Closing arguments begin (Nov. 10, 2008)
After seeing numerous videos, listening to plenty of wiretapped calls and reading hundreds of documents during the seven-week Holy Land Foundation Retrial, the 10-woman, 2-man jury finally got to hear some closing arguments on Monday, Nov. 10, 2008.
The day opened with an hour or so of jury instructions by U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis. Consider all the evidence, he said. You are the judge of the credibility or believability of each witness … I remind you that the defendants have the right not to testify … The indictment is not evidence … You are the soul judges of the facts … You must be sure that the government proved each charge beyond a reasonable doubt … The verdict must be unanimous as to each count and each defendant.
For the next three hours and a half, prosecutor Barry Jonas gave his closing argument. He began by saying, We’ve heard a lot of talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You’re not here to decide who’s right or wrong in the conflict. You’re here to decide whether the defendants knowingly and willfully provided money to Hamas. After reminding the jury that Hamas was established after the Intifada in 1987, Jonas read part of Hamas’ charter. It “calls for the destruction of Israel by jihad,” he said. Jonas played numerous videos throughout his closing argument, like one depicting an interview with some of the Palestinians whom Israel deported in 1993 to a deserted mountaintop in southern Lebanon. He then said, “The Israelis wanted peace and the Intifada crushed it.”
Jonas continued, Hamas has three wings: political, military and social. The military wing does not discriminate between men, women and children. It doesn’t discriminate between civilians and soldiers or Israelis and Westerners. He showed the jury a picture of a bus in flames after a suicide bombing, and he displayed some posters glorifying suicide bombers that were seized from Palestinian zakat (charity) committees. The political wing manages Hamas’ finances, Jonas said, adding, “He who controls the money has the power.” Through the social wing, Jonas said Hamas has supported zakat committees, schools, universities, libraries, hospitals and mosques. This is all to win the hears and minds of the Palestinian people, he exclaimed. In these schools, Hamas can teach kids about hate, jihad and killing Israelis.
As for the evidence about HLF’s charity work that the defense team presented, Jonas said, I don’t want to sound cold and calus—but don’t get sucked into that. The defendants, he said, gave “the fuel to run the Hamas engine.” Why should Americans care if Hamas hasn’t attacked the U.S.? he asked after which he answered, Because Hamas uses the U.S. as a cash cow. Because Hamas has tried to derail the peace process. And because supporting Hamas is against the law. Jonas talked about HLF’s establishment in 1989. Along with the IAP (Islamic Association for Palestine,) UASR (United Association for Studies and Research,) the HLF was overseen by the Palestine Committee, which was an umbrella organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jonas argued. “I’d like to call the Palestine Committee Hamas in America,” he said. He said the defendants names as well as members of the Palestine Committee were in the phone book of Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook.
The defendants, Jonas argued, also talked in code. He said they substituted Hamas with “Samah” in phone calls and in the Philadelphia meeting, where Arab-American met at a hotel in 1993 to discuss world affairs. Jonas also told the jury that in the Philadelphia meeting, Abu-Baker allegedly said he wanted to derail the Oslo Accord. (*Important*: But the man that the FBI linguist identified as Abu-Baker was not him, according to his relatives. He had a different voice and completely different Arabic dialect.) As for Al-Sakhra (the Rock) Band, they toned after the Philadelphia meeting. That’s not because of what was happening on the ground in Palestine. It was to start hiding their true nature from America, Jonas said.
The HLF were in contact with Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook, Jonas said. They received $210,000 from him as well as a few phone calls from him and other Hamas leaders, Jonas argued, then added, According to Dr. Levitt (government witness and self-proclaimed Hamas expert Matthew Levitt) the occasional contact was not coincidental. Jonas then briefly talked about an undated, unsigned supposed “security document” with no verifiable fingerprints that was found in HLF’s records at Infocom, a web-hosting company owned by defendant Elashi and his brothers. “Why would a charity need something like this? he asked. This unreliable document is proof to the FBI and prosecutors that the HLF tried to conceal their connection with Hamas. Government witness Steve McGonigle, a Dallas Morning News reporter, testified that Hamas leaders Mahmoud Al-Zahar and Ahmad Yasin said they were not part of Hamas. Al-Zahar “lied” and Yasin “played dumb,” which further embodied HLF’s goal to conceal their true nature, Jonas said.
The five defendants in the HLF case also individually supported Hamas, Jonas argued. Shukri Abu-Baker addressed Hamas in a piece he wrote for an Arab-American newspaper in the early 1990s. In a wiretapped phone call, Abdulrahman Odeh called a suicide bombing “a beautiful operation.” Mohammad El-Mezain received Hamas communiqués and gave speeches about “jihadist operations,” Jonas said. And Mufid Abdulqader was in a band that sang about Hamas. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck, then it’s a duck, Jonas said.
