Government Persecution Continues in the LA 8 Case

Revolutionary Worker #1168, September 29, 2002, posted at

Since 1987, the U.S. government has hounded Palestinian activist Michel Shehadeh, who the San Francisco Bay Guardian called "one of the nation's foremost Arab American civil rights leaders." Now, he faces deportation under the PATRIOT Act--the extremely repressive law put into effect by the government after the September 11, 2001 events. The new charges were filed in June 2002.

Michel Shehadeh and six other Palestinian men and one of their partners, a Sudanese woman, are known as the LA8. In 1987, they were arrested in paramilitary raids in Los Angeles by the FBI and INS. The government and the media accused them of being "terrorists" and began attempts to deport them. But the government's accusations against the LA8 involved legal activities such as distributing newspapers, participating in demonstrations, and organizing humanitarian aid fundraisers for Palestinians in the Middle East. The funds were used for hospitals, day care centers, and schools run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group within the PLO that the U.S. government had labeled "terrorist."

David Cole of the Center for Constitutional Rights said last year about the LA8 case, "The Justice Department, through then FBI-head William Webster, has admitted from day one that had our clients been U.S. citizens, there would have been nothing to do about their lawful activities advocating for Palestinian rights and a Palestinian homeland."

The LA8 has actually won their case several times. After they were originally charged under the 1952 anti-communist McCarran-Walter Act, this law was declared unconstitutional. Then for eight years the LA8 faced deportation under the 1990 Immigration Act, even though the law itself said the government could not use it retroactively, on cases that were already in the immigration courts when the law was passed.

Now, Michel Shehadeh--together with another of the LA8, Khader Hamide--is being charged under the PATRIOT Act. The rest of the LA8 face ongoing charges of technical visa violations. The outcome of Shehadeh's and Hamide's cases could also affect their situation.

Michel Shehadeh has continued to resist the government's political persecution by speaking out and organizing. Until recently he was a leader of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). He participates in the Pacifica Network's Radio Intifada , a weekly news show on the Middle East. All this at a time when just looking Arab can put you in danger. The Revolutionary Worker recently spoke to Michel Shehadeh about his case, the times, and his continued resistance.

RW :Do the new government charges mean that they're still going after you for what you did before 1987, and trying to make new laws apply?

Michel Shehadeh: They are talking about the same period of time, which is before 1987. It's still "material aid to terrorism." They want to use us as a test case to stifle debate. It's been proven now that the LA8 case from the beginning was a test case. Now they want to test the PATRIOT Act, to see what the loopholes are, and go back into Congress and enact new laws, and stop dissent, basically.

RW :This case has always been two-sided. You've gotten a lot of support over the years.

MS :The support has been tremendous. It's been nationwide. It's been alive for 15 years now, and people know about it and people know what it means. Civil libertarians, human rights and ethnic organizations, you name it. Political peace and justice movements, anti-war movements. All the people who know about it, and the new generations who keep knowing about it through our activism. And this is why the government hasn't been able to succeed, because of that support.

RW :You've also refused to chill out your activism in all this time.

MS: I haven't stopped doing what I'm doing. I've always lawfully engaged in activities that are protected by the Constitution. I'm not going to allow them to intimidate me. I keep saying they can do whatever they want to do, but they're not going to control my mind. I will keep talking about the truth.

RW: How have you been able to persevere? What keeps you going?

MS: I believe that the United States public needs our perspective, because we as immigrants who came from certain regions bring our experience and our lives and our truth with us. It seems that some elements of the government don't want this point of view to come out to the public. They want to monopolize the text, the narration of what's going on in the Middle East. They want to keep one version, which is the U.S. government's version and the Israeli version, and they don't want the Palestinian point of view to come out.

RW :You do a lot of work in the Arab immigrant community here in southern California. What's that been like in the last year?

MS : Many of them are scared because they see a situation where they're just being targeted for who they are and nothing else. And we, the activists, feel that this is the time for us to stay strong for the community and for the movement in general because we're not isolated from the whole community, we're a part of it. We're targeted and we should be in the forefront of defending the right of others. We're targeted as a community now, but all immigrants are targeted. In the past other immigrant communities were targeted. So we need to band together and stop this fascism.

RW :Recently, on September 14, you spoke at an anti-war rally in Westwood, L.A., sponsored by the International Action Center. I counted about 1,000 people there. How did you feel speaking to that crowd?

MS: There was a big crowd there. We keep at it. We need to go out in the streets more often, because it's a way to get our voices heard because mainstream media is not going to get our point of view. They're going to give us a couple of seconds and most of the time they put us in a bad light. So we need to keep going out and organizing. Especially with the context of the "war on terrorism" and the war on Iraq, it's a war on the world basically.

We need to be out there more than ever, because there isn't anybody else in the world: not France, not Germany, not England. Not even Nelson Mandela can stop this mad escalation. But it is the people in America who can do it. The U.S. public is shouldering this responsibility. That's why it's a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of each and every one of us. Because we are the only people who can really stop it, because we are here.

RW :People took the Not In Our Name Pledge to Resist at the rally.

MS: I love the Pledge to Resist. Because it's pro-active. It says we're going to resist, and we're going to stop you, and that's empowering. We cannot afford not to resist, because this administration and the right wing in this country has taken us to a place where a lot of suffering is going to result from that policy. We can't afford to let these policies continue.

RW :On September 11, 2001, we were all watching TV. And very quickly, it became clear that the U.S. government was going to target whole countries, attack civil liberties within the U.S., and especially profile and target Arab people and others. What were you thinking that day?

MS: I was watching the scene and it was horrible, watching people throw themselves from the towers. And then I went and visited Ground Zero. The enormity of the tragedy went into my mind, and I felt that all of these families are going to be mourning and grieving because of the people that they lost. But also I remembered how many other Ground Zeroes there are in the world. How many Ground Zeroes there are in Iraq. How many there are in Afghanistan. And many of those Ground Zeroes are the responsibility of the U.S. Air Force and government, the death that comes from above. I thought in my mind that I would dedicate all I can to try to stop Ground Zeroes from happening anywhere in the world.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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