He Threatened Us, Now He Goes to Jail

Dr. James J. Zogby, August 17, 2019

Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation. 

This was Syring’s second conviction. He had been found guilty of the same crimes against me and my staff in 2008 and served over a year in prison. After his release and a period of probation, he began once again to stalk, harass, and threaten me and my office. He accused me of horrible crimes – organizing dozens of terrorist attacks around the world. He referred to me as a “genocidal, anti-Semitic, homophobic murderer,” in addition to threatening me with death by saying that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab” and America would only be free of terror when it was “cleansed of James Zogby” and “all Arab Americans.” 

Although Syring’s threats were communicated directly to me, he made a practice of copying other members of my staff and even our young interns. In all, we received over 700 such emails from Syring and because of their frequency and the hate-filled threats they contained, they were a cause of real concern. 

Each day, when I entered my office I could tell on the faces of my staff and interns whether or not Syring had struck again. Especially after a terrorist attack either in the US or internationally, his language became so extreme that we had to call local police for protection and report the threats to the FBI. The support they provided us was so appreciated. For a time, two agents accompanied me to public events. The Department of Homeland Security gave us an assessment of measures we should take to make our building and office more secure. And because we knew who had sent the threats, they often visited Syring to warn him that there would be consequences to his behavior. 

His obsession with me and his hatred of Arab Americans was so great, that he continued until the Department of Justice finally convened a Grand Jury and indicted him for his crimes. Nothing, however, stopped him. 

It was this obsession and hatred that concerned us most precisely because we never knew when he might act on his threats of violence. Our concern was heightened by his apparent willingness to continue despite having already been punished for the same crime and having been repeatedly warned by law enforcement to stop what he was doing.   

So now the sentence has been given. Syring will be in a federal prison until 2024. At that time, he will begin three years in court-ordered probation, undergoing psychiatric evaluation, and be required to avoid any contact or communication with me or any current of former staff member of the Institute. 
 
It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I’ve been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different. 

In the first place, Syring had tormented us for over a decade. He literally became a part of our daily lives. My wife had his picture handy and if a car was parked outside of our house, she would check to see if he was the driver. My staff were instructed to alter their behaviors – so as not to take the same route to and from the office. And some even had to receive counseling. It was especially troubling to see the reactions of young interns when they would be the unlucky recipients of a Syring email. They had come to have a Washington work experience, not to be threatened or have their ethnicity maligned.  

This is also different because for more than two decades Syring had been a State Department official who had served two tours in Lebanon. During the 2008 proceedings, I learned that on more than one occasion he had been rebuked by the DOS for displays of anti-Arab behavior. I was shocked that instead of taking action they simply moved him to another posting. They even allowed him to remain in the federal service after he was indicted for his first threats against me – some of which he made from his State Department phone or his State Department computer. At that time, I asked DOS officials, “What if a foreign service officer had threatened a Jewish American leader and made repeated anti-Semitic comments against him and called for genocide against the Jewish community – what would the reaction have been?”

That troubled me then and still troubles me now. And while there has been some press coverage of the case, I am compelled to ask, “What kind of press treatment would have been given if a former government official delivered death threats to a Jewish American leader accompanied by the statement ‘the only good Jew is a dead Jew?'”  Why are Arab Americans seen in a lesser light? And why are threats against us less worthy of evoking outrage?

With Syring going to jail for the next five years, my staff and I feel a degree of relief. It won’t give us back the years we lived in fear, but we know that at least for the foreseeable future our daily lives won’t be turned upside down by cruel death threats from this man. We are thankful for that. We are also thankful for the strong support and protection we were given by the Civil Rights attorneys at the DOJ and law enforcement agencies and for the friendship and support we received from allies and friends. 

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Why Americans Should Support BDS


Demonstrators protest New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s McCarthyite executive order requiring state agencies to divest from organizations that support the Palestinian call to boycott companies profiting from, or cultural or academic institutions complicit in, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, June 9, 2016. (Sipa via AP Images)

Omar Barghouti, The Nation, July 29, 2019

Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution, H. Res. 246, targeting the grassroots, global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights that I helped found in 2005. Sadly, H. Res. 246, which fundamentally mischaracterizes our goals and misrepresents my own personal views, is only the latest attempt by Israel’s supporters in Congress to demonize and suppress our peaceful struggle.

