[Ppnews] Brothers jailed by US and expelled to Gaza speak out

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 27 12:53:20 EDT 2012

  Brothers jailed by US and expelled to Gaza speak out

Joe Catron <http://electronicintifada.net/people/joe-catron>
Gaza City <http://electronicintifada.net/location/gaza-city>
26 July 2012

Basman and Bayan Elashi

(Joe Catron <http://electronicintifada.net/people/joe-catron>)

When Basman Elashi reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 
Dallas, Texas on 9 July, he expected nothing unusual. He had visited the 
federal agency regularly since his release from its custody in March 2009.

"At first I was only reporting every six months," he said over tea in 
his family's Gaza home. "Then they reduced it to three months. Then, the 
last time, they asked me to report the following month."

"They held me for three hours," he said of his final visit. "I asked 
them why they were holding me so long. As it turns out, they were 
waiting for [my brother] Bayan to come in the afternoon. Then five 
people surrounded me, told me they were deporting me, and handcuffed me. 
I didn't see Bayan until we were in the van."

Unlike his brother, Bayan Elashi had been forced to wear a monitoring 
anklet and report every week after his April 2009 release. "When I 
reported to them on Monday, 9 July, as I always do, they arrested me and 
said that I would be leaving the country within 24 to 48 hours," he said.

"At the detention center, they said we had two hours to call our 
families to bring us anything we needed for our deportations," Basman 
said. "This was the only window we had to call or see them."

The brothers' ordeal began much earlier, when the US government arrested 
them on 18 December 2002. "The [US] government actually indicted us on 
three counts: a sealed one; the second one, based on which they arrested 
us; and a third one after it was finalized," Bayan recalled.

The government's charges against the brothers stemmed from their family 
and its business, the Infocom Corporation. "Bayan has a master's degree 
in computer engineering from Purdue University and worked on his PhD 
degree, but never finished it," Ghassan Elashi 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ghassan-elashi>, a third brother and 
the imprisoned chairperson of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and 
Development, recounted from federal prison in Marion, Illinois.

"In the early 1980s, he was behind the development of the first Arabic 
computer," he said. "From then until his arrest in 2002, him, me, and my 
other brothers ran a computer and Internet services company that was 
focused on building personal computers and providing web hosting. Most 
of our business was directed towards exporting to the Arab world."

    "Guilt by association"

It was those dealings that would draw the government's attention. "The 
United States government used the concept of guilt by association," 
Bayan said. "There were some financial transactions between me and 
[Hamas <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/hamas> political bureau 
deputy chairman] Mousa Abu Marzouk's wife, who happened to be my cousin. 
The government didn't like this, and indicted us mainly because of this 
relationship." The "core issues," he added, related to the Holy Land 
Foundation and also Abu Marzouk.

Abu Marzouk's status as a "specially designated terrorist" allows the US 
government to criminalize his business transactions, personal property 
and even family relationships, without ever charging him with a crime or 
putting him on trial. It detained Abu Marzouk for 22 months after his 
designation, before releasing him without charges and deporting him to 
Jordan in 1997.

The Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Islamic charity in the United 
States, was shut down with an executive order from the Bush 
administration in December 2001. Ghassan Elashi and four other men 
associated with the foundation were arrested and, as The Electronic 
Intifada reported earlier this year 
were "subjected to two extraordinary trials that, amongst other court 
precedents, relied on testimony from an anonymous Israeli intelligence 
agent. The men were accused of providing material support to Hamas, a 
Palestinian political party declared a terrorist organization by the US 
State Department, by funding Islamic charitable committees in Palestine 
through the Holy Land Foundation."

Though they were not accused of committing or financing any violent 
acts, the five are serving out decades-long prison sentences for 
supporting charities that the State Department agency USAID continued to 
fund long after the Holy Land Foundation men were indicted. The Holy 
Land Foundation case is part of a pattern of the US government 
criminalizing Palestine advocacy and charity work 
<http://electronicintifada.net/content/us-activists-face-new-repression-political-prisoners-fight-justice/9108> while 
it funds the Israeli occupation and sheilds the state from accountability.

