Free the Holy Land Five: 15 years of imprisonment

On 24 November 2023, we mourn the martyrs of Gaza as we honour and welcome 39 freed Palestinian prisoners, the first prisoners liberated through a prisoner exchange with the Palestinian resistance since the Wafaa al-Ahrar exchange in 2011. On this date, we also mark the 15th year of imprisonment for Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi and Mufid Abdelqader, the remaining prisoners of the Holy Land Five — Palestinian political prisoners in U.S. jails.

Today, it has been 15 years since the Holy Land Foundation 5, five Palestinian community leaders, were convicted and imprisoned for providing charity — food and medicine — to orphans and widows in Palestine. Today, three of the five remain imprisoned, some with exceptionally long sentences. After the first jury hearing their case reached a mistrial, the second trial was an exceptional miscarriage of justice, in which the Holy Land 5 were convicted on the basis of anti-Palestinian propaganda, including the anonymous testimony of Israeli intelligence agents.

These three men remain behind bars, locked away from their communities and loving families, and we demand their freedom, alongside the freedom of all Palestinian prisoners. Like the prisoners of the Black Liberation Movement, Leonard Peltier, Alex Saab and others, the Holy Land 5 are political prisoners of U.S. imperialism. They are also Palestinian political prisoners, part of the prisoners’ movement alongside their brothers and sisters in occupied Palestine and the prisoners in imperialist jails, like Georges Abdallah and Amin Abu Rashed. 

As we highlight the responsibility of U.S. imperialism for funding, arming and directing the ongoing Zionist genocide in Gaza, we further emphasize that the U.S. is jailing Palestinian political prisoners. The Holy Land 5 are imprisoned because they provided the means to support the steadfastness of their people in their occupied homeland, resisting displacement and providing community support that was independent of USAID, the European Union and similar imperialist “donor states” that condition their aid on political concessions and appeasement to Zionist colonialism.

Who Are the Holy Land Foundation 5?

As Within Our Lifetime notes, “The Holy Land 5 are five Palestinian men who were active leaders in the Holy Land Foundation. The Foundation was based in Texas and was once the largest Islamic charity in the U.S. before it was targeted by the Bush administration and zionist forces as part of the racist “War on Terror” and shut down in December 2001, leading to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five Palestinian men. Three of them, Mufid Abdulqader, Ghassan Elashi, and Shukri Abu Baker remain imprisoned today. The two others, Abdulrahman Odeh and Mohammed El-Mezain, sentenced to 15 years each, were released in 2020 and 2022 respectively.”

The HLF5 were convicted on false charges of “providing material support to terrorism,” despite the fact that they were never even accused of funding the legitimate armed resistance to Israeli occupation and colonization. Indeed, the same charities funded by the Holy Land Foundation were also funded by the International Red Cross and even USAID, the US Agency for International Development. However, the U.S. government, after failing to convict the HLF5 in their first attempt, was allowed twice to bring in an anonymous Israeli intelligence agent to offer even more dubious, torture-produced “evidence” against the Five, alongside pure sensationalism and anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab racism.

Ghassan Elashi was born in Gaza City, and lived there until age 14. He and his family then moved to Cairo, Egypt, where he eventually got his Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Ain Shams University in 1975. He lived in Saudi Arabia and London for a couple of years before finally migrating to the United States in 1978. He lived in Ohio for several months and then moved to Florida, where he got his Master’s degree in accounting from the University of Miami in 1981. Soon afterwards, Mr. Elashi began working in a company that created the world’s first Arabic computer. In 1985, Mr. Elashi married Majida and moved to Culver City, Calif. near Los Angeles. They lived there for about seven years before moving to Richardson, Texas near Dallas in 1992. There, he worked at a family-owned computer business and served as a chairman and volunteer for the HLF. Mr. Elashi and Majida have six children: Noor, Huda, Asma, Mohammad, Osama and Omar.  “I do not apologize for feeding orphans and needy families. I know what the government’s goal was, it was to make an example of me. But they failed, because I felt a love from my community that I couldn’t imagine,” he said.

