Different Drummers, Same Drum

Last month was a bad month for Attorney General John Ashcroft. The Justice Department’s inspector general reported that the agency had abused 762 immigrants in a frantic post-9/11 push to be seen as “doing something” about terrorism. Not only did it look like he might lose the momentum in his drive for more power to snoop and detain, he might even lose what he had managed to gain courtesy of the Patriot Act.

Enter FBI agent Robert Wright of Chicago, who came to his boss’ aid with a media blitz in the days before and after the IG’s report was released-holding news conferences, planting news stories in the media, showing up on television news magazines. His message? Palestinian terrorists walk among us, and not only has the FBI not gone too far, it hasn’t gone nearly far enough.

And so last month, once again, the American public was treated to the same old allegations, the same old scare tactics: American Muslim organizations are raising funds for Hamas. Hamas operatives are using the US as a base to plot attacks against Israel. For all the hysteria of the Israeli lobby and authoritarian elements of the Justice Department, it’s a testimony to the weakness of their claims that no one has ever been officially charged or convicted in the US of supporting Hamas.

The true story of the role of Hamas in this country, to the extent that it has had one, is the story of the return of Palestinians to Islam, the travel of Palestinian Islamists to the United States and their successful efforts to raise awareness of their cause, and the determination of Israel and US pro-Israel hawks to block all expression of solidarity for the Palestinians.

Palestinian Roots

Hamas has its roots in the Islamic reawakening in Palestine. The waning of Arab nationalism that came with the Arab defeat of the 1967 war coupled with the pressures of Israeli occupation created an environment ripe for Islam. The Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamic movement founded in Egypt, began to engage actively in political and social life. The Brotherhood called on Palestinians to return to their religion, organize, support national unity, and resist the Israeli occupation.

One such student was Musa Abu Marzouq; a young man deeply influenced by his life in the Gaza refugee camps. Like many Palestinians, he attended the university in Cairo, where he and his expatriate countrymen began to interact there with Muslim Brotherhood activists. With an invigorated Islamic sensibility and honed political organization skills, Palestinian graduates returned home and contributed significantly to the acceleration of the religious awakening in both the West Bank and Gaza.

As the number of technocrats returning to Palestine from Egyptian universities reached a critical mass, the Muslim Brotherhood became unable to absorb them. As it happened, the group’s need to locate gainful employment for its educated members coincided with a critical shortage of educated employees in the oil-rich and rapidly expanding/modernizing nations of the Persian Gulf. New graduates were thus encouraged to travel to the Gulf region where they might secure jobs and financial and moral support for their people in Palestine. Musa Abu Marzouq traveled to the United Arab Emirates to work for the state oil company. While amassing his wealth, he and his fellow expatriates contributed to a process of Islamic resurgence in the U.A.E. Ultimately, they succeeded in securing funds for countless educational and relief projects in Gaza and the West Bank.

Emigration of the Cause

In the early 1980’s, a wave of Palestinian students arrived in the United States on scholarship from the Persian Gulf states, including Marzouq and Ismail Abu Shanab, both of whom would later become leaders of the political wing of Hamas. In a short period of time, the students succeeded in making the Palestine Question the central concern of Muslims in America. By the time the first Intifada erupted, American Muslims shared with Palestinian-Americans a sincerely held compassion for the Palestinian people in their daily struggle under the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Islamist leadership in the US leveraged this momentum created by the students and continued to inspire considerable sympathy for the suffering people of Palestine among the Muslim community to the extent that it became difficult for any Islamic organization in America to neglect the Palestinian cause.

With the escalation and the continuation of the uprising and the increase in the number of the jailed, wounded, and killed, relief efforts were badly needed in Palestine. Pro-Palestinian activists in America initiated a campaign to collect donations to support wounded Palestinians, refugees, and orphans, and to assist the families of those who had died in the fighting, which exceeded the thousands in less than two years.

Much has been made of the supposedly clandestine ways in which money made its way from the hands of Muslims in the United States to the needy in Palestine. The reality is much less exciting. Money was raised, processed, and disbursed in an open, transparent fashion, consistent with the laws and ethics of the countries in which relief efforts operated. Marzouq pledged $210,000 of his own personal money and from the donations he collected to the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) in December of 1991. This donation later became the basis of the Israeli government’s assertions that the foundation was “connected to” Hamas. However, the beneficiaries of the HLF were the poor and needy in Palestine. The financial assistance was offered through direct relief work as well as through the work of several nonprofit organizations and charitable organizations that supervise humanitarian aid and social services in Palestine.

The Zionist Spin

After outlawing Hamas, the US Department of Justice began targeting Palestinian activists it said were linked to the organization including Musa Abu Marzouq, who had been chosen to lead the Political Bureau of Hamas in 1992. Two months after Marzouq’s arrest in July 1995, the Israeli government presented the US Department of Justice with a petition of charges. The Israeli government based its accusation of Marzouq on the confession, provided under torture and written in Hebrew, by Muhammad Salah, a US citizen jailed by Israel on charges of membership in Hamas. Despite the allegations, the court later cleared him of the charges. Salah, after 5 years of imprisonment, was also released.

