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Until Return - Issue 2

Victory for the LA 8
by Yousef Abudayyeh
For the LA8 Committee For Justice

November 15, 2007

It was becoming clear that early afternoon of Monday 26 January 1987 that we were in for a major fight with the US government. The word began to spread around Los Angeles that some of our friends had been arrested in early morning raids in their homes that day. Edward Meese III, the US Attorney General spread the news to the media, and the radio stations began talking about the capture of a major terrorist cell in Los Angeles.

All of our efforts to bail out the 7 Palestinian friends and the Kenyan wife of one of them failed miserably. Our friend Brian Hudson, a lawyer we had known for many years, asked his partner if it would be OK for us to use their law office as an “operation room” where we could assemble a defense team and plan the next steps to get our friends out of the highest security prison in Southern California.

It became obvious to all of us early in the case, that we could not lose this fight, nor could we allow this government to win it, since it would have set a dangerous precedent that would be used against all minority immigrant groups in the US anytime it suited their purpose.

We decided we needed to do the following:

- Establish a committee (we later called it The Committee for Justice), with people from all walks of life. The NLG and the ACLU offered their brightest legal minds. Rights groups from El Salvador to Japan understood that this fight was as much theirs as ours, and the Arab community came out as never before in a show of support that said very loud and clear: these young people are our children, brothers and sister - we know that they have done nothing wrong, and the attack on them is an attack on all of us!

- We needed to make sure that we did everything in our power to get our friends out of jail. We also needed to keep our supporters informed every step of the way. This meant that the Lawyers did their work during the day, and came back to the community at night with the updates and requests. We had a community meeting pretty much every night of the week until we were able to get our friends out of their cells and back home to where they should have been for the previous two weeks.

- We had been in the process of organizing an annual community event before the arrests and the decision was made that it was important go forward so the public and the US government knew we refused to be intimidated. We needed to intensify our efforts to make sure that the event would be the best and biggest we ever had. One of our problems with the program was that many members of the Debka dance group were in jail. We all had to volunteer. My wife had a bit of difficulty teaching me how to do the Debka dance, but others thought that if I could learn the dance, anyone can learn it! We had the event and our guests of honor were the LA8 who had been released a few days earlier. Michel Shehadeh still talks about how well I did in the dance, although many others still remember that night and remind me that they are happy that I do not dance often.

It has not been easy dealing with the US government. I remember in the early 70s the cover of news magazines proclaiming “Terror hits LA” and “Greenhouse of Terror in LA.” I also remember the attacks on our community as a result of the oil embargo. Also after the Iranian hostage ordeal, our community was attacked due to the lack of understanding that Arabs and Iranians are different people. But since most of us are Muslim, we were all considered fair game.

Since the beginning of this attack on our community, we have endured surveillance, break-ins, searches and intimidation, both subtle and overt, in order to silence us. We all remember the leaked “contingency plan” disclosing where concentration camps were being built to house Arab-Americans in a remote area of Louisiana, and we remember the ‘secret evidence’ tactics that kept the government campaign going for 20 years. From the very first hearing government lawyers refused to supply the several judges who heard the case with evidence of the supposed crimes committed by the LA8 on the basis of ‘secret evidence’ that could not be presented due to ‘national security’ concerns. Every judge, to their credit, threw the case out. The ACLU, one of the legal groups that came to our defense, noted that ‘secret evidence’ was being used solely against Arabs in US courts.

The US government has been harassing immigrant populations, or those deemed ‘enemy aliens’, as happened to the Japanese-American citizens incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. But times have changed. Our communities are organized and we will not allow what happened to the Japanese-Americans to happen to us, or to any other minority. Enough is enough. We do understand, though, that the US government will continue its assault on our freedom of speech in this country. The Sami Al-Arian case and the trial of the Holy Land Foundation are clear examples of this. We must all be alert to the continued attacks on our community and other communities and be ready to confront it face to face. On the other hand, the untold number of the American people who supported us and fought alongside us from the very beginning is what contributed significantly to give us our collective victory.

All of our appreciation and thanks go out to the people who worked tirelessly on our behalf for the last 20 years. Many of you thought from day one that this is the fight for the soul of the US, a fight to preserve the constitution that continues to be discarded daily, particularly since 911. I know that we stand together in condemning those who for the last 20 years ignored the law, and fabricated new laws in pursuit of their own agenda, to silence the weak and punish the poor, the people of color, the young, and all people who struggle for a better life that is opposed to all forms of injustice.

The Palestinian community and our many tried and true allies told the US government on January 26, 1987 that they were wrong to target us, and today we tell them, enough is enough! We have all emerged from this conflict not only intact, but stronger and more organized than ever. We will never stop fighting for what is right!

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