From suicide bombings to the killing of soldiers and the murder of a taxi driver, the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for a series of heinous crimes.
Accused of heading the organization in the United States and supplying money for those crimes is Sami Al-Arian. If he is convicted, it could make him an easy man to hate, especially for a post 9/11 country.
But, beneath the hatred, one very important question will remain: Why?
Why would a man who has a loving family, solid career and good life put that all on the line for a terrorist organization? How can PIJ’s mission be important enough to risk everything?
The answers to those questions may be difficult to comprehend from an American perspective. But, looking at history through Palestinian eyes, the solution, as warped as it may be, begins to take form.
The land that makes up modern-day Israel has been fought over for thousands of years. Three major world religions consider it their Holy Land. But the current conflicts over control of the region began to take shape just after World War I.
Following the war, the British Empire took control of the region, then called Palestine, from the Ottoman Empire, one of the defeated nations. Soon after the British took control, talk of a Jewish state in Israel began. European Jews had begun mass immigration to the region in the 1880s and, by the end of World War II, a large Jewish population was in place.
In 1948, the British pulled out of the region, and Israel became a state. Immediately, neighboring Islamic countries invaded, and a war began. During Israel’s war for independence, Palestinians left the country both on their own and by force. The BBC estimates about 700,000 Palestinians were forced into exile.
Thirty years later, PIJ was born in neighboring Egypt,. The tale of the founders is very similar to Al-Arian’s own story. Led by the charismatic Fathi Shikaki, a group of Palestinian students, one generation removed from the original exiles, began to meet and talk.
The group, militant in nature, reportedly spread quickly into Europe and the United States. Allegedly, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, an incorporated Tampa think tank associated with USF, was a front business for PIJ fundraisers. Involved in WISE were Al-Arian, his brother-in-law Mazen Al-Najjar and current PIJ leader and former USF adjunct, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah.
PIJ wants to destroy Israel and institute a Palestinian state. It is run by academics, idealistic to the plight of Palestinian people. They see the murders and bombings they have instituted as military action.
PIJ has relatively few members, and is going up against the strong military army. Therefore, supporters of the organization believe PIJ bombings are the only way it can wage a war.
In several instances in history, people have given up everything to fight for their homelands. During the Civil War, the Union offered Robert E. Lee command of its army. He refused and fought instead for his home state of Virginia. Americans left their lives during this century’s European conflicts to fight for their original homelands.
Their tactics have been described by critics and the Justice Department alike as criminal and horrifying. But the cause may have been enough to make a settled professor risk everything and pay a terrible price.
Al-Arian’s bail hearing is scheduled for 9 this morning at the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse in Downtown Tampa.