[Ppnews] Search for conspiracy

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 1 11:05:28 EDT 2008

Search for conspiracy


  Friday August 01, 2008 11:49
 by Doris Norrito - IMEMC News

The other man’s story

Yesterday, I visited with Sameeh Hammoudeh and 
his family. He was a co-defendant in the 
terrorism trial of Dr. Sami Al-Arian. It was a 
very important visit and before I describe it, you’ll need this background.

In February 2003, at the same time Dr. Sami 
Al-Arian was arrested, Sameeh Hammoudeh was also 
arrested. Accused of terrorist activities, 
Hammoudeh was one of the three co-defendants who 
appeared with Al-Arian in the high-profile 
federal case that took place in Tampa, Florida. 
The six month trial ended in December 2005. All 
defendants were found “not guilty” of any 
terrorist activities.” Before the trial, U.S. 
citizens Ghassan Ballut and Hatim Fariz were 
released on bail. Bail for Hammoudeh and Al-Arian 
had been denied and they spent two and a half 
years before the trial in prison, most of the time in solitary.

As of today, Al-Arian remains imprisoned. The 
other defendants were freed. But for Sameeh 
Hammoudeh, who was exonerated of all charges and 
had already served two and a half years of 
pre-trial imprisonment, the suffering and anguish 
continued for another six months. Held in a 
detention center awaiting deportation, we began to correspond by letter.

At the time of his arrest, Hammoudeh had been a 
PHD candidate studying anthropology at the 
University of South Florida. Awarded a 
scholarship, he took his wife and three daughters 
to Tampa. After receiving his Masters degree in 
1996, he continued with advanced studies for a 
PhD. Three months away from completing requirements, he was arrested.

In order to tell the story of the persecution of 
Sami Al-Arian, and the carefully orchestrated 
attempts to keep him silenced about the plight of 
Palestinians and the cruelty of the Israeli 
occupation of Palestine, I traveled to the West 
Bank and committed to work as a volunteer for the 
IMEMC (International Middle East Media Center), a 
news service branch of the peace oriented 
Rapprochement Center. IMEMC is dedicated to 
reportage of news from within the occupied 
territories of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza.

I live in a mixed Christian and Muslim 
neighborhood of Bethlehem with a Christian 
Palestinian family. Here I have ample opportunity 
to speak directly with the people and to see for 
myself the conditions experienced daily by 
ordinary people suffering under the yoke of 
occupation. By living among them, I am able to 
understand the outcry of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, and 
the anger fomented by a cruel system. I begin 
also to understand the concerted efforts to keep 
Sami behind bars and forever silenced. Because he 
is frequently moved, distance and sharply 
curtailed visitation rights, prevent visits to 
learn his story first hand. It was my hope to 
fill in the blanks by meeting with Sameeh 
Hammoudeh, his colleague, friend and ultimately a 
co-defendant in the high profile terrorism trial 
that ended in the acquittal of the four defendants.

Hammoudeh’s story of his time in prison before 
the trial, the pressure brought down upon him and 
his family were intricately entwined with that of 
Sami Al-Arian, the articulate and outspoken 
advocate of Palestinian rights who still remains imprisoned.

As Palestinians, the Hammoudeh family is not 
permitted to travel to Bethlehem, normally a 20 
minute drive from Bethlehem through Jerusalem. 
But Sameeh and his wife, Nadir extended a warm 
invitation for my friend Sherrill and me to visit 
them at their home in Ramallah where the family has now settled.

