the last 20 years, the U.S. government has accused me of being a terrorist.
Along with six other Palestinians and a Kenyan, we were dubbed the "Los
Angeles Eight" by the media. Our case even made it to the U.S. Supreme
Oct. 30 -- 20 grueling years after the early morning raid in which armed
federal agents barged into my apartment, brutally arrested me before my
3-year-old son's eyes, incarcerated me in maximum security cells in San Pedro
State Prison for 23 days without bond, and attempted to deport me -- the
government dropped all charges fabricated against me. The charges involved
accusations of aiding a member group of the Palestine Liberation Organization
that the government alleged aided terrorism. But Los Angeles immigration Judge
Bruce J. Einhorn had ordered an end to the deportation proceedings against us
last January because the government failed to comply with his order to disclose
evidence that supported our innocence. He called their behavior "an
embarrassment to the rule of law."
did the U.S. government spend 20 years trying to ban us from this country?
Because we tried to educate Americans about the situation facing millions of
Palestinians living in apartheid-like conditions under Israeli military
occupation. Because we organized fundraisers to provide Palestinians with
humanitarian support. And because we attended demonstrations to urge a shift in
U.S. policy away from unconditional financial and diplomatic support of Israel.
government robbed us and our families of the best and most productive years of
our lives. For more than 20 years, they vilified us in public without recourse.
We'll never be able to entirely erase the negative words and images they
manufactured about us. Our case is a stark example, and is different only in
degree, from what routinely befalls those who call for equal rights for
Palestinians and press for a fair Middle East U.S. policy consistent with
international law. In February of this year, two others who advocated equal
rights for Palestinians -- Mohammed Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar -- were found
not guilty of terrorism charges based in part on evidence provided by Israel
and obtained through the use of torture.
Carter, university professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt and Nobel
laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu face charges of anti-Semitism and shoddy
scholarship meant to intimidate, discredit and silence them.
it may be surprising, but I don't hold a grudge. Throughout this 20-year plus
ordeal, we never lost faith that we would win against this political and legal
oppression. Not only because of our innocence, but because of the tremendous,
unfaltering support that we enjoyed all these years across religious, ethnic
and civic communities, and a legal team that did not waver once in its
commitment to justice. This incredible support has taught us more about America
than we could have learned in two lifetimes; the support of such people who are
a living example and a role model for immigrants -- to positively engage with
the issues facing the country on a daily basis. Struggling to make the place a
bit better than when we arrived is what made America home to us. We made that
choice, and we're the better for it.
two American-born sons learned though this experience the meaning of
establishing a strong grassroots connection and of getting involved with their
community. The words justice, freedom, equality and civil liberties are not
words they learned in school that will become empty clich�s as they grow older.
They are concepts that have real meaning to them, that affect their family and
community. They know that they must be vigilantly protected, especially when
the issues they advocate are not popular, or at times of war, and conflict,
when the first causalities are our basic freedoms -- free speech, the right to
dissent and to disagree with the government -- the very basis of democracy.
the beginning, we said that our case was a political one and that the
government made us victims of a political witch-hunt. We persevered all these
years and defeated the attempt to uproot us from our communities, break our
families apart, and deport us, because we were innocent. Free at last, we are
finally exonerated and it tastes sweet. We will savor the sweetness. And we
will use it to fuel our determination to defend the same issues that our
supporters defended through us: justice, civil liberties, freedom and immigrant
rights. We believe that this is the America for which we continually aspire,
the America that is just, here at home and in faraway places -- with policies
based on fairness, equality, and a shared humanity.
Michel Shehadeh is a research associate in the Arab and Muslim
Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative in the College of Ethnic Studies at San
Francisco State University.