[Pnews] Bidding farewell to my soulmate and cellmate - Sameeh Hammoudeh

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 5 11:19:57 EDT 2019


  Bidding farewell to my soulmate and cellmate

Sami A. Al-Arian <https://electronicintifada.net/people/sami-al-arian> - 
4 June 2019

Portrait of a smiling man

Sameeh Hammoudeh

There has been a big void in my heart since 25 May 2019, the day I lost 
a dear friend, brother, and “cellie,” Sameeh Hammoudeh.

Sameeh and I were in prison together in Florida for more than three 
years beginning in 2003, when the US government sought to send us to the 
gulag for the rest of our lives. While we had been friends and 
colleagues for more than a decade, our shared struggle solidified our 
brotherly bond.

When you live with someone in the same tiny space of less than 70 square 
feet for 24 hours a day for years on end, they eventually become a part 
of you, etched in your memory for life, a brother and kindred spirit.

I first met Sameeh in 1992 when I invited him to speak at a conference I 
organized on Palestine during the first intifada.

Already an accomplished scholar with a degree in political science from 
Birzeit University, he moved to the US to pursue graduate studies at the 
University of South Florida, where I was teaching.

He also worked as an editor for an Arabic-language journal called 
/Political Readings/ published by a think tank in Tampa, Florida, called 
World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), which was shut down by the US 
government in 1995 in a crackdown on Palestinian activism.

In prison, we talked endlessly about everything, laughed at the jokes 
our families would mail us and the stories they’d share during weekend 
visits. He was the first to hear and comment on the dozens of poems I’d 
written on spirituality, our struggle for justice, on Palestine and freedom.

When my collection of poems was published in 2004, I thanked him for 
being the first to listen to the poems and for his critique and support.

    Dark days together

We were arrested in the aftermath of 9/11 when, under pressure from 
special interest groups and right-wing media, the Bush administration 
targeted us in a politically motivated indictment 
related to our Palestinian activism and charitable work a decade earlier.

During these dark days we became cellies, sharing a tiny prison cell 
together for more than 20 months when we were held in isolation in a 
federal penitentiary.

When we were occasionally allowed to go to a bigger cell for recreation, 
either in the early morning or late at night in order not to mix with 
other prisoners, we would throw a small rubber ball against the wall 
until we were exhausted, making up our own rules for the game. He was 
more fit than I was, and would almost always beat me. We would run and 
sweat and laugh and argue before going back to start or end our day 

We prayed together each day. Along with the five daily prayers, we would 
also devote an additional hour to prayer each night. Over that period, 
we probably prayed more than 18,000 /rakas/, while reciting the entire 
Holy Quran many times over.

During the all-too-frequent times our cells were searched, we would be 
taken out in handcuffs and placed in a holding cell while the intrusive 
search was underway. Our simple routines would be interrupted, and trial 
preparation disrupted, as we realized upon our return to the cell that 
our massive legal documents were misplaced, missing or in complete disarray.

We would console each other, keep faith, control our anger and counsel 
patience. Sometimes during the search, we’d be detained in a room with a 
telephone. Because we were restricted to only one 15-minute call a 
month, we would take the risk and call our families while the search was 

One of us would dial the number without seeing the dial buttons as our 
hands were cuffed behind our backs, while the other was looking at the 
buttons to guide the caller to dial the right number. We’d then cover 
for each other by blocking the view from the guards while the other was 
talking to his family. Had we been caught we would have been severely 

We spent countless hours preparing for the trial, reviewing thousands of 
surveillance tapes, calls and CDs. We trawled through massive amounts of 
documents, records, summaries and testimonies.

Sometimes we would be reviewing documents in a sea of boxes in a bigger 
room in prison with an FBI agent observing us. Sameeh would often engage 
the agent and express his disgust at the politically motivated case, and 
his bewilderment that a country that prides itself on democratic ideals 
and principles would stoop so low as to manipulate facts and sacrifice 
justice to please politicians or foreign countries.

    Refusing to bow

On more than one occasion, the government offered Sameeh citizenship, a 
job and the opportunity to finish his degree or anything else he wanted 
in exchange for flipping to their side and testifying against me.

He told them emphatically that he would rather stay in prison for the 
rest of his life than lie or harm another person for personal gain. When 
they upped the pressure by threatening to charge him and his wife on 
separate bogus charges related to taxes, he still did not relent or give 
in. His faith in God was infinite and his faith in our ultimate freedom 

Every day, we would eat our three meals together on the floor, and 
during Ramadan, we would break our fast together. Some evenings we would 
spend hours trying to get hot water to have a cup of tea, a treat we 
were not afforded. Because we were considered “special prisoners” we 
were denied many rights and privileges granted to “regular” criminals, 
including getting hot drinks.

