Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Holy Land Foundation Trial: the “hearts and minds” of the Palestinian people

One of the recurring themes of the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation is that HAMAS uses zakat (Islamic charity) committees—which the government has tried to prove HAMAS controls—as part of a their effort to win the “hearts and minds” of the people of Palestine in order to maintain control of the Occupied Territories and build a “terrorist” base from which to attack Israel. The prosecution’s assumption is that the Holy Land Foundation raised money to support zakat charities as party to this plot to win the Palestinians’ “hearts and minds” for HAMAS.

Palestinians I know do not need to have their “hearts and minds” won over by anyone. Their hearts and minds, as nearly as I can discern, are set on winning their freedom from occupation and living under their own government with the rights enumerated under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Americans ought to be the first to understand the desire of any people to exercise those rights. The enumeration of our Rights as Americans began with the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, passed by the Virginia legislature June 12, 1776, and used as the model for our national Bill of Rights.

On the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, stands a larger-than-life statue of George Mason holding a copy of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Almost daily during her two years at George Mason University as a Masters degree student in International Development, Shere Abdulhadi passed by the Mason statue. She was welcomed as a student by the society that claims to be the guarantor of the Rights of all peoples. She is a Palestinian Muslim who was born and raised in occupied East Jerusalem. After earning her degree Shere Abdulhadi returned to Jerusalem to work with Palestinian businesses and NGOs as an expert in management development.

In the Spring of 2005, Sherene Abdulhadi was back in this country as a member of “Partners for Peace.” With a Christian Palestinian woman and an Israeli Jewish woman, she toured the country as part of the “Three Women, Three Faiths” program, in which they spoke together of attempts to live together peacefully in a war-ravaged country. I heard them speak in Ft. Worth, TX. The woman sitting next to me (a friendly Caucasian American Christian) asked Sherene during the Q&A period how she would raise her children if she knew the Occupation would go on indefinitely.

Sherene answered simply, “I would teach them to resist.” The questioner said under her breath so only I could hear, “She’s teaching them terrorism!” That Americans living under the Bill of Rights believe that “resistance” equals “terrorism” is both the basis and the tragedy of the Holy Land Foundation trial.

Resistance is not terrorism. Supporting NGO charities that ease the burden of Occupation for millions of Palestinians is neither resistance nor terrorism.

Palestinians, both in the Occupied Territories and scattered throughout the world, live in the constant threat of the annihilation of their culture, their way of life, their identity as a people. Father Iyad Twal is a Roman Catholic parish priest in Zababdeh, in the Northern West Bank, and is the principal of the Latin Patriarchate School. In a 2006 article about the victory of HAMAS in the Palestinian election (which, of course, the country that prides itself on its Bill of Rights and its electoral freedom has effectively nullified), Father Twal wrote,

....The election results revealed that the Palestinian population
is tired of their continual life under occupation; they are
depressed by the stalled peace process, and are looking for a
serious change. Palestinians desire freedom, justice, and dignity
as a nation. Palestinians hope for a government that will work
to: create jobs, stop the separation wall, halt settlement
construction, stop land confiscation and house demolitions,
and decrease our alarming poverty rate…. Any anger or fear
the international community feels toward the results of this
election should not be directed at Hamas, nor the voters who
gave them power. Hamas’s victory can be traced to the dismal
U.S. negotiated peace process with Israel. For over a decade
this peace process has brought no freedom or life to Palestine…

Twal, Abouna Iyad. “A Palestinian Christian on the Hamas victory: "We should not be afraid.” Network News, Winter2006, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p17-18.

These are not the words of someone whose “heart and mind” have been won over in some nefarious struggle dominated by “terrorists.”

The struggle for the “hearts and minds” of the Palestinian people is, I should think, already decided. I cannot speak for the Palestinian people—or even for the individuals I know. However, it seems to me that the desire for self-determination, for living under a government of their own choosing, and for protection of their human and civil rights is as much the desire of the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people as it is of Americans or anyone else.

To claim that resistance to tyranny and oppression is “terrorism” is to deny the words of our own founding documents: all people are created equal and are endowed by their creator with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not supporting persons like Shere Abdulhadi or the leaders of the Holy Land Foundation in their desire for freedom mocks the work of men like George Mason who helped secure those rights for all Americans. And to denounce them for supporting their brothers and sisters under oppression is a double mockery.