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Civil Rights Lawyer: War on Palestinians Extends to Those With US Citizenship

US inaction sends a message that Israel can even target Palestinian Americans with impunity, says Edward Ahmed Mitchell.

We look at the killing, arrests and attacks on Palestinian Americans both in the Occupied Territories and in the United States. We speak with the son of Palestinian American Samaher Esmail, who was detained in the West Bank by the Israeli military last week, beaten in custody and denied medication, according to her family. “They came in the middle of the night, raided our home, dragged her out of the house in her pajamas, didn’t even give her a chance to wear her hijab,” says Suliman Hamed, who says Israeli forces are persecuting Palestinians like Esmail for social media posts. We also speak with Edward Ahmed Mitchell, civil rights attorney and national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, about other cases, including 17-year-old Palestinian American teenager Mohammad Ahmed Mohammad Khdour, who was shot dead on Saturday in the town of Biddu in the occupied West Bank; 17-year-old Palestinian American Tawfiq Ajjaq, who was fatally shot in the head in January in the West Bank; and the stabbing of Zacharia Doar, a 23-year-old Palestinian American in Texas. “There is a war happening against Palestinian Americans, a war on their right to free speech, a war on their culture,” says Mitchell.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

A Palestinian American detained in the West Bank by the Israeli military last week was beaten in custody and denied medication. This is according to her family. Samaher Esmail was detained near the Silwad village area in the West Bank February 5th. The family said she was dragged from her home by Israeli soldiers and badly beaten. They also said her home was destroyed in the raid. The Israeli military confirmed Esmail’s detention, saying she was arrested for, quote, “incitement on social media,” but did not respond to the allegations of mistreatment raised by the family.

The family is calling on the State Department to gain consular access to her and to secure her release. At a press briefing, the State Department said it could not address any specifics about the case.

Samaher Esmail’s case is just one of a number of Palestinian Americans detained, attacked or killed, both in the occupied West Bank and in the United States. And we’re going to go through some of those cases.

We’re joined now by Samaher Esmail’s son, Suliman Hamed. He’s joining us from New Orleans. And we’re joined from Atlanta by Edward Ahmed Mitchell, a civil rights attorney and national deputy director of CAIR. That’s the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Suliman, can you tell us about your mother? Where was she when she was detained? What’s exactly happened to her? Have you been able to communicate with her in the Israeli jail that she’s being held?

SULIMAN HAMED: Hi. Yes. So, I’m Suliman Hamed. I can give you a little bit of insight on that.

So, it was Monday morning, February 5th, Jerusalem time. They came in the middle of the night, raided our home, dragged her out of the house in her pajamas, didn’t even give her a chance to wear her hijab. They broke stuff all inside the house. They came in with muddy shoes on purpose. And long story short, they came and took her, and ever since, we have not had any communication with her. It’s been very traumatic, very anxiety-inducing. Yeah, so that’s what happened.

And, you know, we’re hearing there’s not even a formal charge. On Monday, the judge ruled that she’s not a security threat, and there was no charge, so he allowed her to get put out on bail. And I’m not sure exactly who, either the IDF or the Israeli military commissions, somebody appealed it, and they have an automatic appeal process. So, once that happened, she had to be in detention for what I believe is at least another four days, maybe up to another week. And from there, we’ll what — they’re just trying to find a charge now to charge her with, even though she’s been in custody for a week. And this past week, she’s been, you know, questioned, interrogated, all that. You know, it seems like they’re just trying to find something to pin her, just because they’re annoyed with her for speaking her mind. So, yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, when they came into your home, there was no explanation whatever why they were there? Or were they specifically looking for her, or were they seeking other people when they came into your home?

SULIMAN HAMED: No, no. I mean, apparently, they were looking for her, but we had no knowledge. Like, she would have been fine with coming in. And, like, if they had something against her, she would have definitely, like, came in and handled the situation. But, no, we had no idea she was wanted or they were looking for her. They did come into my village that day, and they took multiple people, all for, what it appears to be, like, social media, just something that they may have liked that they don’t like, you know, something just supporting Palestine. So, that’s all I know about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s bring in Edward Ahmed Mitchell to talk about Samaher Esmail’s case. And then we’re going to talk about the other cases. Another young man from your community itself, from Gretna, a Palestinian American, was just killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. But first, let’s continue with Samaher’s arrest. Edward Ahmed Mitchell, you and Suliman and others held a news conference on Monday in Washington, D.C., demanding the State Department deal with these Palestinian Americans. Can you talk about what they’re saying about Samaher Esmail?

EDWARD AHMED MITCHELL: Thanks for having me, Amy.

So, the Israeli government is completely out of control. They’re not only committing a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, but they are targeting, kidnapping, even killing Palestinian Americans in Gaza and the West Bank. This attack on Samaher is just the latest example of that.

