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Imam Mohammad Qatanani tells American judge of torture in Israeli detention
By Samantha Henry
Associated Press/Multiply
June 3, 2008
http://www.timesleader.com/news/ap?articleID=550279
http://newyorkermen.multiply.com/links/item/210/Imam_Mohammad_Qatanani_Faces_Deportation
http://www.northjersey.com/news/Muslim_faces_deportation.html
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/989408.html

[original titles: U.S. imam fighting deportation talks of torture in Israeli detention / NJ Muslim leader talks of torture in Israel / Imam Mohammad Qatanani Faces Deportation / Muslim leader faces deportation]

A Muslim cleric graphically described the torture to which he claims he was subjected to in Israeli custody as he fought to block U.S. efforts to deport him on grounds he lied on his residency application.

Mohammad Qatanani, center, acknowledges supporters from the steps of a federal building in Newark, N.J., Monday, June 2, 2008, during a lunch break in his deportation trial. The United States government has rejected his bid for permanent U.S. residency, saying Qatanani failed to disclose a 1993 arrest and conviction in Israel for being a member of Hamas on his green card application. Qatanani denies the charges, saying he was detained, not arrested, by the Israelis along with many Palestinians at the time. (AP Photo/Mike Derer) AP

`Judge, you cannot imagine,` Mohammad Qatanani said Monday, his voice breaking. `They say, `We will kill your family.` They say: `You know what your family is doing now? We will go to them, we will burn them.``

Qatanani paused to compose himself before telling Immigration Judge Alberto J. Riefkohl, `At that time, you feel that death is better than life.`

The detention is at the heart of the deportation proceedings against Qatanani, a Palestinian who has been the spiritual leader at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in New Jersey since 1996.

U.S. officials, in rejecting his bid for permanent U.S. residency, said Qatanani failed to disclose on his green card application a 1993 arrest and conviction in Israel for being a member of the militant group Hamas.

Qatanani denies the charges, saying he was detained, not arrested, by the Israelis along with many Palestinians at the time. Qatanani claims he was not aware of the conviction and claims he was subjected to physical and mental abuse while in detention. Over the past few weeks, a number of character witnesses have testified on his behalf, including a rabbi and several high-ranking New Jersey law enforcement officials.

Lawyers for both sides have until July 31 to submit written final summations, and Immigration Judge Alberto J. Riefkohl, who is presiding over the case in Newark federal court, said he would render a decision in mid-September.

In court on Monday, Qatanani recounted his time in Israeli detention _ describing being tied to a small chair with his hands bound, kept in a freezing cell, and subjected to starvation, violence and threats. Several of his supporters in the packed courtroom began quietly weeping as he spoke.

Under cross-examination, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security _ which oversees immigration proceedings _ sought to tie Qatanani to terrorist-affiliated groups and individuals.

Monday was the fourth and final day of the trial. On the stand, Qatanani pointed to his commitment to interfaith dialogue, cooperation with law enforcement and the integration of Muslims into mainstream American society.

The streets outside federal court were packed with Qatanani supporters wearing T-shirts and carrying signs calling him a man of peace.

A group of orthodox Jews stood amid the mostly Muslim crowd, saying they were there to show solidarity with Qatanani, who they said had championed their fight to get a kosher slaughterhouse in Paterson.

`We hope and pray in our day and age, with so much conflict, to have such a person as this imam working together with communities like ours,` said Rabbi Dovid Feldman as he stood with the crowd.

=======================================================

Earlier article with background from `Multiply`


It is untrue that I helped Hamas,` Imam Mohammad Qatanani said. One of the state`s most influential and high-profile Muslim leaders is facing deportation along with his wife and children.

`This is not a personal issue. This is the issue of a community, a Muslim society, this is a test for you.`

-- Imam Mohammad Musa, addressing the Islamic Center of Passaic County on Friday

``I have never gotten to know people of the Muslim faith like I have the imam. He`s been to the synagogue on a number of occasions. I have spoken at his mosque, and I`ve said there that I believe in the state of Israel.`

-- Rabbi David Senter, Congregation Beth-Shalom, Pompton Lakes

`This is a leader America needs, he`s the voice of moderation. He urges Muslims and Arabs to vote, to be part of the mainstream. He has no extremist bone in his body.`

-- Aref Assaf, President, American Arab Forum, Paterson
Immigration officials are refusing to grant permanent residency to Imam Mohammad Qatanani, who came to the United States in 1996 on a religious work visa.

