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When giving bread to Gaza is a crime

A Palestinian child can be seen outside her home in the poverty-stricken quarter of Al-Zaytoon in Gaza City on 29 September 2014 [Ezz Zanoun/Apaimages]
A Palestinian child can be seen outside her home in the poverty-stricken quarter of Al-Zaytoon in Gaza City on 29 September 2014 [Ezz Zanoun/Apaimages]

Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi arrived in the Gaza Strip last weekend with $180 million to distribute among Palestinians in need. In Gaza's case, that means virtually the whole population as they lurch from one humanitarian crisis to another thanks to the brutal siege imposed by Israel on one side and Egypt on the other.

The cash from Qatar is needed desperately to cover fuel for electricity, salaries and financial aid for Palestinian families struggling to live under the siege. The special delivery will come as no surprise to Israel, because Qatar announced back in May that it would send $480 million to the occupied West Bank and Gaza to "aid the brotherly Palestinian people in obtaining their basic needs."

The money has flowed in with support (no doubt reluctant) from Tel Aviv, which has entered into an "unofficial" Egypt-brokered truce with Hamas, which still basically governs the Gaza Strip. The money will be used to pay Palestinian Authority civil servants and has allowed the UN to step up aid efforts.

However, the fact that this is happening at all is hugely significant and should now be used as evidence to bring an end to the Kafkaesque drama which saw five Palestinian Americans jailed in what has been described as one of the worst ever cases of miscarriages of justice in the United States. The drama started in 2004 when the FBI along with the US Treasury Department and a bunch of assorted police forces from Texas and California arrested officials at the Holy Land Foundation in dawn raids. The "HLF Five" were — still are — Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh, who had founded the Muslim community charity in 1990.

READ: Up to 34% of Gaza residents live in abject poverty

The five were accused of giving material support to Hamas and in their first trial there was a hung jury. The retrial in Dallas Federal Court began in September 2008, and included unprecedented testimony given in secret by an Israeli spy known simply as "Avi". The defence team was unable to question Avi's background and credentials.

Judge Jorge Solis did tell the jury that it was allowed to weigh the agent's credibility in light of his anonymity, but he brushed aside the defendants' right under the Sixth Amendment "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." Nothing in the US Constitution until then permitted conviction by anonymous accusations, but the court went ahead and convicted all five men.

One accusation in the 108-count indictment stated that the Holy Land Foundation encouraged suicide bombings by providing welfare to the bombers' orphaned children. It has since emerged that of the 200 suicide bombers who operated in Palestine during that period, none had any children. In fact — and in startling contrast — the HLF actually gave financial assistance to the children of men that Hamas had executed for collaborating with Israel.

It also emerged that the dawn raids and the arrest of the five came in response to allegations made by the state of Israel that the charity was a front for an illegal money-laundering operation, diverting funds to Hamas (declared a terrorist organisation by the US under President Bill Clinton) via Zakat Committees in the Occupied West Bank.

Similar allegations led to British charity Interpal being designated by the US as a "global terrorist entity" in 2003 without a shred of evidence ever being produced by the American (or Israeli) government. That designation is still in place today, despite Interpal operating legally in Britain and still delivering aid to Palestinians in need.

READ: War and poverty drive Gazans to seek better life in Europe despite dangers

During the second HLF trial the men were convicted of providing "material support" to Hamas and, in 2009, were sentenced to between 15 and 65 years in prison. The trial has been exposed as a farce in a hard-hitting book published last year by Mike Peled, the son of a famous Israeli general and a passionate anti-Zionist.

Peled interviewed the convicted men as well as their families, and even visited the men's birthplaces in the West Bank. His detailed account of the case of the Holy Land Foundation Five proves without a shadow of a doubt that this was a political case driven forward by the Zionist lobbies and Israel to undermine, intimidate and criminalise anyone working for or donating money to charities helping needy Palestinians.

The fact of the matter is simple: it is impossible to distribute money in occupied Palestine without seeking the permission of the authorities in charge. In the occupied West Bank, money will go to charities registered not only with the Palestinian Authority but also Israel, and in some cases the Jordanian government. Money transfers will have to be cleared by the Israeli banking system, and if anyone goes in person on behalf of a charity, they will have to get clearance from the same authorities to enter the country. In the case of the Gaza Strip, this means the democratically-elected government run by Hamas, and all charities have to be registered with the PA and Israelis. No money changes hands in this process, but aid agencies and charities operate by permission of the authorities.

Now that we know that Qatar despatched an envoy carrying $180 million in cash to Gaza with the green light for this coming from Tel Aviv, then it should be grounds for an appeal by the Holy Land Foundation Five as it drives a tank through the nonsense of the ubiquitous "material support" argument.

The US justice system should hang its head in shame as these men continue to languish in prison for doing nothing more than humanitarian work. The real criminals aren't those putting bread in the mouths of Palestinian children, but those in the Trump Administration who would rather watch the children of Gaza starve than let them have a semblance of a normal life in what are extremely abnormal circumstances.

READ: $200m deficit in budget to rebuild destroyed homes in Gaza

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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