And our State Department is, to be frank, not doing enough. They claim they are working behind the scenes to look into the issue. They made general statements about the importance of protecting American citizens abroad. But the reality is they are not publicly condemning or taking any concrete action to hold the Israeli government accountable for abusing American citizens. And if even Palestinian Americans are not safe, you can imagine that Palestinians are not safe at all.

And so, that’s the condition we’re in. The State Department is just making general vague statements, you know, that they could say about anything, boilerplate statements, but they’re not using any concrete action to protect American citizens who are being attacked by the Israeli government.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion and talk about a young man from Gretna, Louisiana, just like Samaher Esmail is from Gretna, Louisiana, but this teen was killed. We’re talking to Edward Ahmed Mitchell, civil rights attorney and national deputy director of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. And we’re speaking with Samaher’s son, Suliman Hamed. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “That Moment When” by Adnan Joubran. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The family of — we’re looking at calls for the U.S. State Department to address the killing, the arrests and attacks on Palestinian Americans, both in the Occupied Territories and here at home. We just spoke about the case of Samaher Esmail, a Palestinian American woman from Gretna, Louisiana, forcibly taken by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the family of two Palestinian American brothers say the pair, their Canadian father and three other relatives have been detained after an Israeli raid on their home in Gaza. The brothers, Borak and Hashem Alagha, are aged 18 and 20. National security spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. will talk to Israel about the detention of the brothers, as well as Samaher Esmail.

We also learned about the stabbing in Texas, the Sunday stabbing in Austin, of 23-year-old Palestinian American Zacharia Doar, which is being called a hate crime.

For more, we continue with Edward Ahmed Mitchell, civil rights attorney and national deputy director of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Suliman Hamed, Samaher Esmail’s son. If you can talk about this arrest, killing and detention and attacks on Palestinian Americans, what the State Department is saying in each case? We’ve also learned about the killing of two Palestinian American teens, one in Biddu — the State Department is just saying they’re looking into this — as well as another young man from Gretna.

EDWARD AHMED MITCHELL: Amy, sadly, you have described what the State Department is saying, and it’s what they say every time this happens — “We’re looking into it. We care about American citizens abroad” — and that’s about all you get from them, no condemnations of the Israeli government, no concrete action, nothing. And so, whether it’s the shooting of the young man from New Orleans, who was shot in the head while driving in a car with his family, whether it’s the kidnapping of the two Palestinian Americans from Gaza, one of them who already had a broken leg and whose home had been destroyed twice by Israeli bombing, you don’t get much from the State Department other than “We’re looking into it, and we care about the safety of American citizens abroad.”

What they need to be doing is very clearly and explicitly condemning the Israeli government for attacking not only American citizens who are in Palestine, but also Palestinians in general. And as long as the Israeli government feels that the American government will not hold them accountable for even targeting American citizens, then, of course, they’re going to target everyone, without any sort of — with impunity, sadly. And that’s what we’re seeing happen.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Suliman — the efforts by — all the attention so far in world press coverage has been on Gaza, for the most part, not on what is happening to Palestinians in the West Bank. You mentioned that when your mother was taken, was arrested, there were others in your same town that were arrested by the IDF. Can you talk about what life is like for those living in the West Bank today?

SULIMAN HAMED: Yeah, of course. It’s filled with just humiliation, harassment by Israeli forces. They come in — they come in in the middle of the night and take your little boy, take your little girl, take your mom, take your dad. They have no respect for us. They have said on record multiple times that they see us as animals. And that’s how it feels, like we’re second-class, even third-class citizens to them. And like you said, like, this was all in the West Bank. This isn’t a war zone. There’s no Hamas. There’s nothing like that over there. So, it’s just — again, they treat us poorly.

And I want to actually add something, because I forgot to mention this. But, you know, about my mom’s condition, her lawyer had said that she had been beaten in prison. She witnessed and wrote an official statement, that we got, to the U.S. Embassy that said that she had bruises, black and blue all over her body, specifically on her hands and back. She was shaking from lack of, like, I guess, medication and the abuse she’s received. They’ve had her medication for over seven days now — now it’s like day nine — and they still have yet to administer it. You know, they’re just cruel. They’re cruel. And, you know, it’s not a way to treat a person, first of all, and not a way to treat a U.S. citizen. And I want to see the embassy, you know, speak up about that and —

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go —

SULIMAN HAMED: — go see my mom.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller addressing reporters on Tuesday.