They say Qatanani, the imam for the Islamic Center of Passaic County, failed to disclose in his green card application a 1993 Israeli Military Court conviction against him for `assisting Hamas,` according to his attorney.

The accusation, which Qatanani denies, has outraged supporters of the 44-year-old spiritual leader. Qatanani is widely respected among New Jersey political and religious leaders as a devoted proponent of peace and bringing diverse groups together.

His mosque, in Paterson, has been host to interfaith gatherings that have drawn Governor Corzine and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., among other political leaders. He was the first Muslim leader to officiate the opening of the state General Assembly. Many note he was one of the first imams in the nation to denounce the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and terrorism. He provided space in the mosque to FBI officials seeking to recruit Arabic speakers.

Immigration officials declined to comment, citing a May trial in Newark on Qatanani`s new application for legal residency for himself and immigrant family members.

Pascrell had strong words Friday on the imam`s behalf.

`I`ve seen with my own eyes a gentleman who`s had a tremendous positive influence in the community,` he said. `The immigration department is talking about something that goes way back many years, and they have every right and responsibility to look into that. But he`s done nothing but good since he`s been in the United States, and many of us are ready to stand up and go to court to testify about him if need be.`

Also on Friday, members of the state`s Muslim and Arab communities launched support campaigns, including a petition drive.

`Many in the community are very upset,` said Waheed Khalid, past president of the Darul Islah Mosque in Teaneck. `Where do we go to get justice? If he`s deported, it will be the saddest day not only for Muslims, but also New Jersey and this country.`

Qatanani, a Palestinian, and his attorney, Claudia Slovinsky of Manhattan, confirm that Israelis detained the imam for three months in 1993, having arrested him as he visited relatives in the West Bank. But they say Israeli officials made no mention of any prosecution. Such detention and interrogation was a practice they say was commonly used against Palestinian men.

`He has been consistently forthright to all U.S. government officials in providing all information he had regarding this period of detention,` Slovinsky said in a written summary. `The government makes no allegations of, or presents proof of, membership in or assistance to any questionable organizations aside from the documents from the Israeli National Police.`

Qatanani says he has only theories about why the Israelis detained him. He had left the West Bank in 1982 and worked as an imam and community college teacher for years, helping young Palestinians go study in Jordan. But he said he`s never shrunk from loudly denouncing Israeli occupation in the area, either.

`I say the occupation is unacceptable,` he said. `I am not a silent man.`

He said the Israelis confronted him during his 1993 visit.

`They said `Why are you talking this way?` `

They also raised questions about the students he`d helped get to Jordan, he said, suggesting links between them and groups like Hamas. That group, now controlling the Gaza Strip, advocate`s Israel`s destruction and is branded by the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist organization.

`It is untrue that I helped Hamas,` Qatanani said. `As an imam, when someone comes to me to ask for help, I help them. I told them [the Israelis]: `These students come from Palestine, they are very poor. I help them find housing, get into the university.` I don`t know everything they`re doing in their lives, I have no clue.`

Qatanani said he was detained, told little about why, then released unceremoniously.

They just release you,` he said, `which means they have nothing to hold against you.`

Slovinsky said Qatanani did not lie when he omitted the detention on his immigration application.

Because Israeli authorities did not tell him he was being prosecuted, she said, he was unaware it was more than a common detention until U.S. authorities told him otherwise.

Slovinsky said Qatanani answered to the best of his knowledge when he said in his immigration application that he`d never been arrested or convicted in connection with a crime.

And, questioned in the last few years by FBI, immigration and other government authorities, Qatanani had mentioned the detention, she said.

`They`re not claiming that he`s a terrorist,` Slovinsky said. `There`s no proof of that. He`s got no secret agenda. His sermons, his work, all show that this is a man of peace.`Saturday, March 1, 2008 Visit here Now Imam Mohammad Qatanani Faces Deportation Mar 1, `08 12:56 PM
for everyone

Link: http://www.northjersey.com/news/Muslim_faces_deportation.html


It is untrue that I helped Hamas,` Imam Mohammad Qatanani said. One of the state`s most influential and high-profile Muslim leaders is facing deportation along with his wife and children.

