Closing arguments begin (September 17, 2007)
Much like a sold-out theatrical performance, the courtroom was packed on September 17, 2007. It was filled with many awaiting the fate of five Palestinian-American men and their families — including defense supporters, government officials, media members and even a courtroom artist. Two months into the Holy Land Foundation trial, the United States government began giving their closing statement.
Prosecutor Barry Jonas stood behind a podium facing the jury as he began his closing argument. He started by saying this to the jury: You don’t need to remember the numerous names mentioned in this case, like the board members or the HLF speakers. Just know that they are connected with Hamas. The only five names he told the jury to remember are those of the five defendants. He then told the jury that defense attorneys will bring up Israel’s actions against Palestinians. The jury is not here to decide who’s right and wrong in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,he said.
He then discussed the creation of Hamas by saying that it was a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood founded in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Hamas began after the first Intifada, or uprising, Jonas added. In 1988, Hamas published their charter, which condemned a two-state solution and called for the destruction of Israel through jihad. Hamas’ structure was the next topic of discussion. The organization is made up of three wings: military, social and political, Jonas said. The military wing carries out violent acts including suicide bomb operations, he said. This wing does not distinguish between young and old. Israelis have to worry when they get on a bus, Jonas said. The social wing’s goal is to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians, Jonas said. This wing runs numerous schools, where they brainwash children, he said. As for the political wing, it runs the “big picture of Hamas,” making Hamas’ daily decisions.
Stating the obvious, Jonas said defendants Shukri Abu-Baker, Ghassan Elashi and Mohammad El-Mezain opened the HLF in 1989. As early as 1990, defendant Mufid Abdulqader began raising funds for HLF, Jonas said. A few years later, defendant Abdulrahman Odeh opened a New Jersey office.
Abu-Baker was inspired to alleviate the lives of the suffering in Palestine and other countries after witnessing the suffering of his ill child about 20 years ago. That’s a lie. That’s not why HLF was founded, Jonas said. He then read a document that stated that the Palestinian Committee, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, oversees three main groups: the Islamic Association for Palestine, the United Association for Studies and Research and Occupied Land Fund (HLF’s previous name.)
He then said some defendants’ names were found in Hamas leader Musa Abu-Marzook’s phone book. He discussed the 1993 Philadelphia meeting, where some defendants met to talk about the Oslo Accord signed in 1993. During the meeting, Abu-Baker told attendees to use “Samah” to refer to Hamas. In a later interview, Abu-Baker says “Samah” is a whimsical play on words. It’s not a whimsical play on words, Jonas said then continued. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss their support of Hamas. He added that “Samah” was also used by defendants in phone conversations.
Jonas reminded the jury of the numerous transactions between the HLF and Hamas leader Abu Marzook. He also brought up a poem about Hamas written by Abu-Baker, a photo found in the New Jersey office showing three leaders that the U.S. government identified as Hamas and news reports of suicide bombings that El-Mezain received. It’s not illegal to posses Hamas-related items, but it does prove that they supported Hamas, Jonas said. He then told the jury about Odeh’s reference of a suicide bombing as a “beautiful operation.”
The jury’s eyes then moved to their screens as they watched several clips that prosecutors played throughout the trial. Some clips showed individuals singing patriotic Palestinian songs, while others showed children waving Palestinian flags as they chanted anti-occupation statements. In one clip, defendant Mufid Abdulqader was shown reading a paper that sent greetings to Hamas officials such as Ahmad Yassin, Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Musa Abu Marzook. In two other clips, Abdulqader plays a Hamas member in a skit singing Ana Hamas Ya’yooni (I am Hamas oh beloved.) Jonas then said, It can’t get any clearer than that. Jonas then brought up an unsigned and undated security document found in HLF files at Infocom, a now-defunct computer company owned by Ghassan Elashi and his brothers. Then he asked, Would a real charity possess such a document?
Jonas then brought up the testimony by government witness Steve McGonigle, a Dallas Morning News general assignments reporter. McGonigle testified that during his interviews with Hamas leaders Ahmad Yassin and Mahmoud Al-Zahar, both individuals told him they were not associated with the HLF. Jonas’ counterargument: Yassin and Al-Zahar were lying. Yassin was playing dumb and Al-Zahar talked to Shukri Abu-Baker once during an event.
Next, the bolding prosecutor showed the jury a poster displaying many HLF speakers, adding that they were connected to Hamas. They chose to bring people from terrorist organizations. They could have brought other prominent Palestinians and Muslims, he said. Jonas then displayed a letter written by an HLF donor who stated that his $25 donation was for weapons to crush the enemy and attacking the West with nuclear weapons.
Jonas played yet another clip to intimidate the jury. The excerpt was an Al-Jazeera interview with Hamas leader Khalid Mishal who exclaimed: People in Palestine are in dire need of help. We have little money. Send as much as you can. There are organizations in America and elsewhere that support Hamas. The American ears are listening to us now. Donate to the organization of your preference and it will get to those who deserve it.
