Palestinian Americans harshly sentenced

DALLAS — With the selection of Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court justice, Americans are hoping that the Obama era will put an end to the drift toward judicial tyranny here in the “land of the free.” Those hopes were shaken when a judge here pronounced harsh sentences on five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation on May 27.

If the 15- to 65-year sentences are carried out, some of the five defendants (Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu-Baker, Mufid Abdulqader, Abdulrahaman Odeh and Mohammad El-Mezain) will never draw a free breath again.

The government’s argument, agreed to enthusiastically by editors of the Dallas paper (“Defendants got the sentences they deserved”), was that the Holy Land Foundation raised and sent money to Palestine via the Hamas organization, which the U.S. government declared a terrorist organization in 1995. Defendants argued that their efforts went to ease the suffering of Palestinian children. Faithful Muslims are required to make charitable donations, and the pain of the beleaguered Palestinians is a worldwide scandal.

The first trial ended in a hung jury in October 2007. During all phases of the legal battles, North Texas Muslims mobilized large demonstrations. A conservative “pro-Israel” group also organized a big public event. The Dallas Peace Center made a strong commitment to defend the Holy Land Five. Activists stood at vigils at the Dallas Federal Courthouse day after day. They believe that the government’s vendetta against the Palestinians was clear since 2001, when the U.S. Justice Department closed the foundation’s offices and froze their assets. Unrelated charges were brought against Ghassan Elashi concerning his export business. Apparently, his company had sold a few used computers to a business in Syria, and Elashi was sent to jail.

A heroine of the movement emerged as Elashi’s daughter, Noor, took up the cause in public and on the Internet. Her comments are at . She says, “But with an appeal already under way, the defendants and their families know the legal fight is not over. Truth and justice will emerge triumphantly from this gloomy low point in American history.” Those who believe in civil rights and justice and America are looking toward the Supreme Court.