Shukri Abu Baker, of Palestinian and Brazilian heritage, was born in Brazil in 1959. At age 6, he and his family moved to Silwad, Palestine, where they lived for a couple of years. In 1967, the family left to Kuwait and lived there for about a decade. Mr. Abu-Baker migrated to the United States in 1980, where he got his Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Orlando College. During that time, he also helped launch the first mosque in central Florida. After marrying Wejdan in 1982, Mr. Abu-Baker moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. There, he worked as an office manager for the Muslim Arab Youth Association. In 1990, they relocated to Culver City, California, near Los Angeles where he and a few friends opened the Holy Land Foundation. Then in 1992, the family moved to Dallas and the HLF moved with them. He and Wejdan have four American-born daughters: Zaira, Sanabel, Nida and Shurook. You can read Shukri’s Notes from Prison on his blog: https://notesfromshukri.wordpress.com/

Mufid Abdelqader was born in Silwad, Palestine in 1959, and lived much of his young adult life in Kuwait. In 1980, he migrated to the United States to receive a college education. He lived in Irving, Texas for a few months before moving to two Oklahoma cities, first Claremore, then Stillwater. To fund his tuition at Oklahoma State University, Mr. Abdelqader briefly worked as a dishwasher at an Italian Restaurant and a cashier at Wendys. He received his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 1984. In 1985, he married Diane. He received his Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Oklahoma State University in 1994. The family lived in Oklahoma City for several years before finally moving to Richardson, Texas in 1996. He and Diane have three daughters. Since 1996, Mr. Abdelqader worked for the city of Dallas as a Senior Project Manager in the public works and transportation departments. Mufid is a singer, served as a volunteer counselor in his community, and volunteered for the HLF.

Watch a video about the HLF5:

The Holy Land 5 Case

The Holy Land Foundation was repeatedly targeted by Zionist organizations in a series of reports and investigations because of its effective work in providing support to occupied Palestine. The HLF was a large charity that raised millions of dollars for impoverished people in occupied Palestine, providing much-needed support and blunting the effects of the occupation on the Palestinian people. Leaders of the Foundation were placed under surveillance by the FBI since 1993 while notorious Islamophobic, racist and Zionist commentators like Steven Emerson repeatedly attacked the Foundation.

The situation of the Foundation was made more precarious in the post-Oslo era, with the adoption of first financial sanctions and then criminal law creating a list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” a list that was explicitly created in order to criminalize and repress opposition to the “Middle East peace process,” which was in reality a process for the liquidation of the Palestinian cause. While the Elashi brothers’ business, INFOCOM, was raided by the FBI on allegations of selling computer technology to people in Libya, Syria and occupied Palestine, in early September 2001, the post-September 11 climate of intensified racism and “War on Terror” propaganda further propelled the attack on the Holy Land Foundation. Using the extremely broad powers of the Treasury Department, the HLF’s funds were frozen, offices raided, and it was declared a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” organization.

It was in 2004 that the homes of the Holy Land Foundation Five — Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu Baker, Mufid Abdelqader, Mohammed el-Mezain and Abdulrahman Odeh — were raided and the men arrested and not until 2007 that their trial began. Despite the admission of anonymous testimony from Israeli intelligence agents in court — who could not be properly subject to cross-examination by the defense — the first trial ended in a mistrial, with initially all 12 jurors voting for acquittal and then one changing his mind at the last minute.

As Within Our Lifetime notes, “One of the jurors noted that the case seemed ‘strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence.’ The jury issued not-guilty verdicts on nearly every one of the 197 charges until one of the jurors suddenly changed their mind and claimed they never agreed to those verdicts. Later, evidence came out to suggest that this juror was improperly influenced by those who sought to see the HLF5 imprisoned.”

While the HLF5, their families, and supporters for justice in Palestine celebrated, the government refused to accept defeat and once again brought the HLF5 before the court in Dallas, again exhibiting sensationalist, unproven and unrelated testimony from Israeli occupation intelligence agents. Noor Elashi, the daughter of Ghassan Elashi, said, “It was the only time in the history of the United States that a witness inside a courtroom was allowed to remain anonymous, so the defense couldn’t cross-examine him.” There was one prior similar incident, however — the case of Abdelhaleem Ashqar and Mohammed Saleh in Chicago, Palestinians charged on more dubious “terror” allegations, once again facing occupation agents in court granted a veil of anonymity. The Holy Land Foundation Five’s family members’ political affiliations were cited as a form of even more dubious “evidence” against them.

