Silencing Dissent: The Cases of Three Palestinian Activists Targeted by FBI Probes Show How Government Agencies May Use Immigration and Counterterrorism Measures to Crack Down on Political Activity. (Enemies of the State)

Article excerpt

At 5:45 a.m. on April 26, 2002, two New York police detectives and a federal agent pounded on the door of Bernard McFall's apartment in the Lefrak City housing development in Queens.

McFall stumbled out of bed and made his way to the door. His two houseguests, father and son Farouk and Tarek Abdel-Muhti, had already risen from sleeping bags on the living room floor.

"We're here for Farouk," said a man on the other side of the door. The elder Abdel-Muhri, a Palestinian in his 50s, immediately called his lawyer, Gilma Camargo.

"Ask them if they have a warrant, Camargo instructed him.

"We don't need a fucking warrant!" McFall and Tarek Abdel-Muhti remembered the detective shouting. "You've got explosives and weapons in there."

For the next 30 minutes, McFall and his guests refused to open the door. The police threatened to storm the apartment with a SWAT team, according to the three roommates. Finally, McFall opened the door and two detectives and a plainclothes federal agent entered. One of the detectives immediately walked over to the telephone in the kitchen and cut the line to Camargo.

The federal agent handcuffed Farouk and announced: "You're under arrest for a 1995 deportation order." Tarek, a U.S. citizen, was not arrested.

Now in his tenth month of detention, Abdel-Muhti sits in Pennsylvania's York County Prison under 23-hour lockdown. Although Abdel-Muhti may not be completely blameless, he is one of several Palestinian activists across the country who have found themselves in immigrant detention after protesting Israel's military operations in the West Bank and Gaza.

The climate of fear following September 11 and the sweeping national security enhancements of the USA Patriot Act increased the vulnerability of immigrant activists pleading the Palestinian cause in the United States. These developments also coincided with the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and with George W Bush's markedly bellicose foreign policy.

Civil liberties observers say the federal government has been quietly waging a campaign of surveillance and deportation against Palestinian activists since at least the mid-1980s. "I've been involved in politically motivated immigration cases for the past 20 years," said David Cole, a defense attorney and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. "The vast majority of them have been Palestinian activists. There's a history of the FBI paying more attention to Palestinians, and using the INS to deport them when there's no evidence of criminal wrongdoing."

The Patriot Act has made Palestinian activists more vulnerable to arrest in two important ways: by re-defining a "terrorist organization" as any group with two or more people who have used or threatened to use violence to achieve a political goal, and by giving the attorney general the right to order the detention of any immigrant associated with one of these groups.

The detention of Palestinian activists is part of a gradual encroachment on the space of dissent, says Rania Masri, codirector of the Southern Peace Research and Education Center in Durham, North Carolina. "I think Ashcroft and company would like to silence everybody eventually," she said. "We're already seeing citizens of Palestinian heritage held under secret evidence on suspicion of terrorism." Masri says the detention campaign has also intimidated Arab and Muslim dissent against the war in Iraq: "It's making them extremely hesitant to speak up. I've seen fear in people who are perfectly legal."

Deporting Dissidents

Farouk Abdel-Muhti was born in the waning years of the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1940s. Abdel-Muhti says he and his family fled their home after the Six Day War, in which Israel routed its Arab adversaries and seized the West Bank from Jordan. In Jordan, the family joined the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Since at least the late 1970s, Abdel-Muhti has lived in the U. …