Following nine days of deliberations, jury returns guilty verdicts
The lowest point on earth was not the shoreline of the Dead Sea on Monday, Nov. 24, 2008. Rather it was a federal courthouse in Downtown Dallas.
At around 3 p.m., the courtroom—where the anticipated Holy Land Foundation retrial verdict was to take place—filled up in fast-forward. Family members, justice supporters and government officials poured into the large room, sat on the wooden benches and chatted quietly with mixed emotions.
“All rise,” a court marshal said. The 10-woman, 2-man jury walked in two rows and took their seats. The foreperson, a white stout woman, handed the verdict to a court staff member who in turn handed it to U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis. The judge flipped through the document and then began reading the verdicts. “Guilty. Guilty. Guilty …”
After a seven-week retrial and almost nine days of deliberations, the jury convicted the HLF and the defendants on all 108 counts. These 12 Texans—made up of nine Whites and three Blacks—unfortunately fell for the prosecution’s fear-tactics and guilt-by-association. The judge recessed briefly as the jury answered one final question: Should the $12.4 million that the government said went to alleged Hamas-controlled zakat committees in Palestine be forfeited to the government? After nearly half an hour of private discussion, the jury answered the question predictably: Yes, the money should be forfeited.
Although federal prosecutors and FBI agents smirked, most of the room was stunned. Some relatives of the defendants stared blankly, shedding zero tears. Others—including some children, wives and parents—wept. Many sobbed loudly, running out of breath. Fourteen-year-old Nida Abu-Baker, daughter of Shukri Abu-Baker, stumbled out of the courtroom bellowing, “My dad’s not a criminal. He’s a human. They treated him like an animal.”
The five defendants (Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu-Baker, Mufid Abdulqader, Abdulrahaman Odeh and Mohammad El-Mezain) were each allowed to hug a total of three family members—one at a time—after which they were accompanied by guards with handcuffs. The five noble men flashed peace signs and slowly waved their arms. Their strength was transparent. Their content smiles shined radiantly. They were proud and honored to serve prison time for saving lives in Palestine. Yet an aura of betrayal pervaded the room. Two decades ago, they came to this country to escape such Israeli-influenced persecutions, and now they were being subjected to that very hounding from a county that became their beloved home. But with an appeal already underway, the defendants and their families know the legal fight is not over. Truth and justice will emerge triumphantly from this gloomy low point in American history.