In the end, the HLF5 were convicted and granted extraordinarily long sentences. “Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi were given 65-year sentences each. Abdulrahman Odeh, Mohammed El-Mezain, and Mufid Abdulqader were sentenced to 15 to 20 years each. Two of Ghassan Elashi’s brothers, Bayan and Basman Elashi, were tried and convicted seperately of charges stemming from InfoCom and the Holy Land Foundation. The brothers were arrested in 2002, spent two years in solitary confinement, and went to trial in 2004. They each received 84-month sentences, and were released from prison in 2009 before being deported to Gaza.”

Abdulrahman Odeh and Mohammed el-Mezain were finally released in 2020 and 2022. When El-Mezain was released, he was detained by ICE — US immigration agent — and then deported to Turkey. Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi and Mufid Abdelqader remain behind bars — while Abdelqader is scheduled for release in 2025, Elashi and Abu Baker are sentenced to 45 more years in US prisons. They earlier spent many years behind bars, including a number of years in ultra-repressive, maximum security “Communications Management Units.” All of their legal appeals have so far been exhausted, which is why it is so critical to engage in the political and popular struggle for their liberation.

The struggle to free the Holy Land 5 is part and parcel of the struggle for the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners and the liberation of Palestine. As we march and organize to confront U.S. imperialism in occupied Palestine and the Arab region and U.S. responsibility for Zionist genocide in Gaza, we also call for the liberation of these Palestinian political prisoners in U.S. jails. 

Take action to #FreeTheHLF5 with the action items below. This list is not exhaustive and we encourage you to come up with creative ideas to mobilize in defense of the HLF5 and in support of Palestinian prisoners:

  • Bring posters and calls to #FreeTheHLF5 to your next demonstration for Palestine!
  • If you represent an organization, sign onto the call to join the campaign to #FreeTheHLF5
  • Donate or host a fundraiser to support the Coalition for Civil Freedoms, a critical organization who has been supporting the Holy Land 5, their families, and many other political prisoners throughout the United States for decades
  • Organize an event, screening, or rally to defend the Holy Land 5 and all political prisoners. Send us the details and we’ll share it. Outside the United States? Protest at a U.S. consulate or embassy and demand the release of the HLF5.
  • Write to Shukri, Ghassan and Mufid using the instructions and addresses listed below
  • Take pictures with the posters available here and on the WOL site and include the hashtag #FreeTheHLF5

Resources

Here are some resources you can use to organize for the Holy Land Five:

Write The Holy Land 5

Writing to prisoners is an important part of showing solidarity and building morale. Whether you are writing to Palestinian prisoners in Zionist jails, Georges Abdallah in France, or the Holy Land 5 and other political prisoners in the U.S., your letters show these imprisoned strugglers that they are not forgotten, abandoned or isolated despite all attempts to do so, and they also show the jailers that these prisoners have external support.

Please remember that any letters sent to the HLF5 are liable to be opened and read by prison staff. Avoid writing anything sensitive that could be read into by guards and prison officials. Make sure to include both their name and their register number on the envelope.

SHUKRI ABU BAKER 32589-177
USP BEAUMONT
U.S. PENITENTIARY
P.O. BOX 26030
BEAUMONT, TX 77720

GHASSAN ELASHI 29687-177
USP MCCREARY
U.S. PENITENTIARY
P.O. BOX 3000
PINE KNOT, KY 42635

MUFID ABDULQADER 32590-177
FCI SEAGOVILLE
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
P.O. BOX 9000
SEAGOVILLE, TX 75159

Download and use these posters

Free the Holy Land 5 (Download PDF)

Free Ghassan Elashi (Download PDF)

Free Shukri Abu Baker (Download PDF)

Free Mufid Abdelqader (Download PDF)

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