Monday, December 20, 2010

Summonsed before Grand Jury in the Land of the Free

WHENEVER we see West Bank settlers interviewed on TV they seem to have American accents. The breed has given us Baruch Goldstein, who perpetrated the Hebron mosque massacre, and still has a posthumous cult following. More recently, we have seen Nahum Shifren, the 'surfing rabbi', back from his rightwing settlement to California, to campaign against immigrants with the Republicans; but finding time to fly into Britain to stir up anti Muslim hatred with his friends in the EDL.

These right wing fanatics are not representative of US Jews, the majority of whom are more liberalminded than the mainstream lobbyists, let alone the nutters of course. In fact some Jewish Americans are determined to do whatever they can for peace and justice in Palestine. Unfortunately, while it is the far Right who catch the ear of the media, it seems to be the left and the peace activists who attract the attention of US law enforcement.

Even when it is hard to see what law, if any, has been broken.

Sarah Smith, a Chicago woman who happens to be Jewish, has been subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury on January 25 to explain her trip to Israel-Palestine with two Palestinian women friends. All three young Chicago residents have been subpoenaed, thereby joining other peace activists from the Mid West who have been targeted by the US authorities in recent months.

Here is Sarah Smith’s full statement from a December 6 press conference:

Friday morning, December 3, I received a phone call from an FBI agent. He asked if I had about 30 minutes to sit down and speak with him so he could ask me some questions. I asked about what and he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” I then asked if I needed a lawyer present and he said it was up to me but that I was not in any trouble and that they just had a few questions.

I felt something suspicious about him telling me he wanted to ask me some questions, but he would not tell me what these questions were. So I said that I had to consult a lawyer and check my schedule and that I would get back to him. I reiterated that it would be easier for me to meet him if I knew why an FBI agent wanted to sit down with me. He then said that it had to deal with the trip I took this summer. He then emphasized, “I think you know which one I’m talking about.”

The trip I took last summer was to Israel and Palestine. I am Jewish and wanted to see first hand what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians. If I went on the standard tour to Israel, I would not be shown how Palestinians live. So I went on a tour that showed me both worlds, Israel, and the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. I went with 2 Palestinian-American friends. You would think Jews and Palestinians going together to visit Israel and Palestine is something the U.S. government would encourage.

Instead, we are now being ordered by the FBI to go before a Grand Jury for going on that trip. The US government says it supports peace between Israel and Palestine. It says it supports separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

So why does the FBI investigate us because we went to see the Palestinian land? Top US government leaders meet with Palestinian leaders, so why does the FBI investigate us because we talked to average Palestinians on the street?

I went there so I could make up my own mind and talk about what I saw. It seems to me our government wants to hide what Israel is doing to Palestinians. I would like to thank the Committee Against Political Repression for standing up for me and my friends. You can learn about case at, and please make a donation there. Or you can make a donation for our legal expenses: to NLG Foundation, memo line: FBI raids and mail it to Sarah Smith, 2961 S. Bonaparte, Chicago, IL 60608

Smith’s father, Stan Smith, added “I think Patrick Fitzgerald, the US District Attorney, Robert Parker of the FBI need to see my daughter and her friends and apologize to them. And I think President Obama, who was elected in 2008 because he said he would stop this sort of thing, should make a point on his next trip to Chicago to personally apologize to my daughter and her friends for how his government is intimidating them.”

Back in September the FBI began raiding homes and offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, and other places. Computers, phones, documents and personal items were seized, and people were subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. People in the peace community are being questioned by the FBI, and asked what they know about the subpoenaed activists 'material support for terrorism'.

In the wacky world view of the FBI, this need not involve anything to do with weaponry and explosives, sending people on shooting tours of the West Bank, or , as we have seen, organising bombings in places like Iran or Cuba. After all, these are the tolerated activities of the American Right, when not actually sponsored and organised by the US government.

But when it comes to supporting peace and justice for the Palestinians, or others whose human rights are not recognised by the United States and its allies, things are different. As lawyers for the subpoenaed activists note, the current definition of 'material support' can cover just about anything, including humanitarian aid. So if you so much as send a first aid kit or a textbook to Gaza, or raise money for such purposes, then like the Israeli military blockaders, the US authorities can claim this might end up in the hands of an organisation which they class as 'terrorist'.

It is the same with posting a link to a website or carrying out research or reporting which might be deemed sympathetic to the cause of the 'terrorists'.

None of the fourteen people subpoenaed from Minneapolis or Chicago has been charged with any crime. But they can be jailed if they fail to show up before a Grand Jury. None of the property taken away in the raids has been returned either.

President Obama gave up on putting pressure on Israel to freeze settlements, for the sake of Middle East peace talks.

But the US authorities are stepping up pressure on Mid West peace campaigners, apparently to suit Israel.

Thanks to Cecilie Surasky' s Muzzlewatch site, an offshoot of Jewish Voices for Peace, for the information in this posting. Comments of course my own.

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