A difficult journey

 From the Bethlehem bus station, Sherrill and I 
board a servees, a shared van to Ramallah, a 
distance of about 40 km (24 miles) away.
We cannot take a straight route through Jerusalem 
but must circumvent the city. The road is 
circuitous with many harrowing hairpin turns 
along narrow mountainous roads, paved but bumpy. 
We stop at the “Container” checkpoint, so named 
because it is housed in what was originally just 
a large box that was supposed to be temporary. A 
gruff Israeli soldier looks at our passports and questions Sherrill.
“Where you went from?” He attempts in English.
Sherrill is calm. It is her sixth visit to 
Palestine and she knows the routine.
“It says on my passport,” she replies.
I remain silent, my heart thudding. The soldier 
collects our American passports and the papers of 
the other five Palestinian passengers. They 
remain calm, passive and accepting. I wonder what 
each is thinking. Sameeh calls us on Sherrill’s 
cell phone. We joke about the delay.
“No doubt we’re being put into a computer,” Sherrill says.
After twenty minutes, our documents are returned 
and we leave, passing Bedouin tent city villages 
along the way. In the distance is the settlement 
of Ma’ae Adrummim, an Israeli settlement enclosed within a wall.
I think, Israeli or Palestinian, everyone here is imprisoned.


A revealing visit

Sameeh picks us up in central Ramallah and drives 
us to his house. The Hammoudeh home is a large 
apartment, part of a family owned building. 
Sameeh shows us into a book-lined library room 
and serves us tea and cookies homemade by Nadia. 
I look over his extensive book collection, a 
composite of Arabic and English authors, 
political books and the works of the world’s 
great thinkers. We are joined by Nadia and Weeam, 
22 and Doah, 20, their two eldest daughters and 
we begin a long and revealing conversation.

Weeam is open and speaks freely about what she 
remembers of her father’s arrest.
“It came out of nowhere and seemed like a bad 
dream,“ she said, “I was in Miami and a friend 
told me. I tried calling my friend Leena [Sami 
Al-Arian’s daughter] but couldn’t get her.”

Weeam said that Leena had always felt they [the 
US government] would do something because Sami 
was so outspoken and the Al-Arian family had been 
under surveillance for years.

Sameeh told his story:
The prosecution lied to the grand jury: they 
claimed he had used code in his correspondence 
with his father and that “family” was a code name 
for the PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad). The PIJ 
was declared a terrorist organization in 1996 and 
neither his father nor he had anything to do with them.

In a two day separate trial, Weean said she and her grandfather had testified.
Sameeh added to his daughter’s story.
“My father gave money to orphans, the prosecutors 
tried to play with minds. They twisted my name, 
called me Hami to rhyme with Sami. They wanted to 
claim I had taken over for him [as a terrorist leader].”

He explained that Sami was the real target 
because he was an activist and an outspoken 
advocate of Palestinian rights. Sami knew people 
in the PIJ but in 1996 when the organization was 
labeled ‘terrorist’ by the U.S. government, Sami 
had nothing more to do with them.

I recalled the court proceeding, remember seeing 
part of the transcript statement Sami had made. 
After PIJ had been declared “terrorist,” he had 
said, “I will have nothing to do with violence.” 
Ignored by the prosecution, it was still in the 
record. I remember the prosecution attorneys 
saying many times: “You have to connect the 
dots.” I looked for them as did the jury. There were no dots to connect.

Sameeh recalled the brutal conditions under which 
he and Al-Arian lived for two and a half years 
before the Tampa trial got underway. They had 
been sent to Coleman Federal Penitentiary, a 
facility designated for convicted, violent 
criminals, where they were kept in solitary 
confinement for twenty three and sometimes twenty four hours a day.
The trip from Coleman Federal Penitentiary to the 
jail in Tampa takes an entire day, Sameeh said.
“In the bus we were shackled, arms and legs in 
irons and a heavy chain down the front connecting 
them. We were given no food or water. This is terrorism,” Sameeh emphasized.

Nadia said she was questioned, asked to convince her husband to cooperate.
“I know he didn’t do anything wrong: I had to 
concentrate on my family - they [the government] wanted Sami.

Sameeh said that they were trying to build a 
conspiracy charge but you need two or more for a 
conspiracy and though they knew him to be 
innocent, they needed at least one other person to make their conspiracy case.

