt.  And like I said earlier, in the second trial, the CIA put a gag order and he was not allowed to say these things.  So that's--and I think it's the only time really that we hear such a clear testament to how professionals view Israeli intelligence.

CH: Well, I used to be a journalist in Israel and they used to feed me this junk all the time.  I'd have to go down to Tel Aviv with Judy Miller kind of aided up and she was writing articles against the Holy Land Foundation.  And Hollander in the end, again from the trial, said, and he's quoting, "The State Department considered the documents to be essentially a propaganda exercise by the Israelis to undermine the reputation of the Palestinian authority."  This is a quote.  "You can't really rely on these documents as showing a true picture."

MP: Yeah, you know, one of the thing--you know, I read about 20,000 pages of court documents.  And if it was up to me, I'd put them all in the book.  You have to read the actual documents, the actual--what happened in the courtroom in the transcripts to believe that this is true.  Otherwise, it would be, you know, my word against somebody else's.

CH: Yeah, yeah.

MP: You read the court transcripts and it's shocking.

CH: Yeah.  Thanks.  Thanks, Miko.  That was Miko Peled, author of Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Fund.