H. Res. 246 is a sweeping condemnation of Americans who advocate for Palestinian rights using BDS tactics. It reinforces other unconstitutional anti-boycott measures, including those passed by some 27 state legislatures, that are reminiscent of “McCarthy era tactics,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It also exacerbates the oppressive atmosphere that Palestinians and their supporters already face, further chilling speech critical of Israel at a time when President Donald Trump is publicly smearing members of Congress who speak out in support of Palestinian freedom.

In response to H. Res. 246 and similarly repressive legislative measures, House member Ilhan Omar, joined by Rashida Tlaib, civil rights icon John Lewis, and 12 other co-sponsors, introduced H. Res. 496, which defends “the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Inspired by the US civil rights and South African anti-apartheid movements, BDS calls for ending Israel’s 1967 military occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the UN-stipulated right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homeland they were uprooted from.

BDS categorically opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. Contrary to the false claim in H. Res. 246, BDS does not target individuals, but rather institutions and corporations that are implicated in Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian human rights. Continue reading

Palestinian peace activist denied entry to U.S. for speaking tour

Edo Konrad, +972, March 4, 2019

Osama Iliwat was supposed to speak to synagogues, churches, and universities across the United States about the power of nonviolence and bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead he was sent back to Palestine.

A Palestinian peace activist was denied entry to the United States last week after being extensively questioned by American border authorities about his political affiliations and about the funders and leadership of the group for which he works. Iliwat was supposed to join a Jewish-American member of the organization for a speaking tour in synagogues, churches, and university campuses across the United States.

Osama Iliwat, a 42-year-old from Jericho, in the West Bank, had a valid visa for the United States and had been admitted into the country on numerous occasions before last week.

Iliwat, a former Palestinian Authority police officer who grew disillusioned with the violence of the Second Intifada, joined Combatants for Peace in 2014 as its Jericho-Jerusalem coordinator. Today, he serves as one of the organization’s public speakers, delivering talks to Israelis, Palestinians, and international audiences on nonviolence as a path toward reconciliation. He has never been convicted of a crime and Israel even gave him a general entry permit that allows him to cross into the country whenever he wants.

During his interrogation at New York’s JFK airport, Iliwat was repeatedly asked about Combatants for Peace and about his political affiliations. In a telephone interview with +972 upon returning to the West Bank, Iliwat said that interrogators focused most of their questions on the organization’s activities, asking for information about the its founders, their political beliefs and affiliations, how often Iliwat speaks to them, and whether they have spent time in Israeli prison. Iliwat said the interrogators also asked him about the West Bank tours Combatants for Peace organizes, and which Palestinian political movement he supports.

Palestinian peace activist Osama Iliwat (left) seen in the village of Jeb al-Deeb, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Courtesy of Combatants for Peace)

Palestinian peace activist Osama Iliwat (right) seen in the village of Jeb al-Deeb, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Tatiana Gitlits/Combatants for Peace)

Combatants for Peace was formed in 2006 as an organization founded by both former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian armed fighters committed to nonviolent action against the “Israeli occupation and all forms of violence.” The group leads tours of the West Bank, supports various communities in the West Bank who face violence from settlers and the Israeli army, and has put on an alternative memorial day event for the past 11 years. While the former Israeli soldiers in Combatants for Peace served in an army that receives support from the U.S. government, Palestinian combatants are often seen as former terrorists by both Israel and the United States.

After 12 hours of interrogation, during which his phone was taken away multiple times, the agents asked him to sign a statement confirming the answers he had given them, and that he understood he was being denied entry to the country. Nobody ever told him why, he said.

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A Teenage War Resister in Israel

An Antiwar Story from the Embattled Middle East
He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel.

“Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens, and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together based on citizenship and equality, not segregation and racism.”
Ahmed Abu Artema

Rory Fanning, TomDispatch, March 18, 2019

Hilel Garmi’s phone is going straight to voicemail and all I’m hoping is that he’s not back in prison. I’ll soon learn that he is.

Prison 6 is a military prison. It’s situated in the Israeli coastal town of Atlit, a short walk from the Mediterranean Sea and less than an hour’s drive from Hilel’s home. It was constructed in 1957 following the Sinai War between Israel and Egypt to house disciplinary cases from the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF.

Hilel has already been locked up six times. “I can smell the sea from my cell, especially at night when everything is quiet,” he tells me in one of our phone conversations. I’m 6,000 miles away in Chicago, but Hilel and I have regularly been discussing his ordeal as an Israeli war resister, so it makes me nervous that, this time around, I can’t reach him at all.

