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Southern California Chronicle, November 2010, Pages 47-48
Activists to Take Case to Congress After Supreme Court Ban on "Terror" Contact
By Pat and Samir Twair
The U.S. Supreme Court's June 20 decision on Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, making it a crime to provide any "material support" to an organization designated as "terrorist," has had a chilling effect on human rights, peacebuilding, development, aid, and civil liberties groups (see August 2010 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 19).
Judge Ralph Fertig is president of the Humanitarian Law Project, the lead plaintiff in the first case challenging the PATRIOT Act to reach the Supreme Court (on appeal by Attorney General Eric Holder). Since the court's ruling, he has been explaining the ramifications of the decision at many public gatherings in Los Angeles.
"The case is closed with the Supreme Court; now it must be presented to Congress," stated the retired federal administrative judge and University of Southern California (USC) professor of social work. In essence, he explained, the highest court in the land decreed that any American who teaches or associates with a group defined as "terrorist" furthers the agenda of the terrorists and therefore is breaking the law.
Under this ban, Fertig noted, the Red Cross may not deal with guerrilla groups holding prisoners, nor may peace mediators negotiate with Hamas, Tamil Tigers, Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or any group Washington designates as "terrorist."
In the 1980s, in his capacity as president of the Humanitarian Law Project, which focuses on human rights in national liberation struggles, Fertig visited Kurds in eastern Turkey and witnessed the suppression under which they lived. He determined the PKK met the criteria for a legitimate liberation movement in that it had broad popular support, a chain of command, was willing to negotiate, take and exchange prisoners, and did not target civilians.
Fertig submitted his findings on the PKK to the United Nations and recommended that the Kurds present their plight to the world body. In 1996, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was authorized to identify terrorist groups—but she was not obliged to provide the reason for this designation. The PKK was named as a terrorist group, even though Fertig avows it did not target civilians, while the Irish Republican Army, well known for striking innocents, did not appear on the list.
In 1998, Fertig recruited the aid of David Cole, a nationally respected human rights attorney and constitutional scholar. For the ensuing 12 years, the two sought an injunction against criminal prosecution for training the PKK and Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger separatists on how to use international law to peacefully resolve disputes. Six federal courts ruled favorably on their case. Following the Justice Department's appeal, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on Feb. 23. Its June 20 decision reversed the earlier findings of the six courts.
Now, if Fertig were to speak to the PKK he could be tried for breaking the law—as could former President Jimmy Carter if he were to visit Gaza during a future election and interact with Hamas, which is the Palestinians' legitimately elected government.
Fertig's appeal to Congress to enact legislation negating the Supreme Court decision is being guided by the Charity and Security Network (CSN). "So now the policy ball is in the Congress's court," explains CSN program director Kay Guinane. "It needs to look at the consequences of current policy and decide if this is the smart way to go. I think once they take a look, they'll see it's counterproductive and needs to be changed."
The lower courts also put the question of due process for charities accused of supporting terrorism on the congressional agenda, Guinane noted, holding that the procedures used to list groups is unconstitutional. She expressed hope that Congress would conduct hearings on the issue this fall, but with November elections pending, said they may not occur until 2011.
MEF Focuses on Palestine
"The colonization of Palestine is complete," stated Nasim Khoury, one of three Palestinians discussing recent stays in Palestine at an Aug. 8 meeting of the Middle East Fellowship of Southern California in Pasadena's Knox Presbyterian Church.
"Bethlehem is enclosed," he elaborated, "Ramallah is enclosed, Nablus is enclosed, Jerusalem is surrounded by settlements, Jericho is encircled by a deep ditch and there is real hunger in villages. The Palestinians have lost the battle—but they may win the war."
Khoury bases this on the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement that is surging in Europe and mushrooming in the U.S., and on the illegitimacy of the state of Israel.
Rizek Abusharr traces his family roots back 500 years in Jerusalem, where he was that city's first indigenous director general of the YMCA. Now retired in Claremont, CA, he travels annually to Palestine. "Reconciliation can only happen when both sides feel comfortable," he said.
"This is an impossibility," he added, describing circumstances he experienced this summer, "when a Bethlehem residence is a few yards from a turret in the Israeli apartheid wall where sensitive radio equipment is monitoring Palestinian conversations in homes."
American University-educated Vivien Sansour, who was born in Bethlehem, recently took up residence in Jenin to promote the products of 1,700 farmers whose olive oil, za'atar, maftoul (couscous) and other organic foods are sold by Canaan Fair Trade.
Since the farmers became organized in 2003, they've seen a fair return for their crops, she noted, and many young people are taking a new interest in earning a living in agriculture. To learn more about how to purchase these organic products available in the U.S., please go to <www.canaanfairtrade.com> or visit the AET Book Club, <www.middleeastbooks.com>.
Shura Council Iftar
It was a landmark occasion Aug. 22 when the highest prelate in the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, spoke at the annual Ramadan iftar dinner of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California in the Anaheim Disneyland Sheraton Hotel.
Shura Council President Dr. Maher Hathout opened the interfaith program by expressing concern that anti-Islamic hysteria is at an unprecedented pitch in the U.S. "Will we have the America of our dreams," he asked rhetorically, "or one of exclusion and bigotry?"
Rev. Norman Copeland, presiding elder of the Los Angeles African Methodist Episcopal Church; Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice; and Imam Sayed Moustafa Qazwini spoke about spiritual enlightenment attained through fasting.
In addressing the crowd of more than 250 diners, Archbishop Derderian discussed how faith draws the individual closer to God, and that fasting and prayer are spiritual tools common in all religions to unite the believer with God.
A standing ovation was given to Imane Boudlal, 26, who has filed a discrimination case with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because a Disneyland restaurant has refused, since the onset of Ramadan. to allow her to wear hijab while working as a hostess. Although she has held the job for two years, when she arrived at work Aug. 15, Boudlal was told she could work in a back room or go home without pay. The Moroccan-American has made national headlines in her personal battle to dress religiously on the job in defiance of Disney's strict dress code.
KinderUSA Observes Ramadan
Palestinian writer Ramzy Baroud was the keynote speaker at an Aug. 28 iftar hosted by KinderUSA in Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque near USC.
"Why are we here?" asked Baroud, the editor of Palestine Chronicle. "The one thing that unifies us is our love for Palestine. The fact we can't get the truth to people makes us angry," he continued. "How do we deconstruct the fantasy that Hamas suppresses the people of Gaza? Look how the media distort the flotilla attack and portray the victims as bad guys defending themselves with sticks and kitchen knives."
Baroud, who teaches at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, said the Palestinians must not be viewed as charity cases. "Don't pity the Palestinians," he urged, "empower them."
KinderUSA chairperson Dr. Laila al-Marayati said her organization is preparing Ramadan baskets filled with fresh produce, eggs, cheese, yogurt, honey and pressed dates for impoverished Palestinian families. Owing to electricity failures and lack of refrigeration, live chickens are distributed so recipients can prepare them for meals themselves.
KinderUSA also is opening cystic fibrosis care units in Gaza and organizing playgrounds and therapeutic theaters for war-traumatized children. Women are given jobs in the rural Gaza areas of Shejeaya and Zaitoun to prepare nutritious iftar meals for families to take home.
Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.