The five Palestinians convicted Monday of channeling $12 million to Hamas via the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation are indeed guilty under US law. The reason is that since 1995 the US has designated Hamas a terrorist organization.
But this does not mean the law is right. Significantly, US prosecutors did not seek to prove the money raised by the men was used to finance terrorism, merely that the humanitarian aid, which they accepted that it did indeed fund, was used to promote Hamas and allowed it to divert other funds to militant activities.
The five now face jail sentences ranging up to 55 years. Yet a jury last year failed to reach a verdict in this case, almost certainly because some members could not accept that raising humanitarian aid for the Israeli-besieged Gaza ghetto was really a crime. The Bush White House was not, however, having any of that. The Justice Department declared a mistrial and sent the case to trial again. In the wake of this week’s verdict, a senior US law officer hailed the finding as an important milestone in American action against “financiers of terrorism.”
In an altogether more measured response, defense lawyers, saying they would appeal, added that while they respected the jury’s finding, they believed the verdict was unjust and un-American. “The criminalization of legitimate charitable giving is not an attack just on the American Muslim community; it is an attack on every American who believes in the moral duty to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and heal the sick.”
This verdict once again demonstrates America’s inability to understand any perspective but its own. Hamas grew from links with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at a time when the PLO leadership was in exile in Tunis and the Fatah administration in the occupied territories had become a byword for corruption and passivity. Unlike Islamic Jihad, whose aim was nothing but militancy, Hamas began as a humanitarian organization, operating schools, hospitals and welfare programs. The Israelis thought it would become a useful counter to the sway of the PLO. Yet keeping people alive, healthy and educated during the Israeli occupation was in itself a form of resistance. Militant resistance came later and so too did a political presence. The US administration insists on ignoring that in January 2006, Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament in the sort of free and fair democratic elections that Bush said he wanted for all the Middle East.
Blinkered by the 1995 proscription of Hamas, Americans cannot see it as a legitimate organization and internationally, not just in the Muslim world, Hamas is recognized as such. In its politics, its charity and to some outsiders, its dogged militant resistance to superior Israeli forces, Hamas presents itself not as part of the problem, but as a part of the solution. The Holy Land Foundation prosecutions, however technically correct, represent a dying US administration’s continued conflict with reality. By denying the facts and insisting on his own ill-informed worldview, Bush never had a chance of contributing to a Palestinian settlement.