[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
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
<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
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
"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
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