Miko Peled’s book Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five is about a grave and cruel injustice carried out by both the US and Israel. Paradoxically, the book’s core is about friendship, human dignity and trust bound together by the integrity of the author. Peled’s personal credentials — as an Israeli dissident, as the uncle of Smadar, 13, a victim of a Palestinian suicide bomber, and as the son of an Israeli General — gives compelling credibility to the findings of his comprehensive investigation.
It is now 10 years since a Machiavellian travesty of US justice sentenced Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammed El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh to between 15 and 65 years in jail. They were all senior staff at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), a not-for-profit organisation devoted to “Helping the poor, the orphans, and the widows… one of the pillars of Islamic teachings.”
The HLF was charged with “providing material support for terrorism” and yet Peled provides us with the details of how the charity was run with meticulous transparency and strict adherence to US aid guidelines. He demonstrates that the HLF had “no connection to Hamas or any other political or military organisations.”
At the 2007 trial, the prosecution failed to get any convictions. Undaunted, the US government and the FBI mounted a retrial. “The prosecution’s theory,” writes Peled, “was that, by supporting needy Palestinians, HLF had ‘freed up’ Hamas’ own assets to fund terrorist attacks, and that if Palestinians knew that HLF would provide support for their families if assistance became necessary, they would be more likely to become suicide bombers.”
The author spells out how the spurious charges were backed by questionable documents supplied by Israel; false translations; the cherry-picking of “documents and phrases until the picture they painted was completely distorted”; the withholding of “secret evidence” from the defence; the unexplained disappearance of crucial records; overt judicial bias towards the prosecution; the exploitation of irrelevant and prejudicial testimonies; the use of implausible Israeli “experts”; false charges of illegal tax filings; FBI attempts to recruit collaborators (“The FBI even offered me US citizenship and immunity if I testified that HLF was linked to Hamas”); and the successful bribing of a key witness for the prosecution by waiving criminal charges of fraud and providing US residency.
Furthermore, the fraudulent manipulations of the US justice system continue to be mirrored in the injustice that Israel metes out to Palestinians every day. Peled pierces the looking glass to reveal the truth and reality: “I believe that the Palestinian struggle to free all of historic Palestine from the settler-colonialism that is the State of Israel is a just struggle, and I support it wholeheartedly. I accept that the State of Israel in its present form has no legitimacy, and in this I find Hamas’ goal to liberate Palestine completely justified.”
The miscarriage of justice in the HLF case is transparently outrageous. However, when we consider the false evidence that the US government provided to the UN regarding Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” that led eventually to the killing of more than half a million innocent Iraqis, we can understand that the collateral damage of five innocent Palestinian men — the HLF5 — sacrificed to further the fake war on terrorism is relatively insignificant.
The friendships that Peled has cultivated with the five men are the tour de force that instils intimacy, immediacy and urgency to the injustice that they are suffering: “I saw how important it is that others come to see them and to understand the background and the context of this story,” he writes. “Only then could anyone understand the travesty and indeed the tragedy that took place here.”
We accompany Peled on his many visits to the families and to the prisons and thus we empathise with the heartbreaking burden of the absence and mutual deprivations suffered by the prisoners and their families: the denial of a touch and a kiss; the absence of a father from his children’s weddings and the burial of a beloved child, Sanabel; as well as their absence from the death of parents, family meals and births of grandchildren.
Peled’s presence on the journey of injustice generates his moving demonstration of the authenticity of the HLF5’s moral high ground, dignity and the raison d’être of their humanitarian work that is grounded in Islam. Crucially, by sharing respect for Islam embodied in these remarkable men, Peled challenges post-9/11 Islamophobia.
“For me, Islam will always be associated with beauty, goodness, and charity,” says the author. “Sadly, the contempt and fear toward Islam, which are a major part of the Jewish-Israeli narrative, has seeped into America and become part of the accepted narrative in the United States as well. Living in the United States, I always felt deprived of the warmth that Islam and the Arab world offer. But when I began working on this book, I met Islam all over again, and in the most unlikely places.”
Peled makes clear repeatedly that the HLF5 are honourable men. He quotes, for example, Shukri Abu Baker: “Survive prison I must, for when I come out I would hold no grudges, or hate, or resentment. My belief system tells me that whatever comes upon me is a matter already decreed by Allah. He knows better.”
These are not political activists who say “no” to authority; they are activists for Allah — God — who say yes, yes and yes to love, to compassion, to loyalty and to selfless care of the poorest of the poor. “As Ghassan said to me, ‘What my friends and I did at the Holy Land Foundation was to help Palestinians who are suffering. They are victims because they find themselves living under a brutal, racist regime that practices apartheid. To be persecuted for such noble work is exactly what the prophets had faced at their time. And being reminded of this is how I get through it.’ Indeed, their faith has made them un-enslavable.”
The plight of the HLF5 could be compared to the authorities arresting Mother Teresa, say, for bringing attention to and acting on Third World poverty mainly exacerbated by Western colonial and capitalist exploitation.
The answers as to why the US government attacked a soft target humanitarian NGO that did not actually fund Hamas are apparent in Peled’s narrative. The destruction of NGOs is a tool of ethnic-cleansing to make Palestinians’ lives even more unbearable so that they will pack up and leave Palestine. A similar example was seen when Mohammed El-Halabi, the World Vision manager was accused in 2016 of diverting cash to Hamas. Even though an official Australian investigation found no such thing, he remains imprisoned by Israel. We can also cite the escalation of the humanitarian crisis inflicted upon the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank by the recent withdrawal of US funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
Moreover, the mere existence of NGOs working to provide humanitarian aid to needy Palestinians acts as a perpetual accusation against and evidence of Israel’s colonialism and state terrorism.
Hamas, explains Peled, emerged out of necessity and was built upon the humane ideals of the Muslim Brotherhood. It built “an infrastructure of social services, medical clinics, and schools, mostly in the impoverished Gaza Strip. These facilities were sorely needed, due to Israel’s grave failure to live up to its responsibilities as the Occupying Power.”
Widespread support for Hamas, insists the author, was not only a result of Israeli ineptitude. “Hamas leaders came to embody the honesty, altruism, and dedication that are the hallmarks of Islam.”
The respect shown by Peled discredits the US system which has labelled many individuals, movements and NGOs, at Israel’s request and without due process, as “specially designated global terrorist entities”.
Peled’s thoroughness itself is trustworthy because it is reinforced by his visits, interviews and research. His book highlights the sanctity and, sadly, the destruction of trust.
For years, the Holy Land Foundation deservedly won the trust of thousands upon thousands of US citizens who donated their hard-earned dollars to help the poor. It was also trusted by the beneficiaries of such generosity.
The HLF5’s own trust in their faith that informs their every heartbeat with resilience deserves our respect and admiration: “La yukalifu Allah nafsan, ila was’aha – God would not burden a soul with a burden that is beyond its capacity. And so believers accept the burden and carry it with devotion.”
Significantly, Peled reveals that we can’t trust the US justice system because if it can come for five honest men then we must heed the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem First they came… Nobody is safe, unless we stand together.
By the end of Peled’s book, I knew that action is imperative. In the spirit of Zola’s J’Accuse, exposing the Dreyfuss Affair, I wrote and will continue to write to the US Attorney General demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the innocent Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammed El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh.
Al Jazeera’s two part documentary follows the lawless political trail of the US-Zionist conspiracy to deliberately turn five decent, innocent family men into political prisoners.
I recommend both book and documentary. This is an injustice that must be given as much publicity as possible.