MATTHEW MILLER: When we see reports of U.S. citizens that have been detained, have been arrested, that have been killed, have been in any way potentially mistreated, we first gather information. If it’s appropriate, we ask for a full investigation. If that investigation shows that there ought to be accountability, we call for accountability measures. I will also state that when it comes to activity in Israel, we — the United States has shown that it is willing to impose its own accountability measures when we think it’s appropriate.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Matthew Miller. And I want to address this to the lawyer, looking also at the case of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, the 17-year-old Palestinian American shot and killed in the occupied West Bank last week. Tawfic was born, again, in Gretna, Louisiana, across the river from New Orleans. He and his family returned frequently to their ancestral home in the village of al-Mazra’a ash-Sharqiya in the occupied West Bank. On January 19, Tawfic and a friend were driving in a pickup truck on a dirt road near the village when they came under fire from at least 10 shots hitting the truck. One of the bullets struck the Tawfic in the head. The car skidded off the road, flipped several times before coming to a stop. He was pronounced dead when he was brought to the hospital in Ramallah. Israeli police didn’t identify who fired the shots, but described incident as, quote, “ostensibly involving an off-duty law enforcement officer, a soldier and a civilian.” The White House has called for a transparent investigation into the killing. Edward Ahmed Mitchell, if you can tell us more about this case? And then we’ll talk about just what happened outside Austin, Texas, a case you’re representing, as well.

EDWARD AHMED MITCHELL: Right. So, it’s been almost a month since that young man was shot in the head and killed. Has the State Department done anything more? Has the Israeli government announced charges against those responsible? No, because they’re not going to do it. You don’t ask the abuser to investigate himself. What the State Department is doing is releasing boilerplate statements after these incidents occur, and then nothing happens.

And you know this because you can go back even further. We all remember the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, what, a few years ago. Has anyone been charged with killing her? Has the Israeli government held anyone accountable? No. In fact, the Israeli government has said they’re not going to charge anyone with killing her, even though it was a sniper who did it, she was wearing a press vest, and even the people who tried to save her were then shot at. The Israeli government is not going to hold itself accountable. Only the American government can do that, but the American government is refusing to do so.

And so, whether it’s, again, the young man who was shot in the head, the two people who were kidnapped in Gaza, or Samaher, who was kidnapped in the West Bank, you see the same pattern over and over and over again. The State Department says something very basic and generic, and then they don’t do anything about it, and they wait for the story to fade away. And that sends the message to Israel: You can do whatever you want, even to American citizens, and no one will hold you accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: And how significant is it that the Austin police have declared a hate crime of the attack on Zacharia Doar and his friends in Austin? Explain what happened. You are involved with this case, Edward?

EDWARD AHMED MITCHELL: Yeah. So, this is a case I’ve been helping with. So, on February 4th, there was a pro-ceasefire protest held in Austin. After this event, Zacharia and three of his friends were traveling home in a car. They had the keffiyeh, a keffiyeh flag hanging out of their car, with “Free Palestine” written on it. They had other signs of Palestine on the car. When they got to a stop sign, a man named Bert Baker approached their car, attempted to rip the flag off the car, and then attacked them, opened the back door, pulled Zacharia out of the car. A fight ensued. His three friends jumped out and tried to help him. They subdued the guy, the attacker, and then he pulled out a knife. And Zacharia actually jumped in the way of one of his friends and saved them, but was stabbed in the process. So, the police department, relatively quickly, confirmed what we knew and what we had said and we asked them to say, which is that it was a hate crime.

And this is just the latest example of an anti-Palestinian or anti-Muslim hate crime in the United States. We all know about the 6-year-old boy, Wadea, who was stabbed and killed outside of Chicago back in October by his anti-Muslim landlord. We know about the shooting of the three Palestinian college kids in Burlington, Vermont, who were, again, wearing the keffiyeh in public and just shot on the street.

This is happening again and again because, Amy, there is not only a war happening against Palestinians in Gaza, there is a war happening against Palestinian Americans, a war on their right to free speech, a war on their culture. And that is designed to silence them. And you can’t weaponize anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Palestinian racism against people in Gaza without it having blowback here in America on people right here at home. And that’s what we’ve been seeing over the past four months.

AMY GOODMAN: Suliman, your final comment, as we wrap up this segment? If you can talk about your mother?

SULIMAN HAMED: Yeah, sure. My mom, I mean, she’s the sweetest lady. Everybody knows her in our community. She’s a teacher — she was a teacher, a businesswoman, a mother of four. She raised us with good morals. She raised us to be good kids, professionals. Again, just the sweetest woman, a helper. She just — again, she expresses her opinion, and sometimes she demands justice. And, you know, I applaud her for that. She’s my hero for that. I don’t think it’s anything for her to be in prison about.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Suliman Hamed, we want to thank you for being with us. We’ll continue to follow your mother’s case. And Edward Ahmed Mitchell, civil rights attorney and national deputy director of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

That does it for our show. We want to thank all those who participated in producing today’s broadcast: Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Nermeen Shaikh, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Go to democracynow.org for all transcripts and podcasts.

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