A man is taken from his home by 20 armed, militarized police in fascist black uniforms. They break in through the doors and windows, rappel from the roof with ropes, storm the home where he lives with his wife and four children, in the dead of night.
They take him away, and no one hears from him for days, and then weeks, and then months. He isn’t charged with anything; for a long time he is simply disappeared. There is no official charge, but he is a known political activist, a writer, a lecturer.
This isn’t news, because the country is Jordan, the orders come from the US or from Israel, and the man is an Arab, a Palestinian.
I met Amer Jubran 13 years ago when he was living in the United States. He was arrested for the first time at a protest in Brookline, MA that he helped to organize against a yearly celebration of the colonization of Palestine called “Israel Day.” Police arrested him, broke up the demonstration, held him over night in jail with hand and leg shackles, and then charged him with assaulting a passerby. After a lengthy series of court hearings, the judge found the charges to be baseless. Information obtained in the course of the hearings revealed instead that the police had been in the pay of the Israel Day organizers, including the Israeli consulate. The police had been communicating with them about the protest–including details about individual protest organizers–and had more or less acted as agents of a foreign government.
At that time, I knew almost nothing about the history of Palestine. I attended Amer’s trial because the civil rights violations involved in his arrest were so egregious that his case required support from anyone who sincerely believed in basic political rights.
The bulk of Amer’s trial in Brookline took place in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. The US had just declared an open-ended “war against terrorism,” and already news had begun to trickle out about mass detentions of Arab and Muslim men who were being held beyond the reach of any legal authority, detained indefinitely without access to fundamental rights of due process, and stories were starting to come out about the extensive use of torture.
And at the same time the US passed the Patriot Act and reorganized its security apparatus to create a new “Department of Homeland Security.” With it came new types of federal agents with expanded powers over both citizens and non-citizens; federal, state, and local police were increasingly networked with private agencies in JTTFs; ‘fusion centers’ emerged as nodes of uncontrolled ‘information sharing’ about everyone.
Those of us who were politically active at the time could see what was coming. I remember friends circulating a famous quote from Hanna Arendt:
“The first essential step in the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man. This was done, on the one hand, by putting certain categories of people outside the protection of the law and forcing at the same time, through the instrument of denationalization, the nontotalitarian world into recognition of lawlessness; it was done, on the other, by placing the concentration camp outside the normal penal system, and by selecting its inmates outside the normal judicial procedure in which a definite crime entails a predictable penalty.” (Origins of Totalitarianism)
We could see what was coming and those of us who cared got involved however we could.
I got to know Amer in the course of his trial and began to learn about Palestine: the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, the occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967, the continuing circumstances of racist oppression and land theft, not only in all of historic Palestine, but in the entire region surrounding it. To be Palestinian in Nazareth, or in Gaza, or in al Quds (also called Jerusalem), or Khalil (“Hebron”), is much the same as to be Palestinian in Amman (Jordan) or in Sabra and Shatila (Lebanon). The refugees fled murder on their land and it sought them out in the camps. To be Palestinian anywhere in historic Palestine is to be subject to arbitrary detention without trial (‘administrative detention’), and it’s the same in Amman or in Cairo.
I visited Khalil for the first time in 2003. What I saw there became for me an image of the entire region. Some 120,000 Palestinians live in the greater area of Khalil–the city and interconnected villages surrounding it. 400 zionist settlers live in a garrison called Kharsina. For their sake, a regime of total lockdown was imposed on all the Palestinians in the city and villages. All village entries and exits were blocked with boulders and other roadblocks. Curfew imposed. Children couldn’t attend school, elders couldn’t reach hospitals, no one could move goods. All this so that 400 settlers can feel ‘secure’ living on stolen land. This is the meaning of ‘security.’
And this is the image of the region. For the sake of less than 6 million highly privileged colonial-settlers, over 150 million Arabs in the surrounding region live under circumstances of political repression, foreign invasion, occupation, and poverty. No freedom of movement, no freedom of expression, no basic political rights. This is what it means when we say ‘for Israel’s security.’
I learned about Palestine and I became active along with Amer and others we knew in trying to speak for the cause of Palestine where we lived in the United States. Together with other Palestinians living in the area, Amer created an organization called the New England Committee to Defend Palestine.
We spoke of the unity of the Palestinian cause, of liberation for all of historic Palestine, for the rights of refugees to return to their homes.
