Trump Tries to Silence Palestinians and their Friends. Instead They’re Energized

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 2018, pp. 28-29

Special Report

By Delinda C. Hanley

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP marked the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords by giving the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington, DC one month to close its doors and to end all contact with the United States. Palestinians never had an embassy in this nation’s capital because, unlike 135 other countries, the U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a sovereign state. Nevertheless, the mission has operated like an embassy, officially representing the country and its people since 1994.

Ambassador Husam Zomlot gave the shocking news to his DC staff via video conference on Sept. 10 from Ramallah, where he has been since he was recalled in May by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to protest Trump’s decision to relocate the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In a Washington Post op-ed published Sept. 13, Zomlot wrote, “Ours was a close-knit office of 20 people; we considered one another family. When I told them the news, I could see over the screen that some of them had started to cry. Working at the diplomatic mission was not only a job for them. They were there because they were passionate about defending the Palestinian cause, promoting our culture and taking care of our people. They were inspired by their belief in the work that we did to foster better relations between Palestine and the United States...

“The closure is devastating to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in America,” Zomlot wrote. “Like any other non-American in the United States, they could feel safer knowing that, far from home, they could have a resource to help them in a crisis...We assisted people with tasks that ranged from helping navigate paperwork, like divorce, marriage and school certificates for use in Palestine, to assisting them with funeral arrangements and helping U.S. citizens navigate inheritance issues with their assets in Palestine.”

Next on Sept. 17, the Trump administration revoked U.S. residency permits for Husam Zomlot, his wife Suzan and children, Alma, 5, and Saeed, 7, whose visas were valid until 2020, and closed the family’s bank accounts.

Supporters and press gathered outside the red-brick building on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington on Oct. 10. Hanna Hanania, head of the American Federation of Ramallah, vowed that the Palestinian presence in the U.S. will continue despite the closure of the PLO office. He and others will work to reopen the mission.

Arab American Institute founder and president James Zogby noted that since the 1993 Oslo Accords, “One party to Oslo has violated every single condition of that peace accord and has never been sanctioned. It has received increasingly more aid and more acceptance of all their illegal policies. The other party, the weakest party, was always expected to do the heaviest lifting, and has been repeatedly sanctioned,” Zogby charged. He described the treatment of Palestinians as “the wound in the heart of the Arab world that never healed.”

Zogby concluded, “What we’re here to say quite simply is, you can close the office and you can silence the voice, but the Palestinian people will not go away. They remain. They remain on their land, they remain in their camps waiting to return, and we here, as a community, remain as their voice, the voice of the Palestinian people.”

For 40 years Palestinians have given and given while Israel has taken and taken, said American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s national president Samer Khalaf. “What Donald Trump has done has sort of laid bare the truth of the matter. The truth is that the Americans were never really a neutral mediator. Trump has given into every single Israeli demand and left nothing for Palestinians,” Khalaf said. Palestinians who have kept their keys and their papers all these years will wait for a just and lasting peace, he concluded.

Rabbi Joseph Berman from Jewish Voice for Peace called for Americans to organize, take to the streets, and elect leaders who will stand up for justice. Kyle Cristofalo from Churches for Middle East Peace asked the administration to listen. “Christians are in support of a Palestinian state, and justice and equality for all.”

Wa'el Alzayat, who worked at the Department of State for 10 years and is now CEO of Emgage, which educates, engages and empowers Muslim American communities, called for an end of bigoted politics. Ghassan Tarazi, a founding member of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, said there cannot be peace without justice and when one side is diminished there can’t be justice. Dr. Osama Abuirshaid, director of American Muslims for Palestine, said this administration’s attempt to isolate Palestinians will fail because they have lots of friends in Washington, DC and the rest of the world.

When the consular staff left their building, consular affairs officer Shahinaz Wafi said, this “unusually hostile decision” officially strips the Palestinians of its only representative office in the U.S., “thus severing diplomatic and political ties between the two governments.”