Sameeh smiles broadly as he relates the horrors 
of the past. He hugs his youngest, seven year old 
Mohammed. I had only seen Sameeh in the 
courtroom; we had never met face to face until 
now. I had met Nadia and the older girls, Weean 
and Doah outside the courthouse and in front of 
the Orient Point jail. It was their tears I 
remembered. Now all were relaxed and cheerful, so 
different from the tense meetings of those dark moments during the trial.

Conversation turned to their new lives in 
Ramallah and the living conditions in the West 
Bank or Palestine. Weean is articulate, intuitive 
and well informed. Early teen years were spent in 
the U.S. and she has a good grasp of both Arab 
and western cultures. She spoke of the change in Palestine since her return.
“Everyone here is on survival mode. As for peace 
talks, Palestinians are in a weak position.” She 
gave a history of changes since the second 
Intifada in 2002. In 2000 after Sharon went into 
the mosque in Jerusalem, everything changed. He 
was very right wing. She said people stopped going out.

Democracy, human rights, women’s empowerment 
programs – you don’t see it, most have political 
leanings. And since non-government organizations 
have to sign anti-terrorism pacts because aid is 
dependent on it, it is hard to make progress.
The more outspoken get money so it’s not 
completely free of political involvement. 
Organizations don’t mix much with the people.”

“There is a need for law enforcement but it’s not 
possible without a sovereign state, and you can’t 
have that if you are occupied,” She said in 
Palestine, they pay taxes twice, to Israel and to 
the PA (Palestinian Authority). Anything you do 
has to go through Israeli economics, even trips 
to Jordan. “It divides the Arab world creating a disconnect.”
“We’re too dependent on international aid. It 
makes us weak because we have to accept whatever is happening.”

Doah studies in Lebanon and said when she is on 
campus there, she participates in organizations 
but there is a stigma attached to Palestinians, 
at its root is the refugee problem there.

Nadir had prepared a traditional Palestinian dish 
called makloova, It consists of layers of 
chicken, eggplant, carrots, rice and traditional 
spices prepared in a large pot. After it is 
cooked, the pot is turned upside down onto a 
platter and served at the family table.

After dinner, we return to the library room for tea and more conversation.
Sameeh said, “The country that violates the most 
American values is Israel and America is 
supporting them. Israel is defying freedom of 
speech, movement and our fundamental rights. It 
is Satanic. Our image in the outside world is 
distorted. We love life and love our children.”

After the trial and his complete exoneration, 
Sameeh had requested that he be allowed to 
complete the PHD he had come to the United States 
to acquire. In spite of the many letters written on his behalf, it was denied.

We concluded our visit by asking Sameeh what he 
would like us to take to the people back home in the United States.
“Here’s what I want you to know,” he began, “the 
jurors had said ‘you have nothing.’ Look at the 
facts as the jurors did. Are you going to look at 
the facts of what your government is doing?”
“Israel cannot survive without your support; the 
world is coming into the US: you cannot ignore it.” Doah added,
“Keep an open mind: values are different. The US 
sees only its own culture and there is little curiosity about others.”

She said it is tragic that they cannot travel 
more. Only one visa is issued to a person each 
year. “Many overstay their visit.”

Nadir now teaches elementary school. And Sameeh 
teaches Political Science and anthropology at the 
prestigious Birzeit University in Palestine. He 
enjoys teaching and gives lectures about the 
“color” of justice in the United States.

The nightmare ended, I saw no sign of bitterness, 
no design of retaliation for the grave injustice 
suffered, only a renewed joy of once more being 
united with his family and the generous warmth of friendship.
  ramallah | human rights | interview
author email
at tampabay dot rr dot com
IMEMC NEWS   http://www.imemc.org


The International Middle East Media Center is a 
media collective based in the Occupied 
Palestinian Territories. We are independent 
journalists producing and distributing the 
authentic voices of the people. IMEMC is a 
cooperation between Palestinian and In

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