By Miko Peled. Just World Books, 2018. 224 pages. $22.95/paperback; $20.99/eBook.
In Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five, Miko Peled relays the story of five Palestinian Americans who led the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), the largest Islamic charity in the United States before it was shut down by the U.S. government in 2001. HLF had offered a range of assistance to Palestinians that was so broad that its leaders were prosecuted for indirectly supporting Hamas. They were convicted even though there is clear evidence that they had done due diligence in ensuring that they were following the law. Because their trial happened in the wake of 9/11, their case was determined to be a “sensitive matter of national security” and justice was far from blind. Each of these community leaders was sentenced to between 15 and 65 years in prison. Peled visited the men, their families, and their lawyers in order to paint a detailed picture of their lives and the context of their convictions. Although not always objectively, the book offers insights into Palestinian history and the U.S. justice system. Peled is committed to shining a light on injustices in Israel–Palestine and in the United States.
Islamophobia is one clear theme that emerges in the case and in the book. In the trial of the Holy Land Five, Islam and Palestinian history were often misrepresented. Terms like jihad and Intifada were narrowly defined in ways that demonized Palestinian Muslims. Peled takes care to share multiple sources that broaden his readers’ understanding of those and other significant religious terms and historical moments. In one of his most nuanced analyses, Peled describes his “personal ambivalence” to Hamas given his respect for their goal of Palestinian liberation and his aversion to their methods. Because the trial of the Holy Land Five happened not long after 9/11, fear of Islam was ever-present; it set the tone of the prosecution’s argument and is at the heart of Peled’s understanding of why the men were convicted. The book is likely to inspire its readers to learn about Islam and Palestine from non-Western sources and to fight Islamophobia wherever it appears.
One of the Holy Land Five, Mufid Abdulqader, shared with Peled, “I was told that the USA was the land of freedom,” but the story of Abdulqader and his colleagues illuminates many of the ways the United States falls short of our ideals of liberty and justice for all. As Peled writes at the beginning of the book, “the story of these men—who have been wrongfully locked up in American prisons—is not just their story, as all too many African Americans, Native Americans and Arab and Muslim Americans know all too well.” Because the book examines the men’s experiences once they are in prison, readers also learn about ways that prisoners can be dehumanized, particularity when prison authorities fail to recognize their inherent human dignity. A decade after the Holy Land Five’s trial, Injustice led me to reflect about who we “other” today in the name of patriotism.
The most powerful aspects of Injustice for me were the words and model of the Holy Land Five themselves. The five men were strongly grounded in their faith as they acted for charity, and they are still motivated by their faith as they refuse to be dispirited by their imprisonment. Mufid Abdulqader told Peled, “Considering myself a political prisoner praying under these conditions, I truly felt a connection with Allah.” Another of the Holy Land Five, Shukri Abu-Baker, wrote to Peled, “Enjoy your days under the sun. Surprise your loved ones with an act of love or kindness. Make little things happen in their lives allowing for bigger things to manifest in them. And always, Let Love Live.” Injustice is a window into how their Islamic faith played into the criminalization of their humanitarianism and how their faith remains a light in the darkness of their imprisonment.