Upon shutting down the Holy Land Foundation in 2001, President Bush said in a press conference that “money raised by the HLF is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers.”
Two and a half years later, the indictment was released. After sifting through hundreds of wiretapped phone calls and hundreds of thousands of documents, prosecutors could not find a connection between the HLF and Hamas. Therefore, the prosecutors altered their allegations. They charged the HLF with providing charity to Palestinian zakat committees that were allegedly “controlled by” and “worked on behalf of Hamas.”
The trial in 2007, which took place in the Earle Cabell Courthouse in Downtown Dallas, lasted three months. Prosecutors argued that the HLF conspired to support Hamas by providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian families with the intention of “secretly winning the hearts and minds” of the population, and eventually encouraging them to be suicide bombers. The prosecution’s key witness was an Israeli intelligence officer, testifying under the fake name of Avi, who claimed he could smell Hamas; this was the was the first time in an American courtroom that an expert witness was allowed to testify under a pseudonym.
According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors also depended on “faulty translations” and “questionable foreign intelligence” mainly from Israel to make their case. Furthermore, they used fear tactics by showing jurors scenes of suicide bombings completely unaffiliated with the HLF, videos of children marching on a kindergarten stage wearing army garb and mock suicide vests, images meant to intimidate the jury. Prosecutors also used collective punishment and guilt by association by linking the defendants to relatives who are members of Hamas.
Judge A. Joe Fish denied the defense attorneys from properly presenting their case; he prevented them from showing the jury examples of HLF’s charity work, which the judge deemed as irrelevant. HLF attorneys argued that their clients never funded violence and never broke the law since none of the zakat committees included in the indictment were listed on the Treasury Department’s list of designated terrorists. A key defense witness, Edward Abington—who was a consul general at the American Consulate in Jerusalem and the State Department’s second highest intelligence official—testified that after receiving CIA briefings and visiting the zakat committees, he was never informed that the zakat committees were controlled by Hamas. In fact, defense attorneys argued that USAID, United Nations, Red Cross, CARE, European Commission and many international NGOs have sent money to the same zakat committees listed on the HLF indictment. This was the way to distribute humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
After a three month trial, 12 plus years of investigation, millions of taxpayer money spent and 19 days of deliberations, the jury failed to return a single guilty verdict. William Neal, one of the leading jurors of the first trial, said:
“They kept trying to show us stuff around the case, not the case. They presented to the jury, you know these committees, these organizations controlled by or on the behalf of Hamas, but they kept showing us blown-up buses and they kept showing us little kids in bomb belts reenacting Hamas leaders. It had nothing to do with the actual charges. It had nothing to do with the defendants.”
Another juror Nanette Scroggins said, “I kept expecting the government to come up with something, and it never did. From what I saw, this was about Muslims raising money to support Muslims, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Following a hung jury, or a split decision, the judge declared a mistrial and prosecutors persisted on retrying the case the following year.
In 2008, after essentially the same arguments, jurors returned all guilty verdicts.
In 2009, the Holy Land Five received sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years. The defense attorneys are currently appealing the case.