I would have my family send money to another inmate who would then buy 
tea from the prison canteen and occasionally smuggle a few bags to us. 
We’d then spend hours at the cell door trying to persuade one of the 
inmates cleaning the premises – called an orderly – to smuggle hot water 
to us in a plastic bag without being noticed by the guards. It would 
cost us one dollar per cup.

On those days that we were successful, we would – against the odds – 
feel a sense of accomplishment. One day one of the orderlies advised us 
that instead of waiting hours to get hot water we could simply light our 
own fire by using the batteries in our transistor radios. Even though he 
showed us how to do it in a few seconds, we spent hours trying to light 
one without success. We laughed endlessly at our ineptitude.

When the trial date got closer, we were separated. The government moved 
us from the federal prison 75 miles away to a local jail in Tampa, where 
I was housed in an emptied section of the women’s unit so that I would 
be totally isolated.

Yet, during the six-month trial, we would meet every day and ride the 
same van to court. As our hands and legs were shackled, we would assist 
each other since the marshals would not fasten our seatbelts while they 
drove recklessly. In one instance, upon a sudden stop, I flew from my 
seat, hit my head and landed on Sameeh’s lap. We were there for each other.

Two weeks before the verdict, I dreamed that Sameeh and another 
co-defendant were totally acquitted of all charges. In the dream, I was 
also found not guilty yet remained trapped in the courtroom unable to 
get out – as it happened, it took almost nine more years before I’d be 
granted my ultimate freedom.

In fact, the government did not obtain a single guilty verdict out of 
over 100 counts on any defendant. While I was acquitted on the most 
serious counts, the jury deadlocked on other charges with 10-2 in favor 
of total acquittal before the judge suddenly ended the deliberations 
when two jurors refused to deliberate and despite having four alternate 
jurors in the building.

Sameeh was acquitted on all counts.

When the verdict was read in December 2005 it was an emotional day, as 
we teared up when we said goodbye to each other knowing it would be a 
long time before we would see one another again. Sameeh asked for my 
blessings as he was going home, and I asked for his prayers. It would be 
11 more years before we would meet again, in Istanbul.

But because of his immigration status, Sameeh had to leave the US and 
resettle in Palestine, where much of his family still lived. He was born 
in Bethlehem in 1960.

    Inspiration and role model

Before our time in prison, Sameeh was one of the main people who helped 
me run a mosque and Islamic center that I established in 1987, after I 
joined the faculty of the University of South Florida a year earlier.

He also worked as a high school teacher and vice-principal in a private 
Islamic school that I founded in 1992 and managed for over a decade. We 
considered the school to be our most enduring contribution. He was an 
inspiration and role model to our students to whom he taught the Arabic 
language, religious studies and history.

It was a great treat for the generations of students who learned the 
history of Palestine from one so knowledgeable and passionate.

    A historian of Palestine

As a historian and political scientist, Sameeh specialized in 
researching and analyzing Palestinian and Ottoman archives in Jerusalem 
and other Palestinian urban centers.

He published studies in academic journals and authored several books and 
chapters about major Palestinian political movements, intellectuals and 
leaders of the 20th century.

Just before the first intifada broke out in 1987, Sameeh was the first 
to write a detailed study on Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the iconic 
religious leader who fought the British and armed Zionist groups in 
Palestine in the 1930s.

One of Sameeh’s last works, published in 2017, was /Ottoman Ramallah: A 
Study in its Social History, 1517-1918 
The groundbreaking piece received high praise from historians.

He also published several volumes on important Palestinian historical 
events and personalities, such as the Buraq Revolt of 1929, the 
Palestinian uprising of 1936-1939, life in Jerusalem during the British 
Mandate and World War II, and the memoirs of many Jerusalem political 
leaders including Daoud Saleh al-Husseini and Taher Abd al-Hamid al-Fityani.

He was also instrumental in organizing the archives of Birzeit 
University and the city of Ramallah.

Until 2015, Sameeh served as the editor-in-chief of /Hawliyyat al-Quds/, 
a peer-reviewed Arabic-language journal focusing on Jerusalem, published 
by the Institute for Palestine Studies.

    Stolen years

Sameeh was an instinctively intellectual person, an avid reader and a 
serious scholar with an expansive historical memory.

