The Government Persecution of Abdul Jabbar Hamdan

Revolutionary Worker #1273, April 3, 2005, posted at

"Now it's the Muslims. Then it's going to be those who speak up for the Muslims—Muslim `sympathizers.' Then it's going to be the sympathizers of the sympathizers. And the net will keep expanding until they basically quell anyone and everyone who doesn't follow their program. that's what fascists do."

Cantor Steve Puzarne, executive director of Breeyah, at a protest against the detention of Abdul Jabbar Hamdan, January 12, 2005

An immigration judge in southern California recently ordered the deportation of Abdul Jabbar Hamdan, a Palestinian who has been living in the United States since his student days in the 1980s. Hamdan had been active in the West Coast Islamic Society in Orange County, California, and worked as a fundraiser for the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a charity organization.

Shortly after September 11, 2001, the government launched an operation against the Holy Land Foundation—at the time the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. The group focused on raising money for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and occupied Palestine and also provided aid for war refugees and disaster victims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Turkey, and the U.S.

In December 2001, after a hearing in Washington, DC, where the government presented secret "evidence," the HLF was shut down. Government officials admitted that "a substantial amount" of the HLF's funds went to charity—but they accused the charity of "supporting terrorism." The HLF was alleged to be "linked" to the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which is on the U.S. government's highly political list of "terrorist" groups. The U.S. government has never made public the supposed evidence it has against the HLF. Officials of the HLF have denied any role in funding what the U.S. government calls terrorism and say that the FBI fabricated evidence against their foundation.

In July 2004 seven HLF officials were indicted in Dallas, Texas, where their headquarters were located. Five were arrested; two others were out of the country at the time. The case against them was so shaky that a federal judge ordered those arrested released without bail.

But at the same time, the government used immigration laws to come at Abdul Jabbar Hamdan. His daughter, Yaman, recently described how federal agents invaded their house last summer: "On July 27, a bunch of people came in at like 4:30 in the morning with guns. They raided my home and they took my dad. They went into every single room."

Since then the government has kept Hamdan imprisoned without bail.


Abdul Jabbar Hamdan, 44 years old, was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. The immigration charges that he is currently being held on have to do with what happened two decades ago. When he was a student at USC in the 1980s, he got sick one semester and dropped a class. So for one semester he was four units short of full-time student status, making him technically in minor violation of his student visa for that brief period.

Hamdan graduated three years later. After working as an environmental engineer for several years, he became an HLF fundraiser. He has been living in the U.S. on a work permit that he last renewed in May 2004. He and his wife Entesar have six children.

Following 9/11, Hamdan was caught up in the U.S. government's widespread harassment and repression of Muslims, Arabs, and people from South Asia. He was questioned by federal authorities who checked his papers and released him. In late 2002, he reported to authorities as part of the U.S. Immigration Service's "special registration" of thousands of people from a number of countries. He has repeatedly talked to the FBI about his role in the HLF, flying to Texas last spring to meet agents there. The next thing he heard from the government was a home invasion by the Immigration SWAT team.

Ban Al-Wardi, president of the L.A.-Orange County Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the RW : "Even the web designer for the Holy Land Foundation was deported. For designing the web site, they accused him of supporting a `terrorist organization.' This is the same situation with Mr. Hamdan. They've refused to indict him for a crime; they've refused to charge him with a crime. They haven't even arrested him for a crime. We're faced with a very serious issue. The government has refused to let his story get out. They've spent hours talking to him about whether he agrees with the Oslo Accords, about what he interprets jihad to mean. What does that have to do with an immigration violation?"

On February 8, Hamdan was ordered deported on the 20-year-old visa violation from his college days. The judge refused to apply the federal amnesty program for immigrants to Hamdan, although all his children are U.S. citizens. The judge also refused to consider his request for political asylum. And Hamdan has been repeatedly denied bail, despite his extensive ties in the community. The reason given for all this was "national security."

Ahilan Arulanantham, a staff attorney for the ACLU and a co-counsel for Abdul Jabbar Hamdan, noted the vague wording of the laws that allow the government to deport people for "national security" reasons. For instance, one law says that to "engage in terrorist activity" means "to solicit funds or other things of value for a terrorist organization...unless the solicitor can demonstrate that he did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the solicitation would further the organization's terrorist activity."

Hamdan says that as soon as the government announced that it was targeting the HLF, he asked HLF officials whether the foundation supported terrorism. They assured him it did not and accused the government of fabricating evidence. But the very fact that Hamdan had asked this question was used by the judge to accuse him of knowing that "something was going on."

The judge also accused him of supporting anotherorganization with "links to terrorism," the Islamic Foundation for Palestine. When Hamdan's attorney pointed out that this second organization was not included in the State Department's list of "terrorist" organizations, the judge said it could be in the future.


Abdul Jabbar Hamdan is one of three prominent Muslims in Orange County targeted by the government in the past year.

Abdul Malik of the Islamic Center of Irvine is currently in U.S. custody. Wagdy Ghoneim, a world-renowned Islamic scholar and the imam of the Islamic Institute of Orange County in Anaheim, was arrested in November 2004 and held on visa violations. The FBI said they had no information that he was a risk to "national security"— but the government turned the absence of evidence into a justification for moving quickly. The U.S. Attorney said after Imam Wagdy's arrest, "Our task is not to sit around and wait for people to blow up buildings."

In mid-December Imam Wagdy, who suffers from a heart condition, was taken to the hospital and shackled to a bed. His family was not told which hospital, and they were forbidden to visit or talk to him. Worried about his health, he agreed to leave the U.S. A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said about the deportation of Imam Wagdy: "This plays out dozens of times a day throughout the greater Los Angeles area. I would argue that that is due process." In other words, if the government violates many people's rights, then the violation of rights becomes the norm.


On January 12, the Inter-Faith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) organized a protest against the detention of Abdul Jabbar Hamdan. Religious leaders of various faiths gathered near the ICE detention center on Terminal Island in L.A., where Hamdan is being held.

They acted in the spirit of Martin Niemöller, a Protestant minister who survived imprisonment in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany and spoke tirelessly for the rest of his life against the danger of being slow to resist fascism. The protesters at Terminal Island read Niemöller's famous statement: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unions, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then then came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

They spoke before a bronze sculpture of two people gathering fish into nets—a memorial to the former residents of the area. Before 1942, there was a Japanese American fishing village on Terminal Island. The village was destroyed and all the people who lived there were sent to concentration camps when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the detention of people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast. Before hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans were rounded up without trial, the government arrested and detained Buddhist priests and other prominent members of the community in the name of "national security."


The immigration judge who ordered Hamdan's deportation acknowledged that he would be arrested and tortured if he were sent back to Jordan, which is ruled by a pro-U.S. monarchy. For now, Hamdan is not scheduled to actually be deported. His lawyers are planning additional legal actions to obtain his freedom.

Why would a man who has lived in the U.S. for 24 years without even getting a parking ticket be the target of a high-level government operation? Entesar Hamdan thinks the government wants to force her husband to testify against HLF officials.

Yaman Hamdan said she thinks what the U.S. government has been doing to her father is part of a bigger picture: "It's to provoke fear in the Muslim community. They've already targeted three of our biggest imams..They're not just hitting at regular people. They're hitting at people that people look up to, the community's leaders."