Palestine has shown the world that the will of the people is mightier than that of any military or state. And from the Ports of Oakland to the seashores of Gaza, our communities have demonstrated that the power of resilience, and an unwavering commitment to liberation can make things happen.
Despite the horrific assault on Gaza, we have victories to celebrate– the steadfastness of the people of Palestine, and the historic success of blocking the Israeli ZIM ship at the Port of Oakland for 4 days straight. And there is more. While AROC members were busy organizing, AROC’s Arab American Legal Services was representing a Palestinian client in detention. After 10 years in prison, stateless and facing deportation, AROC won his case and he was released last week!
From resisting colonialism in Palestine, to stopping Israel at the Port, to supporting our prisoners, we are collectively building a movement for justice and we are winning!
AROC’s Palestinian client in detention released from prison after 10 years!
By Lina Baroudi, AROC Staff Attorney
Ashraf is a Palestinian from the Occupied West Bank. When he was a young teenager, he was arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and detained in an Israeli prison for 40 days, during which time he was severely tortured, both by the IDF and Palestinian informants who were working for the IDF. The arrest was based on a coerced confession from a neighborhood teenager. An Israeli military prosecutor filed charges against Ashraf in the Military Court of Jenin, accusing him of membership in Hamas from the ages of 11 to 13. Upon learning that Ashraf had a scholarship and visa to complete high school in the United States, the parties agreed that Ashraf would be exiled from the apartheid state of Israel and the Occupied West Bank; upon this agreement, the military judge ordered Ashraf released from custody.
Young, isolated and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in the U.S., Ashraf was convicted of two felonies in 2004, for which he received a prison term of four years. In 2006, Ashraf was convicted of a third felony which, although neither serious nor violent, mandated that he be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison under California’s Three Strikes Law. Faced with the reality that he would be spending his life in prison, Ashraf focused on rehabilitation: earning his GED and associate of arts degree and working towards his bachelor’s degree, completing 600 hours of training to serve as a mentor to other inmates, becoming a team leader with the Alternatives to Violence project (AVP), becoming certified as a drug and alcohol addiction counselor, and organizing and facilitating an Islam-based 12-step substance abuse program.
In 2013, a superior court judge found that Ashraf was deserving of re-sentencing under Proposition 36, a voter-approved reform to California’s Three Strikes Law, and modified his last sentence to 6 years. Having served his entire sentence, Ashraf was released from state prison and immediately transferred to immigration custody for deportation from the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security issued an order of removal against him, but, as a stateless Palestinian, he did not have a passport, and Israel declined to accept him for return. After seven months in immigration custody, an asylum officer agreed that Ashraf has a reasonable fear of return to the apartheid State Israel and the West Bank and placed him in removal proceedings to fight deportation.
AROC agreed to represent Ashraf, on a pro bono basis, not only to fight his removal from the U.S., but also to seek release from the prolonged and indefinite detention he was facing in DHS custody, through a request to the immigration court and a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court. After appearing with Ashraf at the immigration court to indicate that he would be seeking withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture, AROC was successful in seeking a bond hearing for Ashraf. On August 26, 2014, he was granted bond by the San Francisco Immigration Court and – after ten years in state prison and one year in DHS custody – he was released that evening to his family and community!
AROC will continue to represent Ashraf in his removal proceedings, to ensure that he is not deported from the U.S. to either the Apartheid state of Israel or Occupied Palestine, where he faces certain arrest, detention, torture and death.