From New York to Gaza: Swept up in post-9/11 raids

Al Jazeera reports:

Nael Mosallam watched the 9/11 attacks from a rooftop in Brooklyn. He was doing construction work – re-roofing a rowhouse – when another worker tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out a low-flying plane over Lower Manhattan. “Everybody was shocked, nobody moved,” he said.

He walked home in a daze, horrified, like tens of thousands of other New Yorkers.

But the personal impact of the attacks did not set in until several hours later, when he turned on the television and saw footage of the reaction in the Middle East.

“They were saying the Palestinians did this, showing video of people in Gaza celebrating, handing out sweets, laughing,” he said. “I saw that and I knew, that was it, I knew I was gone.”

It took several months, but Mosallam’s premonition was correct: Mosallam, like hundreds of other Arabs and Muslims, was swept up in an FBI raid for alleged connections to terrorism; he spent three years in prison before finally being deported to his native Gaza.

Mosallam was in the United States illegally; he crossed over the Canadian border in 1996. The US government had the right to deport him.

But he was, by all accounts, an otherwise law-abiding and productive resident. He had a job, a home, and references who could (and did) vouch for his character, according to paperwork from his immigration hearings and from human rights groups who took up his case in 2003.

Mosallam denies any connection to terrorism, and indeed the US never charged him or presented any evidence. A search of public records turned up no other criminal convictions or tax problems.

If 9/11 had never happened, Mosallam said, he would probably still be living and working in New York. Instead he is back in Gaza – “the cage”, as he called it – living with his parents, eking out a marginal living in a restaurant.

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