A Fallen Comrade, Riad Hamad: 1952 – 2008

Ten days ago, my friend Riad, founder and director of the Palestine
Children’s Welfare Fund and a middle school teacher, was found dead in
Lady Bird Lake in Austin, TX. Riad had been under investigation by the
FBI for sending food, medicine, and other basic amenities to needy
Palestinian families. It seems the FBI suspected him of terrorism, but
I knew him to be a gentle and selfless man who did all he could to
facilitate the survival of Palestinian children with pride and
dignity. He explained to me when we first met that PCWF is a
for-profit organization, providing families with living wages at fair
prices rather than forcing them to work for little. Riad was
interested in human dignity more than aid, and hundreds of families
depended on his crucial work.

The last time we met was in Austin, where he hosted my father and me
for a luxurious dinner. It struck me, since I knew how frugal he was
with himself — sleeping in a car rather than paying for a hotel that
would detract from the money he could send to Palestinians — but he
was always generous with others. He sent me away with a full belly and
1000 bumper stickers that he’d bought himself to support my work. Soon
thereafter he sent me dozens of purses embroidered by Palestinian
refugees. Each purse bore the name of a destroyed village. These
weren’t your typical "Free Palestine" messages; Riad was encouraging
the embroiderers to celebrate their history and connection to their
villages — a kind of nonviolent resistance to Israel’s policies of
ongoing ethnic cleansing and denial of the inalienable Right of Return.

Riad struggled tirelessly for justice in Palestine, south of his
native country of Lebanon. Towards the end of his life, the FBI had
posted surveillance signs on his front lawn and harassed the family
constantly, including Riad’s children and partner. Riad’s legal fees
eventually became more than he could afford, and in our last
correspondence Riad acknowledged (after some nudging) that he could no
longer support himself, yet he was still committed to the cause. He
wrote on March 18, 2008:

"I spent EVERY penny that I own in Palestine and do not even have
money to pay my bills. I will be sending money to Palestine soon after
I pay the shipping costs on the credit cards along with the laptops
that we bought and shipped to Palestine in the last few months. Let me
know if you have any questions and SHUKRAN again for your generosity,
work, and support.
Riad Hamad
www.pcwf.org, www.marhabafrompalestine.com; Palestine Children’s
Welfare Fund; 201 W. Stassney # 201; Austin, TX 78745. Support the
children of Palestine by buying Palestinian arts and crafts. Sustain
the Palestinian economy and provide jobs for the men, women and
farmers in Palestine to live with pride and dignity TILL WE RETURN."

There is much controversy surrounding the circumstances of Riad’s
death: he had been gagged with duct tape and his arms were bound, but
local police said the placement of the tape was consistent with
suicide and they ruled out murder. I can only speculate whether it was
suicide or not, but how important is such a distinction? Interrogation
by the FBI had traumatized his family and paralyzed his own work. If
death was the only escape from the ongoing harassment, can we really
call that "voluntary"? No matter what led Riad to the lake, our
comrade was martyred by the cruelty of a system that denies the right
to provide a lifeline to human beings struggling to survive. He was a
devoted activist and one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met.

View an interview with Riad about harassment from the FBI:

For a picture of Riad in front of his FBI-monitored home:

Send condolences to pcwfaustin@yahoo.com and iristulip@gmail.com

Honor Riad’s memory with a contribution: www.pcwf.org/

May you finally find the peace you harvested for so long, Riad.


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