Monday, July 16, 2007
By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News
For many North Texas Muslims, the Holy Land Foundation investigation is a saga fueled by prejudice.
Local Muslim leaders have long decried the government’s “witch hunt” of what they say was a charitable foundation dedicated to helping Palestinian refugees caught up in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
They say the investigation and the trial of Holy Land and seven of its organizers is a product of “Islamophobia,” which was the focus of a conference last weekend in Dallas sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“This politically driven indictment will break new ground and potentially make new law by attempting to criminalize humanitarian aid,” said Khalil Meek, president of the Plano-based Muslim Legal Fund of America, which is helping pay for the Holy Land defendants’ attorneys.
For the family of Ghassan Elashi, the trial is the latest in more than a decade of troubles with the federal government. Investigations have included interrogations, searches, arrests and the wiretapping of conversations.
“The trial has taken over my thoughts during the day and my dreams during the night,” said Noor Elashi, daughter of Mr. Elashi and a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Prosecutors accuse Mr. Elashi and his co-defendants of using Richardson-based Holy Land to funnel millions of dollars to the terrorist organization Hamas.
But for the 21-year-old, the case is about her father’s name and reputation.
“While I’m driving, while I’m working, while I’m eating, it’s all I think about,” she said. “I keep asking myself, ‘How can my father and the other co-defendants be accused of supporting heinous acts of violence when all they did was feed, clothe and help educate Palestinian orphans and widows?’ ”
Today’s trial is the third involving her family members. In 2004 and 2005, her father and uncles defended themselves against accusations that they did business with terrorist nations by shipping computer equipment to Syria and Libya.
Defense attorneys argued that the government’s accusations were overblown because the men were Muslim and amounted to nothing more than minor export violations that should have been handled with a fine.
They were also accused of having financial dealings with a high-ranking Hamas member, Mousa Abu Marzook, who is married to a cousin of the Elashis. The family says the money was actually an annuity investment in InfoCom by Mr. Marzook’s wife. She used the monthly proceeds to pay living expenses, attorneys for the brothers said.
The juries returned convictions in both trials.
“It’s unimaginable that a man who loves America so much would face such tribulations in the country he now calls home,” Ms. Elashi said.
Ms. Elashi said her father was uprooted from his childhood Palestinian home in 1967, along with his parents and four brothers. The family settled in the U.S. about 25 years ago and has called it home since.
“America is the only home that my five siblings and I have ever known – from my brother who lives and breathes skateboarding, to my teenage sister, whose favorite show is Gilmore Girls.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, says even it has become a target since it was included on a list of unindicted co-conspirators filed by the Holy Land prosecutors.
Typically, prosecutors identify a person or a group as an unindicted co-conspirator so that their statements, or those of people involved in the listed organizations, about the defendants can be used in court without them being considered hearsay, which is not permitted in trial.
Mr. Meek, who is active in the local CAIR chapter, said also on the government’s co-conspirator’s list is the nation’s largest Muslim educational source, the Islamic Society of North America, and the North American Islamic Trust, the country’s largest holding company of deeds to about 300 mosques, Islamic centers and schools in the U.S.
“They’re implicating mainstream, moderate Muslim voices all over the country,” said Mr. Meek. “This is a politically driven crusade.”
In March, a legal flap further fueled criticisms of prejudice by Muslims. Defense attorneys found that summaries of government wiretap transcripts detailing Holy Land officials’ conversations falsely attributed anti-Jewish comments to Holy Land Foundation leaders.
“Even Jesus Christ had called the Jews and their high priests … the sons of snakes and scorpions” reads one summary quotation, which is not in the transcript.
“This is beyond incompetence,” said Lawrence Davidson, a professor of Middle Eastern history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
“It’s not a crime that’s motivating this,” said Dr. Davidson, who is Jewish. “They want to prevent the Muslim community from gaining influence.”
Justice officials have said they’re investigating how the transcript errors occurred, but they declined to publicly comment about the Holy Land case.
For Ms. Elashi, her family’s ordeal is a cautionary tale for all Americans.
“I was raised to cherish such a place that accepts people regardless of their religion or ethnic origin,” she said. “Now we’re being persecuted for those two reasons.”