He then played an excerpt of a 1990 skit performed by Abdulqader and another individual dressed like an Israeli soldier where Abdulqader chanted, Ana Hamas Ya’yooni (I am Hamas oh beloved.) Jonas then looked at the jury and said, “That sums it up right there.” He played a few other videos of Palestinian performances and skits. He also played a particular clip showing a speech by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian spiritual leader who fought alongside Afghanis against the Soviets during the late 1970s. In the overplayed clip, Azzam proclaimed passionately in Arabic, It is a duty for all Muslims to do jihad with their souls and money after which a flashing request appears on the screen asking viewers to send donations to the Occupied Land Fund (the original name of the HLF.)
Jonas told the jury they were not going to see HLF checks made out to Hamas because this would go against their “deceiving nature.” Back to the zakat committees, the Israeli witness to testified under the false name of “Avi” as well as former HLF volunteer Mohamed Shorbagi both testified that the committees were controlled by Hamas (even though both have never been to a zakat committee. On the other hand, defense witness Edward Abington, who was a U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, visited the committees numerous times.) But Jonas said, “Ed Abington doesn’t know squat about these zakat committees, ladies and gentlemen.”
For the next half an hour or so, Jonas played several videos of kindergarten ceremonies run by some of the zakat committees to which the HLF gave money. The footage featured some children dressed as Hamas icons and others praising suicide bombers. “This is brainwashing. This is who HLF was giving their money to,” Jonas said.
Jonas concluded, All the evidence in this case clearly shows that the defendants conspired to send money to Hamas. They exploited human tragedy for their own gain. For over 13 years, they deceived the American public. In reality, they were part of a larger plan to eliminate the state of Israel. They said they supported widows and orphans, but by supporting Hamas, they helped create widows and orphans. Find them guilty.
Theresa Duncan—who represents Shukri Abu-Baker—was the first defense attorney to give her closing argument. She began by saying, “This case has always been about charity.” For the HLF and its officials, zakat was not just a job—it was a religious obligation. She said that the history and reality of the Israeli occupation colors every piece of evidence in the case. In fact, we wouldn’t even be here today if it weren’t for the occupation, she said. She showed the jury articles and photos through one of HLF’s newsletters. She affirmed that her client held political views “like all of us,” but his work was about helping people, not hurting them. She continued, Shukri never sent money to designated zakat committees. He did everything he could to follow the law, so he wouldn’t let down the people who counted on him. He knew his charity was under scrutiny from the mid-1990s, so he hired an attorney and set up meetings with the FBI. And everyone told them they were not doing anything wrong.
Next, Duncan said there was no evidence backing the prosecutor’s allegation that the Palestine Committee is a big secret. They were an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was never banned in this country, she said. Duncan also asserted that Abu-Baker never spoke about the destruction of Israel. Again, she reiterated, Abu-Baker has political beliefs, but he should not be prosecuted for these beliefs, saying That would trample the First Amendment into the dust. She reminded the jury that many Palestinians and Israelis opposed Oslo, and Abu-Baker spoke against it because “he feared the world would forget about Palestine.”
The HLF was a public organization that didn’t throw away bank records, was frequently audited and had an open book policy. The HLF financial records were “transparent,” she said, with every single dime accounted for. She then brought up an essential argument: With all the resources at the government’s disposal, it did not bring a single witness who stepped foot in a zakat committee. Although defense witness Edward Abington, the former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, was the only witness who has stepped foot in zakat committees, prosecutor Barry Jonas said he doesn’t know squat. In addition, Duncan encouraged the jurors not to rely on the government’s summery charts because they skew the picture. You must look at the underlying documents, she said.
Furthermore, Duncan clarified that until this day, none of the zakat committees on the HLF indictment are on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of designated terrorists. Why are they not on the list? It’s simple: They are not controlled by Hamas, Duncan said. Abington, who was instructed not to deal with Hamas and was not paid for his testimony in the HLF case, said the committees were not controlled by Hamas. Government witness Matthew Levitt testified that the reason the zakat committees are not designated is because there aren’t enough hours in the day. If they were such a threat, don’t you think the government would have had time to at least designate one zakat committee, Duncan said.
She then showed the jury one of HLF’s annual report, naming a few of HLF’s accomplishments in one year: They provided healthcare, education supplies, scholarships, food packages and holiday gifts. They helped fund summer programs and hospitals.
Duncan said that Jim Jacks will “wrap himself with the American flag,” in his final closing argument. She encouraged the jurors to wrap themselves in the American flag while making the “most important decision” in their lives. She concluded, I know will arrive to the only conclusion that is fair and uphold the American justice system—And that is to find Shukri Abu-Baker not guilty.
Closing arguments will conclude Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008 after which the case will go to the jury.