The Trials of Abdelhaleem Ashqar
A Palestinian activist got swept up in the war on terror. Decades later, ICE tried to secretly deport him to Israel
If you don’t want to read the backstory to how I learned about my latest story, skip the newsletter, and go to the link.
I first heard about Abdelhaleem Ashqar from Michael Deutsch, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who has long defended Palestinians in the cross-hairs of America's national security apparatus. Deutsch told me about this strange, fascinating and disturbing case: A stateless Palestinian, caught in the dragnet of the war on terror, now indefinitely detained because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could not find a country to deport him to. Dr. Ashqar is not a citizen of any country; he was born in the West Bank when it was under Jordanian rule. Israel occupied it in 1967. There has never been a country of Palestine that Ashqar could call home.
But I soon found out that Dr. Ashqar's life story told us so much more than about the predicament of stateless Palestinians detained by ICE. He was a key target of a 1990s-era FBI investigation into a network of Palestinian Islamists that the federal government alleged were financiers of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. That investigation—you can learn a lot about it by watching Assia Boundaoui's new documentary "The Feeling of Being Watched," or checking out the documentary's website or this review—was shut down in 2000.
Then 9/11 happened. Ashqar was ultimately indicted for racketeering for a criminal enterprise, in this case, Hamas. The story just gets crazier from there. As many people remarked to me, his story is like a movie, complete with shadowy federal agents, an attempted secret deportation to Israel and frantic legal hearings. All we're waiting for is the ending. Ashqar remains in the country, for now, free. He's looking for a safe home.
I've been working on it since January, but the story really blew up and took an unexpected turn this month. Check out the full story here, published at The Intercept. I'd be grateful for any feedback you have.