`This is not a personal issue. This is the issue of a community, a Muslim society, this is a test for you.`

-- Imam Mohammad Musa, addressing the Islamic Center of Passaic County on Friday

``I have never gotten to know people of the Muslim faith like I have the imam. He`s been to the synagogue on a number of occasions. I have spoken at his mosque, and I`ve said there that I believe in the state of Israel.`

-- Rabbi David Senter, Congregation Beth-Shalom, Pompton Lakes

`This is a leader America needs, he`s the voice of moderation. He urges Muslims and Arabs to vote, to be part of the mainstream. He has no extremist bone in his body.`

-- Aref Assaf, President, American Arab Forum, Paterson
Immigration officials are refusing to grant permanent residency to Imam Mohammad Qatanani, who came to the United States in 1996 on a religious work visa.

They say Qatanani, the imam for the Islamic Center of Passaic County, failed to disclose in his green card application a 1993 Israeli Military Court conviction against him for `assisting Hamas,` according to his attorney.

The accusation, which Qatanani denies, has outraged supporters of the 44-year-old spiritual leader. Qatanani is widely respected among New Jersey political and religious leaders as a devoted proponent of peace and bringing diverse groups together.

His mosque, in Paterson, has been host to interfaith gatherings that have drawn Governor Corzine and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., among other political leaders. He was the first Muslim leader to officiate the opening of the state General Assembly. Many note he was one of the first imams in the nation to denounce the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and terrorism. He provided space in the mosque to FBI officials seeking to recruit Arabic speakers.

Immigration officials declined to comment, citing a May trial in Newark on Qatanani`s new application for legal residency for himself and immigrant family members.

Pascrell had strong words Friday on the imam`s behalf.

`I`ve seen with my own eyes a gentleman who`s had a tremendous positive influence in the community,` he said. `The immigration department is talking about something that goes way back many years, and they have every right and responsibility to look into that. But he`s done nothing but good since he`s been in the United States, and many of us are ready to stand up and go to court to testify about him if need be.`

Also on Friday, members of the state`s Muslim and Arab communities launched support campaigns, including a petition drive.

`Many in the community are very upset,` said Waheed Khalid, past president of the Darul Islah Mosque in Teaneck. `Where do we go to get justice? If he`s deported, it will be the saddest day not only for Muslims, but also New Jersey and this country.`

Qatanani, a Palestinian, and his attorney, Claudia Slovinsky of Manhattan, confirm that Israelis detained the imam for three months in 1993, having arrested him as he visited relatives in the West Bank. But they say Israeli officials made no mention of any prosecution. Such detention and interrogation was a practice they say was commonly used against Palestinian men.

`He has been consistently forthright to all U.S. government officials in providing all information he had regarding this period of detention,` Slovinsky said in a written summary. `The government makes no allegations of, or presents proof of, membership in or assistance to any questionable organizations aside from the documents from the Israeli National Police.`

Qatanani says he has only theories about why the Israelis detained him. He had left the West Bank in 1982 and worked as an imam and community college teacher for years, helping young Palestinians go study in Jordan. But he said he`s never shrunk from loudly denouncing Israeli occupation in the area, either.

`I say the occupation is unacceptable,` he said. `I am not a silent man.`

He said the Israelis confronted him during his 1993 visit.

`They said `Why are you talking this way?` `

They also raised questions about the students he`d helped get to Jordan, he said, suggesting links between them and groups like Hamas. That group, now controlling the Gaza Strip, advocate`s Israel`s destruction and is branded by the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist organization.

`It is untrue that I helped Hamas,` Qatanani said. `As an imam, when someone comes to me to ask for help, I help them. I told them [the Israelis]: `These students come from Palestine, they are very poor. I help them find housing, get into the university.` I don`t know everything they`re doing in their lives, I have no clue.`

Qatanani said he was detained, told little about why, then released unceremoniously.

They just release you,` he said, `which means they have nothing to hold against you.`

Slovinsky said Qatanani did not lie when he omitted the detention on his immigration application.

Because Israeli authorities did not tell him he was being prosecuted, she said, he was unaware it was more than a common detention until U.S. authorities told him otherwise.

Slovinsky said Qatanani answered to the best of his knowledge when he said in his immigration application that he`d never been arrested or convicted in connection with a crime.

And, questioned in the last few years by FBI, immigration and other government authorities, Qatanani had mentioned the detention, she said.

`They`re not claiming that he`s a terrorist,` Slovinsky said. `There`s no proof of that. He`s got no secret agenda. His sermons, his work, all show that this is a man of peace.

A.K.
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