He then listed out the Palestinian zakat (charity) committees on the indictment, such as the Jenin Zakat Committee, Nablus Zakat Committee, Ramallah Zakat Committee, Tulkarim Zakat Committee, Qalqilia Zakat Committee, the Islamic Charitable Society of Hebron and the Islamic Science and Culture Committee. Jonas mentioned the payments between those charities and the HLF. Their leaders have been identified as Hamas, he added. Plus, Israeli agents have seized several Hamas-related items — including videos, key chains, postcards and political statements — from the committees. Those were his major arguments to prove that the zakat committees are controlled by or operated for the benefit of Hamas — the key accusation in the HLF case.
The jurors then saw another video seized at a zakat committee. The footage showed young girls reenacting a suicide bombing in a staged play. He played another excerpt showing children singing the following phrase in Arabic Ibnik Yantifada Ibnik Ya Hamas (Your child Intifada is your child Hamas.) He then said Hamas is a chartered member of both the Specially Designated Terrorist list and Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
Jonas concluded with an awkward analogy. Suppose the Dallas Cowboys is a designated terrorist organization. If the defensive linebacker is a terrorist, then all the teammates are terrorists. He then continued his rant: The defendants in this case exploited human tragedy for their own gain. For over 13 years, these men deceived the American public. He wrapped up by paraphrasing Judge James Moody who heard the Sami Al-Arian case. By supporting Hamas, they helped create widows and orphans, Jonas said.
Nancy Hollander, defendant Shukri Abu-Baker’s attorney, was the first from the defense council to give an opening statement. She began by announcing what the HLF case was really about: charity. She said every single witness talked about the desperate need of Palestinians. Mr. Abu-Baker wanted children to have shoes to go to school and a library to study in, she said. She reaffirmed that her client and the other defendants were not charged with any act of violence. She added that Abu-Baker is a religious man. To him, zakat (charity) is a duty.
Omission points out what this case is really about, Hollander continued. The government has put a lot of things out of context, she said. Hollander then discredited the prosecution by saying that U.S. government attorneys used documents with incorrect translations and fabrications.
She also made it clear that the HLF case was FBI agent Lara Burns’ only case. Burns — like the prosecutors — provided selective documents to prove her point. Hollander gave this example. During the 1993 Philadelphia meeting, Abu-Baker said, We gave the Muslims $100,000 and the others $5,000. Burns testified that the HLF only gave a $5,000 check to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. Hollander clarified that Burns did not mention the other check of $2,500 made out to the victims. HLF employees donated blood and paid to fly about 50 individuals to Oklahoma City at the foundation’s expense to help distribute food. Burns didn’t mention that either. Hollander then asked rhetorically, Who’s really being deceptive here? Do you really trust the government?
Hollander also stated that “Islamist” does not always refer to Hamas members. She then showed the jury a photo of First Lady Laura Bush wearing a hijab (head scarf) and meeting with a leading Islamist. Hollander then asked, Would the American president’s wife meet with a Hamas member?
The Oslo Accord never called for a Palestinian state, she continued. These people wanted a homeland and they didn’t get it, she said. Hollander added that Hamas was not the only entity to oppose Oslo. Numerous Israelis, Christians and non-terrorist organizations also opposed it. To Jonas argument — No one can be convicted for what they say — Hollander said this: Jonas spent the whole time telling you what people said.
She made clear that the HLF was not a political institution. Rather, it was an American charity. And when Abu-Baker used “Samah” at the Philadelphia meeting, Hamas was used just as often, Hollander added. As for the HLF moneychanger, he was a food vendor. But the government did not portray that truth despite the fact that there was plenty of supporting evidence.
Hollander then discussed the high number of Palestinian homes demolished by Israeli militants in the Palestinian territories. She also displayed photos showing HLF’s charity work. In addition, she made clear that none of the zakat committees have been placed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of designated terrorists. A couple defense witnesses testified that they visited zakat committees in occupied Palestine, Hollander said. On the other hand, no government witness has ever stepped foot in a zakat committee.
Self-proclaimed Hamas expert Matthew Levitt said the zakat committees are not on the designated lists because there was “not enough time in the day.” Hollander then showed the jury a three-inch thick designation list with hundreds of names listed on each page typed in small print. If these were truly terrorist organizations, the government would have found time to designate them, she said. She then told the jury, Instead of depending on these lists, the U.S. government wants you to rely on Avi, a secret Israeli agent.
Like one defense witness testified, the U.S. government calls Israeli intelligence “unreliable,” Hollander added. The government needs reasonable cause to place individuals and organizations on the designation lists. Unlike reasonable doubt, reasonable cause does not require one to be completely unhesitant when making the decision. The Treasury Department didn’t even have reasonable cause to place any of the defendants on the Specially Designated Terrorist list, she said.
As Hollander concluded, she said, Don’t permit Nathan Garrett to wrap himself with the American flag. You have to wrap yourselves with American flag. Make sure that when you go to deliberate, prosecutors have removed every reasonable doubt. And when that happens, you’ll find my client — Shukri Abu-Baker — not guilty.