Two days after the first demonstration of the NECDP, FBI and INS agents broke into Amer’s home in Rhode Island and demanded that he answer some questions. “Please the ears of this gentleman,” said the INS agent pointing to the FBI agent, “or you’ll rot in jail for fifty years.” Amer demanded his right to an attorney. They jailed him, at first without charges or access to a lawyer. We obtained a lawyer for Amer, but they refused to give any information to him when he called, and hung up on him. They held him that way for 17 days. It took an international campaign just to get him a bond hearing.
Eventually the INS (which became the ICE) manufactured immigration charges against Amer to justify–and at the same time conceal–the US government’s political persecution. They now claimed that the marriage through which he had obtained his green card had been fraudulent.
For over a year, we fought the case in hearings before the immigration court. The Department of Homeland Security devoted more than 12 FBI agents to “gathering information” on what was ostensibly an immigration matter. Agents visited members of Amer’s ex-wife’s family and tried to intimidate them into testifying against him. In some cases they showed pictures of Amer taken at demonstrations in the US and claimed that they were images from a “terrorist training camp” in Afghanistan. They tried to connect Amer with 9/11, and to suggest that people who didn’t fully cooperate might make themselves liable to prosecution in connection with “terrorism.”
We fought the case in the immigration court for more than a year. In the course of the proceedings, we submitted FOIA petitions that turned up evidence of widespread cooperation between local police and federal agents in monitoring us and other activists for political activities such as demonstrations, educational websites, and court solidarity. These included the following:
*Still photographs of Amer, his friends, witnesses and supporters taken inside the courtroom during his Brookline trial, and sent to the Boston Police
*A fax cover sheet documenting the communication of records between the Brookline Police and the FBI in July, 2003
*More than twelve video tapes made by the Boston police of pro-Palestine, anti-war, and civil liberties/immigrant rights rallies, which all found their way into a file concerning Amer Jubran
*A memo from the FBI refusing to grant the FOIA petition on the grounds that the subject was “under investigation.”
When it became clear that the immigration court was not a venue in which justice could be obtained, Amer took ‘voluntary departure’ and returned to Jordan in 2004.
Amer’s hearings were well attended by activists. The media closely followed his case, and there was considerable outrage that the government would use immigration proceedings to silence political speech.
A decade has passed. In that time, the arrest and prosecution of Arabs and Muslims for ‘terrorism’ based on speech–especially the defense of the rights of their peoples to resist invasion and occupation by the US or Israel–has been normalized in the framework of domestic security. There is openly a 1st Amendment exception for Arabs and Muslims. Torture and extrajudicial killing (assassination) are no longer dirty secrets, but official policy. Habeas corpus died with the Supreme Court decision in the Hamdi case; the body of policies and cases surrounding indefinite detention outside the reach of the law have now been codified in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, giving the US military the power to detain anyone without recourse to meaningful judicial oversight.
So that now, when 20 black-clad militarized police arrest a Palestinian in his home in Jordan for criticizing US and Israeli policies in the region–an arrest carried out almost certainly at the behest of the US–it just isn’t news. No journalist is interested in the story; no major media outlet will cover it.
Amer continues to be held in Jordan without charges, but has finally been allowed a visit by family, and his whereabouts are now known. His spirit remains strong.
Jordan recently passed legislation further criminalizing political speech as part of its “anti-terrorism” laws. The new amendments specifically criminalize activities that are harmful to Jordan’s relationship with foreign governments. Even before the passage of the new legislation, Jordan had already tried Mwaffaq Mahadin for “endangering relations with a foreign state” for speaking about Jordan’s security cooperation with the US on Al-Jazeera, so it isn’t hard to imagine how the new legislation will be applied. Over the past year, Amer has been sending out critical information and articles about Israeli, US and Jordanian cooperation in destabilizing Syria.
But at this point, it’s hardly even necessary to invent crimes and pass legislation. Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID)–the agency responsible for Amer’s arrest– is a black hole, accountable to no one, except possibly its paymaster, the US. One Jordanian lawyer told me, when I asked about the possibility of filing habeas corpus on Amer’s behalf, “There’s no such thing here. Our country is being maintained as a conduit to Guantanamo.”
Amer might sit indefinitely in detention without charges. Or he may be brought up at any time and charged with “terrorism” before the State Security Court, a rubber stamp court for the GID. If so, his lawyer might be told the charges a day or two before the sham trial, which then leads to inevitable conviction–a mere formality.
Only a concerted political campaign that gets widespread international attention can make any difference. It’s up to us to create enough visibility to make that possible.
Noah Cohen is active with the Amer Jubran Defense Campaign (freeamer.wordpress.com) and can be reached through the campaign at defense (at ) amerjubrandefense.org.