Tributes Paid to Prominent Activist 'Internally Banished' by US for Decades

Michaela Whitton
April 25, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) Chicago, IL — Tributes are being paid to a prominent activist and respected leader from Chicago’s Palestinian community. Palestinian-born U.S. citizen, Muhammad Salah, who died Sunday after a battle with cancer, was a living, breathing symbol of everything wrong with the so-called “War on Terror.”

After fighting his entire life for freedom and justice for Palestinians everywhere, Salah faced the same oppressive forces that drive witch hunts against the Muslim community and pro-Palestine activists today. Highlighting governmental abuse of power, the Chicago grocer’s story mirrors the lives of those who remain under siege by institutionalised profiling, which is often fuelled by political statements and media hysteria.

Internal banishment

Persecuted by Israel, the United States, and the pro-Israel lobby for more than twenty years, the mild-mannered father of five was labeled a terrorist and subjected to an unprecedented embargo by the U.S. Department of Treasury in 1995.

Labeled the only designated U.S. terrorist for years, Salah’s special status rendered his every movement, purchase, transaction, and life decision subject to review. Inevitably, his family also carried the burden. During the seventeen years he was listed by the U.S. as a “Specially Designated Terrorist,” his assets were frozen and his basic freedoms severely limited.

Salah’s unique status — imposed without notice or consultation in violation of his basic human rights — essentially resulted in what lawyers described as “Internal Banishment.” The form of punishment gained notoriety under South Africa’s apartheid regime and allows governments to decide which people sentenced individuals may interact with.

Once described as the longest-running terrorism case in U.S. history, Saleh faced trial in 2006 on charges of funding terrorism. After a thirteen-year saga that began with his arrest by the Israeli authorities in 1993, he was accused of furnishing Palestinian group, Hamas, with money and recruits.

Months after Israel expelled over 400 Palestinians accused of being part of Hamas from their homes, Salah was arrested by Israeli soldiers as he attempted to deliver humanitarian aid to those affected. Accused of being a Hamas commander, he was held in an Israeli prison for five years. Eventually, he signed a confession after days of torture by the Israeli secret service.

Endorsing foreign interrogation methods

During that period, the U.S. designated Hamas a terrorist organisation; by extension, Salah was designated a terrorist. After returning home to Chicago, he continued to face persecution until the formal charges of funding terrorism were brought against him in 2004.

For the first time in history, testimonies of Israeli intelligence agents were heard in a U.S. courtroom; at the same time, the judicial process raised questions for human rights organisations. The U.S. justice system was heavily criticised for accepting Salah’s confession, which was extracted under Israeli Shin Bet torture — meaning the United States had endorsed foreign interrogation methods.

Acquitted of all terrorism-related charges in 2007, Salah was convicted on a single count of obstruction of justice. The scantily publicised acquittal was hailed as a victory for opponents of torture, government secrecy, and the U.S. government’s’ uncritical support for Israel.

However, despite his acquittal, Salah was not able to get a job, pay rent, obtain medical care, or buy groceries without Treasury Department approval until he filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2012, at which point the special status was quietly removed.

In a response to news of Salah’s passing,  a statement by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago praised the Chicago businessman’s “positive attitude through decades of difficulties, that many people would consider impossible.”

At the same time, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network extended condolences to Salah’s family, loved ones and community, adding:

“We pledge to carry on the struggle, to seek freedom and justice for all political prisoners in U.S. prisons – from Mumia Abu-Jamal, Oscar Lopez Rivera and Leonard Peltier to Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Rasmea Odeh, and the Holy Land Five – Israeli prisons, and international prisons; to confront the so-called “anti-terror” law that terrorize oppressed communities and target liberation movements; and to struggle for justice and liberation for Palestine and the Palestinian people.”

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