“This is an attempt to shut down your voice. This is an act of censorship,” said Hakam Takash, who has worked in consular affairs at the mission for 18 years. "This is a new beginning, not just in Palestinian-American relations but in the work of this community,” he told the crowd as he removed the plaque on the Washington building. “You'll leave here all as ambassadors today and you will carry this message forward. You will show the world that the Palestinian voice will not be silenced.”

The Palestinian flag will remain since it is a private building owned by Palestinian haircare billionaire Farouk Shami, a former longtime business associate of Donald Trump who appeared on the president’s show, “The Apprentice.”


Delinda C. Hanley is news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

 

 
 

SIDEBAR

Statement By Muslim Support Groups: Tragedy in Schoharie

By Joe Lombardo and Jeanne Finley

WE ARE MEMBERS of the Albany-based Muslim Solidarity Committee, the national Project SALAM (Support And Legal Advocacy for Muslims), and the national Coalition for Civil Freedoms. We grieve with the families and friends of the 20 victims of the horrendous limousine crash in Schoharie, NY on Oct. 6, and hold them in our hearts. We grieve also for the communities who have lost these beloved members.

Our grief for the victims of the tragedy is mixed with our grief for the many victims of FBI stings involving the owner of the limousine company, Shahed Hussain.

We know Shahed Hussain well from his role as an FBI informant in three persecutions of Muslim citizens: the Aref-Hossain sting case in Albany in 2004–2006 (subject of the documentary “Waiting for Mercy”); the Newburgh Four sting case in Newburgh in 2009­­–2010 (subject of the documentary “The Newburgh Sting”); and as the “closer” in the Khalifa Al-Akili sting case in Pittsburgh, PA in 2012­–2013 (subject of the Emmy-winning documentary “(T)error”). The FBI rewarded Hussain for his efforts by paying him handsomely, money he then used to start several businesses, including a motel and Prestige Limousine in Wilton, whose limousine crashed in Schoharie.

This much is known so far: the limousine failed multiple recent New York State safety inspections, including problems with its brakes; the driver was not licensed to drive such a vehicle; and the company has had four other vehicles removed from the road in the last two years. The responsibility for these failures initially rests with the company’s owner, Shahed Hussain, who currently resides in either Pakistan or Dubai. But what about the responsibility of the FBI, for their support of a con man and liar who seemed to destroy everything he touched?

Hussain was arrested in December 2001 on 80 counts of fraud involving the procurement of phony driver’s licenses when he worked as a translator for the state Department of Motor Vehicles in Albany. He had routinely accepted bribes of several hundred dollars each to help immigrants pass written exams they couldn't understand. He faced the prospect of a long prison term and eventual deportation to his native Pakistan, which he’d fled in 1993 after he was charged there with murder. To avoid the consequences of his criminal acts, Hussain agreed to become an informant for the FBI to entrap people and destroy their communities.

After he pleaded guilty in April 2003 to a single felony count to settle those 80 charges against him, Hussain was then paid by the FBI with taxpayer money to organize, engineer, and execute the three stings mentioned above, over a period of nine years. Records show he has also been involved in dozens of lawsuits in Albany County since 1997. His businesses regularly failed. He declared bankruptcy. A federal judge in the Newburgh case referred his testimony in the bankruptcy case for possible perjury. Yet the FBI still appeared to support him, an unguided missile of mass destruction aimed at the American public. The limousine company is the latest hit on this road of calamity.

Shahed Hussain’s debt to justice has not been paid. The years spent in prison (and the years still to serve) for the phony crimes that Hussain engineered for the FBI cannot be recovered for the men he put away. And the terrible irony of a felon convicted as part of a DMV scam, who is now responsible for the faulty operation of a vehicle that killed 20 innocent people, is not lost on us. Nor should it be lost on the FBI, which did not see fit to imprison and ultimately deport Hussain but instead put him on their payroll in the post-9/11 Muslim “terrorist” hysteria in Albany, in Newburgh, and in Pittsburgh.

We request Shahed Hussain’s immediate extradition to the U.S. to face questions about his ownership of Prestige Limousine. The FBI also needs to acknowledge its culpability, through these long years of Hussain’s “service” to them, in the tragedy in Schoharie. We demand justice for all the victims, dead and living, of the carnage wrought by both.

 
 
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