A recent high-school graduate with dark hair and a big smile, he’s only 19 and still lives with his parents in Yodfat, an Israeli town of less than 900 people in the northern part of the country. It’s 155 miles to Damascus (if such a trip were possible, which, of course, it isn’t), a two-hour drive down the coast to Tel Aviv, and a four-hour drive to besieged Gaza.

Yodfat itself could be a set for a Biblical movie, with its dry rolling hills, ancient ruins, and pastoral landscape. The town exports flower bulbs, as well as organic goat cheese, and notably supports the Misgav Waldorf School that Hilel’s mother helped found. Hilel is proud of his mom. After all, people commute from all over Israel to attend the school.

He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel. Each year roughly 30,000 18 year olds are drafted into the IDF, although 35% of such draftees manage to avoid military service for religious reasons. A far tinier percentage publicly refuses to fight for moral and political reasons to protest their country’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The exact numbers are hard to find. I’ve asked war resister groups in Israel, but no one seems to have any. Hilel’s estimate: between five and 15 refuseniks a year.

“I’ve thought the occupation of Palestine was immoral at least since I was in eighth grade,” he told me. “But it was the March of Return that played a large role in sustaining the courage to say no to military service.”

The Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018, the 42nd anniversary of the day in 1976 that Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested the government’s expropriation of land. During the six-month protest movement that followed in 2018, Israeli soldiers killed another 141 demonstrators, while nearly 10,000 were injured, including 919 children, all shot.

“I couldn’t be a part of that,” he said. “I’d rather be in jail.”

However, after 37 days in prison, it was the letter Hilel received from Abu Artema, a key Palestinian organizer of that march, which provided him with his greatest inspiration. It read in part:

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March 26 – April 14, 2019
Naila and the Uprising

On Wisconsin Public Television’s Women, War & Peace

Tuesday, March 26 8:00 pm on WPT 26-1
Wednesday, March 27 2:00 am on WPT 26-1
Sunday, April 14 9:00 pm on The Wisconsin Channel 26-2

Discover the story of a courageous, non-violent women’s movement that formed the heart of the Palestinian struggle for freedom during the 1987 uprising, known as the first Intifada. One woman must make a choice between love, family and freedom. Undaunted, she embraces all three.

During the Intifada, women weren’t just following orders, we were instrumental in making decisions alongside men.

We want our home land!
We want to live free.

Women’s resistance went hand-in-hand with national resistance.

There is a discussion guide available to help you learn more about women’s leadership, unarmed civil resistance and grassroots organizing in Israel-Palestine.

South Hebron Hills Update

Expulsion by a thousand cuts

Dear Friends,

The last weeks have been busy and challenging in the South Hebron Hills. Young Palestinians, with international and Israeli peace activists, have planted hundreds of trees. But this is also a difficult time. Soldiers and settlers have repeatedly forced shepherds off of Palestinian grazing land located near settlements and outposts, settlers have harassed schoolchildren and shepherds, and just last night Settlers uprooted more than 20 young olive trees.


christadelphia.org

The creativity, resilience and commitment to nonviolent resistance is more amazing here each year.

Here are a few recent events and photos.

On the night of February 4 Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on uprooted 23 olive trees on Palestinian land near Tuwani in Humra Valley. The trees have were recently planted during a nonviolent demonstration of Palestinians and Israeli and International activists.

On January 23 Israeli army and civil authorities used a bulldozer to destroy an agricultural field in the Palestinian village of Khalaya Al-Moghrabi. The farmer was already unable to work his land because Israeli authorities had confiscated his tractor.


The Palestinian road to Jinbah and the villages of Massafer Yatta

On January 31 the Israeli army used a bulldozer to destroy two sections of the road that connects the city of Yatta to Jimba village and the other villages of Massafer Yatta, making access to school, health care, commerce and other services even more difficult for the families living in the villages located inside the area claimed by Israel as Firing Zone 918.


School in Khallet Athaba

On January 30 The Israeli Civil Administration (DCO) issued demolition orders for the school and two private family houses in the Palestinian village of Khallet Athaba and a stop work order for a house in the village of Tuba.


Palestinian child from Tuba

Israeli authorities delivered a stop work order for the home of this child’s family in the village of Tuba. It is impossible for families to get building permits. And stop work orders are often followed by demolition orders.