    Two years of solitary confinement

For their part, the Bayan and Basman Elashi experienced two years of 
solitary confinement 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/solitary-confinement> between their 
arrests and their 2004 trial. "I was only allowed to receive visits from 
my immediate family visits from my wife, my children and my mother, not 
my brothers or my friends," Bayan said.

The brothers were convicted in October 2006, "of basically violating a 
presidential executive order, which prevents US subjects from dealing 
with the property of designated terrorists," Bayan said. They received 
sentences of 84 months each, and were released from prison in January 
2009. At that point, the government sought to deport them.

But there was a catch: no country was prepared to receive them. The 
brothers were not only stateless, like most Palestinians, but since they 
had left the Gaza Strip before its 1967 conquest by Israel, the 
Israeli-controlled population registry denied them residency rights 
there as well.

"My documents had expired in 2002," Basman said. "I contacted the 
Egyptian consulate in Washington, DC to renew them, but they refused. 
Then I tried to get a Palestinian passport, but the Palestinian 
Authority's <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestinian-authority> 
delegation in DC said I didn't qualify to have them because I didn't 
live in the occupied territories and according to the Oslo agreement 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/oslo-accords>, I was not supposed to 
have Palestinian documents. I asked them to put this in writing. They 
asked me to fill out an application for a document and promised they 
would send me a letter of denial."

The Bureau of Prisons turned the brothers over to Immigration and 
Customs Enforcement while the latter scrambled to figure out what to do 
with them. Eventually, it released each from its detention centers to 
their families in Dallas: Basman in March 2009, and Bayan in April 2010.

    Shock of deportation

Then came their deportations. "Since everyone knew who they were, 
everyone was shocked," Nida Abu-Baker, a Palestinian-American art 
student in Dallas and daughter of imprisoned Holy Land Foundation 
co-founder Shukri Abu-Baker, said of the news.

"I was very surprised," she added. "My whole family was. My oldest 
sister just saw Uncle Basman just a day or two before he got deported. 
They shouldn't have had been deported because the judge agreed on them 
being allowed to stay here, and plus they had finished serving time in 
prison. It was sad."

"I was deported using an expired travel document from Dallas, to JFK 
[airport] in New York, to Cairo, accompanied by four agents," Basman 
said. "At the airport, we were received by two men from the US 
consulate. One was an American; the other looked like an Egyptian. They 
talked privately, with us on the side. Then we were taken to the police 
station at the airport.

"We were called in separately to talk to an Egyptian agent who asked us 
questions: what the indictment was for; what the charges were; how long 
we were in the US. Then they asked me about my Palestinian documents and 
if I had a /hawiyye/ [Israel-issued Palestinian residency permit]. My 
answer was that my passport had expired and I didn't have a /hawiyye/. 
The last time I had been in Gaza was before the 1967 war."

"The actions of DHS and ICE are alarming, troubling and intolerable," 
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Legal Director Abed 
Ayoub said of the deportations in a statement 
"ADC has demanded, and will continue to demand, a clear explanation as 
to why these brothers were deported. The US government is very well 
aware of the deplorable living conditions in Gaza resulting from an 
illegal blockade <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/gaza-siege>."

"The most important thing we need people to know is that the US 
government has a certain view of Middle East policy," Bayan said. "If 
anybody has an opinion opposing this policy, the government will use its 
legal system against them. The courts will yield to the government's 
wishes and overlook, and even violate, all the legal and constitutional 
rights of the individual. They'll hand him a harsh sentence just to 
please the government, knowing, without a doubt, that he didn't violate 
US law."

"Especially if that person is a Muslim or an Arab or a Palestinian or 
from Gaza," he added.

/Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine. He works with the 
Centre for Political and Development Studies 
<http://cpds.ps/eng/index-index.html> (CPDS) and other Palestinian 
groups and international solidarity networks, particularly in support of 
the boycott, divestment and sanctions and prisoners' movements. He blogs 
at joecatron.wordpress.com <http://joecatron.wordpress.com/> and tweets 
at @jncatron <http://twitter.com/jncatron>./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863-9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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