Zionist Claims Find Fertile Ground

Aside from the Salah and Marzouq cases, Israel’s claims against Muslims in America remained for many years on the margins of political discourse. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, the accusations gained considerably more traction. The FBI began raiding Islamic organizations across the country, especially those led by Palestinians, frequently citing the allegations of pro-Israel hawks in the US or the Israeli intelligence as the basis of their actions. Some of these organizations were closed, and some of their employees were imprisoned or deported without any evidence of wrongdoing. Palestinian groups have born the brunt of this trend, despite the fact that Palestinians had nothing to do with September 11. The Holy Land Foundation was one of the organizations that were raided, its assets seized, and it doors shuttered.

In the early 1990s, the Israeli campaign against American Muslims was waged primarily on the sidelines, in the margins of the political scene and by colorful fringe characters, such as Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes, who enjoyed little credibility outside pro-Zionist circles. The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, altered the rules of engagement of this political battle dramatically. As false as it was, the pro-Israel lobby successfully drew a connection between the attack that Americans had just suffered and the Palestinian resistance. Pro-Israel activists, both inside and out, the Bush administration, who had long wanted an excuse to dismantle and harm pro-Palestinian groups in the US, jumped at the chance, justifying their crackdown by portraying Israel’s interests as identical to those of the United States.

The impact of this campaign thus far is glaring. It has led to the closing of the major Islamic relief organizations and the seizure of millions of dollars donated in charity by American Muslims and their friends. The HLF topped the list of these groups. Interestingly, the Israeli press reported at that time that the Executive Order that closed HLF came as a result of a blunt demand by Sharon to President Bush, who acted instantly. The attack on the HLF led to attacks on Muslim organizations, businesses, centers and mosques-virtually anyone who had ever supported HLF. One of the most prominent entities to suffer such injustices of late is Info-com, a Palestinian Muslim-owned entity that was shut down by the US government. So far, the trend is continuing and there are signs in the near future that it will succeed in depriving Arabs and Muslims of universal and inalienable rights.

Dark Days

The current situation is somewhat ironic because the Muslim community in America contributed significantly to the victory of President Bush, believing that he would be even-handed in his foreign policy, and rejoiced when he won the election. The elation was short-lived. In another stroke of irony, Muslim leaders were scheduled to meet President Bush on the 11th of September 2001 to receive his expression of gratitude for their support in the elections. The President was expected to repeat his promises of granting access to the Muslim community, and act upon them. However, in the aftermath of the tragic events, and after targeting Muslims as being behind these attacks, the US Department of Justice, further targeted Muslim activists, agencies, businesses and homes to such an extent that Muslims currently live in their darkest days. Muslims are now painfully aware that the Israeli agenda, which criminalizes Muslim activists and Muslim organizations in America, has gained overwhelming support within the US Legislative and Executive branches, particularly the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security. The agencies now openly act upon allegations provided to them by Israeli officials or their proxies, the former fringe agitators such as Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes of the early 1990s who, in a final irony, are now rehabilitated and re-energized in their battle against Islamic activism and Palestinian nationhood.

For a group of Palestinian Muslims, their quest to bring freedom and dignity to their homeland took them from the squalid streets of their Gaza refugee camps, to the universities of Egypt, to the sands of the Gulf, then to the suburbs of America. The success they enjoyed in nearing their goal brought the attention of the Israelis and their supporters, who chose to import the Middle East conflict to America.

The true role of Hamas in the United States is a mere shadow, if anything, compared to the elaborate theories the pro-Israel lobby and their allies in the Bush administration’s security forces have constructed. The far-reaching effect of the campaign however has been the eroding of American political freedoms as confessions under torture are admitted as evidence, vague allegations by intelligence agents are considered proof of wrongdoing, due process is suspended as people are jailed on secret evidence and property is confiscated without charge-all because the alleged “criminals” subscribed to the unpopular side of a political issue.

Moreover, Palestinian children suffer as millions of dollars languish, unable to buy a child in a refugee camp some pencils and paper, or a backpack. The sick go untreated and the orphans grow up with no one to show concern for them. America’s image suffers as the world watches its government stands in solidarity with the world’s last Apartheid state, burning through millions of dollars to stamp out sympathy for an occupied and brutalized people, and destroying its democracy in the process.

The story of Hamas in America is less remarkable on its own merits than for the political chaos that comes from its telling. As long as those hostile to Palestinians tell the story and deny them the right to give their perspective and to champion their own cause, the occupation will continue to go unchallenged, peace in the Middle East with justice will not be possible, and both Palestine and America will continue to suffer as a result.

Dr. Ahmed Yousef is Director of United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) and Editor-in-Chief, Middle East Affairs Journal.