[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 mans 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, youll 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.
Hammoudehs 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 Sherrills
cell phone. We joke about the delay.
No doubt were 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 Maae 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 worlds
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 fathers 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-Arians daughter] but couldnt 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 daughters 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 didnt 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, womens empowerment
programs you dont 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 its not
completely free of political involvement.
Organizations dont mix much with the people.
There is a need for law enforcement but its not
possible without a sovereign state, and you cant
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.
Were 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.
Heres 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
at tampabay dot rr dot com
IMEMC NEWS http://www.imemc.org
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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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