Samidoun mourns Muhammad Salah, Palestinian community leader, former prisoner in US and Israeli jails

Muhammad Salah with his lawyer, Michael Deutsch. Photo: People's Law Office
Muhammad Salah with his lawyer, Michael Deutsch. Photo: People’s Law Office

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network expresses its condolences to the Salah family and the broader Palestinian community of Chicago and the United States on the passing of Muhammad Salah, prominent Palestinian activist and community leader in the Chicago area, former political prisoner in Israeli jails, survivor of Israeli torture, and subject of extensive U.S. state repression. We express our deepest condolences to Muhammad’s wife Maryam, his children, family, loved ones, and entire community.

Muhammad Salah’s victory in court in 2006 – and his second victory six years later, with his removal from the ‘Specially Designated Terrorist’ list – was, as the US Palestinian Community Network Chicago writes, “a prominent court victory for our community in the period of the ‘War on Terrorism’ and the consistent political and legal attacks on Palestinian rights and our struggle for national liberation.”

For over twenty years, Salah faced joint persecution at the hands of the Israeli occupation and the U.S. government. A grocer in Chicago, he traveled to deliver humanitarian and financial aid to Palestinians in Gaza in 1993 and was seized as he entered; this was before the so-called “material support laws,” the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and the later revisions to follow in the Patriot Act and elsewhere, existed. However, the Israeli state’s policy of mass arrests of Palestinians and the criminalization of Palestinian political, social and national institutions was of course in full force, as it had been for decades; and Salah’s case played a significant role in the development of U.S/Israeli strategies of repression of the Palestinian-American community and its strong, active role in the Palestinian national liberation movement.

Salah was beaten and blindfolded before undergoing “extensive interrogation” at the hands of the Israeli Shin Bet. Michael Deutsch and Erica Thompson, Salah’s lawyers, noted in their extensive article on the case (Part 1, Part 2) the various forms of physical and psychological torture inflicted on Salah by the Shin Bet and collaborators during a five-week interrogation period, after which he signed on to a forced confession.  The Israeli state – with U.S. official and media complicity – launched a propaganda blitz not only labeling Salah an activist with Hamas, but a “military leader” heading a massive “U.S. leadership network” for Hamas.  An Israeli military court sentenced him to five years in prison – a harsh, unjust penalty, yet also highly incongruent with the dramatic claims of Israeli officials and media.

The targeting of Muhammad Salah was always intended as a mechanism not only to target this one Palestinian, but the entire Palestinian community in the United States. As Salah’s lawyers wrote, “The goal had been…to get a confession that would…start a movement to cut off U.S. funding and support for the Palestinian cause, and provide a road map for pro-Israel forces in the United States to target supporters of Palestine.”

On the basis of the confession produced under torture by the Shin Bet, Salah was designated a “Specially Designated Terrorist” – requiring a special license to earn or spend money and special approval to work, hire a doctor or lawyer, or conduct financial transactions. He was so designated by the U.S. government while imprisoned in an Israeli jail, despite his U.S. citizenship, and the designation met him – along with FBI agents and undercover informants -when he returned to the U.S. in 1997 after his release from Israeli prison. Salah lived through years of informants, wiretapping, omnipresent surveillance, and false allegations, until he was acquitted in 2007 of charges brought against him in 2004 of “racketeering,” alongside co-defendant Abdelhaleem Ashqar. Earlier attempts to charge him with “material support” for terrorism had failed.

Salah was convicted of one charge of obstruction and sentenced to twenty-one months in prison, a sentence he served. When released, once again he lived under “internal banishment.” He could not get a job, participate in political activities, donate to charity, or even buy a book or newspaper. in 2012, he filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Treasury. “In response to the lawsuit, and without attempting to defend its designation of Mr. Salah, the Department of Treasury unilaterally removed Mr. Salah from the Special Designated Terror list. After 17 years of oppressive restrictions on his ability to undertake basic life activities, Mr. Salah and his family are freed from the burdens placed upon him by the U.S. Government. The decision represents a total victory for Mr. Salah,” noted the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Muhammad Salah struggled throughout his life: for justice, freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people, in Palestine, in the United States, and everywhere in exile and diaspora. He confronted the same oppressive forces that today threaten and persecute Rasmea Odeh and imprison the Holy Land Five – and the same oppressive forces who brought the full force of the U.S. repressive machinery to bear against the Black Liberation Movement, against the American Indian Movement, against Puerto Rican independentistas. He was faced with the full force of the U.S./Israel imperialist-Zionist nexus of power and all forms of state repression: imprisonment, “internal banishment,” terror designation, torture – and continued to struggle and to seek freedom.

We mourn the loss of Muhammad Salah, a victim and survivor of injustice who continued to fight for justice and confront oppression throughout his life, and extend our deepest condolences to his family, loved ones, and community – and 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.