Amer Jubran: From Exile to Exile

— David Finkel

IN JANUARY 2004, Palestinian activist Amer Jubran will leave the United States, where he has lived for most of the past 15 years. He will return to Jordan, where he grew up in a family already exiled once from their homeland.

Amer Jubran's “voluntary departure” concludes a two-and-a-half-year struggle during which the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), local police in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) targeted not only Amer -- who had the support of a well-organized defense committee -- but the most vulnerable people in his life, including his ex-wife, her family, and members of the Arab and Muslim immigrant communities.

In the end, at a long-delayed November 6 immigration hearing, Jubran was ordered to take the stand -- without preparation and without effective legal counsel -- to answer under oath any questions the government would ask about the lives of any of these people, whom it had exhaustively “investigated,” although none of these had anything to do with Amer's ostensible immigration case.

Jubran had been charged with no crime, and no violation, except a trumped-up allegation that his late 1980s marriage to an American-born U.S. citizen was “fake.” His former wife had already testified, despite extreme government pressure on her family and gruelling cross-examination, that the marriage was genuine.

“We had separated for reasons of financial difficulties,” Amer Jubran told ATC in an interview in Detroit, where he spoke on tour prior to leaving the country. “We unfortunately became part of the 45% statistic of U.S. divorces.”

To the dismay of the judge, posing as Amer's “friend” in the case, Jubran refused to take the stand and endanger members of his community. Instead he cut short the fishing expedition by demanding a voluntary departure date, which the judge set after stating there could be no subsequent appeal.

Why was the U.S. government intent on going after Amer Jubran? The full story can't be told in this limited space -- my interview with Jubran will appear in our next issue -- but three basic reasons can be identified.

First, Amer is Palestinian, politically outspoken, and was seriously in the face of the local Zionist establishment, whom he embarrassed with well-organized protests at annual Israel Independence Day celebrations.

Second, he is an open revolutionary. Third and perhaps most important, he is by all accounts an effective organizer with real respect and a base among the working-class immigrant community.

One member of that community -- a young man named Jaoudat abu Azza -- was detained ten days prior to the 2002 Israel Independence Day protest, where a large Arab community presence was expected. As Jubran recounts, on a Sunday morning when Amer and other friends were coming to visit, abu Azza was taken to the prison clinic, strapped in dental chair and had four teeth extracted, forcibly and without anesthetic. The identity of the guards, and the masked perpetrator of the procedure, were secret.

“When we saw Jaoudat, his face was puffed and blood flowing, unbelievably,” says Amer. “Of course we reported to our community, just as the government expected we would -- and of course, when people heard they were too frightened to come to our protest.” Jaoudat was held till the wounds healed, then deported to Canada.

During the course of his struggle, the Amer Jubran Defense Committee and his organization, the New England Committee to Defend Palestine, established an incredible record of FBI and police surveillance (For full details see http://www.amerjubrandefense.org).

A statement by the Defense Committee says, in part: “After more than a decade of fighting for justice in the United States, Amer is returning to his home -- or at least as much of a home as a Palestinian refugee can claim.

“Those of us who have stood with Amer and who have seen the unfairness and political motivations of this process up close, believe he made the best possible decision given the circumstances. During the Red Scare of the `50s and the political grand juries of the `70s and `80s, people of principle who refused to participate in the government's illegal witchhunt could invoke their fifth amendment rights to avoid participating. The immigration courts allow no such right, which [is] why the government is targeting immigrants as it seeks to suppress dissent at home against its brutal and misguided policies abroad.”

The best way Amer could take a principled stand when the Judge refused to give him time to secure ethical legal representation was to seek voluntary departure. We admire him for making this principled choice, we admire him for his fearlessness, and we will each intensify our own voice and courage so that the voice for justice in Palestine will not waver.

ATC 108, January-February 2004