He loved knowledge and was keen on acquiring it from any source. He 
inspired many of his students to do the same. He would engage any 
person, from a primary school student to a doctoral candidate, on any 
topic but especially history, politics, social sciences and Islam.

Education was his passion and making a difference in the lives of people 
intellectually and academically was his lifelong mission to which his 
many students would attest.

I had the privilege of hosting Sameeh twice in the past two years 
through the Center for Islam and Global Affairs 
<https://www.izu.edu.tr/en/ciga/home> (CIGA), which I founded in 
Istanbul in 2017.

He addressed our students and faculty on Ottoman Palestine 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ekF430az50> and the international 
relations between Islam and capitalism 

Sameeh finished his doctoral dissertation, submitted it to his committee 
and was weeks away from defending it when we were arrested at dawn on 20 
February 2003.

During our trial in 2005, his PhD adviser testified that Sameeh was one 
of the most serious and decent people he had encountered, and his work 
was among the best he had ever supervised.

Sadly, even though he was found innocent of all the charges, Sameeh was 
not permitted to defend his dissertation or earn his PhD even after 
completing all of its requirements. It was another miscarriage of 
justice perpetrated by the malice or cowardice of a university and the 
haughtiness of an empire.

Even after his acquittal of all charges in December 2005, it was not 
enough that three years were unjustly stolen from his life, that he was 
denied his degree or that his wife and six children were deprived of his 
warmth and presence.

But because of sheer arrogance, it would take the US government another 
six months before allowing him to leave to the West Bank, in an effort 
to further punish him for their utter defeat at the hands of a jury 
after a six-month trial with over 75 witnesses.

While still in prison five months after his acquittal, Sameeh spoke to 
/Democracy Now/ 
about his ongoing ordeal.

Once back in the West Bank in mid-2006, the Israeli authorities 
interrogated Sameeh and detained him, taking yet more time away from his 
family before he was allowed to join them again.

    Legacy of love for education

Sameeh was a model husband, father and son. He was able to care for his 
elderly parents before they passed away a few years after his return.

His beloved wife and life partner of over three decades, Nadia, was 
always the bedrock of the family – pious, patient, kind, caring and 

During the long ordeal, she was able to keep the family together and 
have their young children excel in their studies. Two years ago his 
eldest daughter, Weeam, received her PhD in sociology from Brown 
University and, following in her father’s footsteps, she has gone on to 
teach and lead research projects 
<http://icph.birzeit.edu/about/faculty-staff/weeam-hammoudeh> at Birzeit 

Sameeh’s second daughter, Doaa, will receive her PhD this year from 
Oxford University. His other three daughters, Hanan, Alaa and Noor have 
all either received their master’s or bachelor’s degrees with distinction.

And this year, his youngest, Muhammad, received a full scholarship to an 
Ivy League school.

Sameeh was successfully able to transmit his love of and dedication to 
education to his children. When I talked to him recently, he was very 
proud of his children’s accomplishments.

Even though he knew that his days were numbered, Sameeh asked me during 
our last phone call a few days before he passed away to get him books 
from Istanbul that were not available in the West Bank.

He reminded me of a saying by the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – 
“If the Day of Judgment is about to take place and there is a seed in 
your hand, go ahead and plant it.” This was Sameeh. He was faithful and 
devoted to knowledge and scholarship to his last breath.

I bid my friend and brother farewell. A courageous, generous, patient, 
calm, pious, decent, peaceful and loving soul.

Palestine has indeed lost one of its most loyal and devout sons. He had 
several unfinished and unpublished projects that I hope his students can 
carry on and complete.

Despite his sudden departure, he has undoubtedly left his indelible mark 
on Palestine and beyond. May God have mercy on his soul, and may he 
reside in the highest levels of Heaven.

As the Islamic saying goes, “Our eyes are weeping, our hearts are heavy 
and for your loss, Abu Muhammad, we are saddened. To God we belong and 
to Him is our return. There is no power or strength except that of God, 
the Most Great, the Most High.”

/Sami Al-Arian is director of the Center for Islam and Global Affairs 
(CIGA) at Istanbul Zaim University in Turkey. Dr. Al-Arian was an 
academic, civil rights advocate and Palestinian activist in the US for 
more than 30 years. Along with Sameeh Hammoudeh, he was indicted in 2003 
by the US government, and tried in 2005 on terrorism-related charges 
without reaching a single guilty verdict after a six-month trial./

/He spent more than 11 years, from 2003 to 2014, between prison and 
house arrest until he eventually was forced to relocate to Turkey in 
2015 after living four decades in the US./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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