As the fifth week of the Holy Land Foundation Retrial wrapped up, jurors were still wide awake as defense attorneys continued to cross-examine FBI agent Lara Burns.
Linda Moreno—who represents defendant Ghassan Elashi—began her cross-examination of Burns by clarifying that many of the zakat (charity) committees were established before Hamas was founded in 1987. For the next 20 minutes or so, Moreno asked Burns to read aloud some of the projects by the zakat committees to which the HLF gave money: The watched over mosques and kindergartens. They provided orphan sponsorships and housing projects. They offered health care, social care, food, shelter and education. They opened libraries and hospitals.
They maintained Quran-memorization classes, rehabilitation centers, technical institutes, knitting shops and honey-bee farms.
The jury then saw photographs of HLF’s charity work, featuring the HLF representative in Gaza. She then played footage depicting the death of Bassam Al-Bilbeisi, the ambulance driver who was killed by Israelis on his way to save Mohammad Al-Durrah who was an iconic 12-year-old boy who was shot to death by Israeli soldiers. The video showed Al-Bilbeisi’s wife talking about her husband’s death. Praise be to God, she said. He died as a martyr. We thank the American foundation, the Holy Land Foundation. When Moreno asked Burns how Al-Bilbeisi was killed, Burns said, The ambulance driver was killed by a cross-fire between the terrorists and the Israeli army.
Moreno ended by reading parts of the 1996 wiretapped phone conversation between defendants Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu-Baker where they discussed a U.S. law that prevented aid from reaching Palestine.
Elashi said, I’m gonna abide by the law because I won’t be able to make a transfer. But meanwhile, I’m going to be severely out-spoken. It is enough that Israel is placing a siege on the Palestinian people, then comes America with its might wanting to place a siege on a hospital.
Shukri then said, After they release the lists, it its gonna be clear, crystal clear, that this is racism against the Palestinian people.
This is the Zionist theology that the Palestinian people are subhuman, they don’t deserve to live and the assistance provided to them is not worthy. For them, they will suffocate the Palestinian people without shedding a tear over them and they will think they’re doing humanity a good service by exterminating the Palestinian people.
If this happens, we should not leave any corner in Dallas, not even Texas, if possible in America, that we don’t get the message right. I will start in this town. I will not leave any church, any mosque, any corner until I stand in it and say that this is injustice, this is this is American and this is Israel and Israel is South Africa and this is a siege on the Palestinian people.
I agree with you 100 percent.
Nancy Hollander—who represents defendant Shukri Abu-Baker—began her cross-examination of Burns by discussing a document addressed to Shukri, where the term “ours” was mentioned. To Burns, “ours” referred to Hamas.
But Hamas is not mentioned anywhere in the document, correct? Hollander asked.
Yes, Burns replied.
She said that Al-Salah Foundation doesn’t appear in the HLF indictment. As for the videos seized at the HLF, many of them featured people in tents because their homes were demolished, she added. They also featured people receiving refrigerators, gas generators or mattresses. Burns couldn’t remember if the HLF gave such items. When she was asked to define a martyr, she said the word had two meanings. It could mean people like Yahya Ayyash, the late Palestinian man who engineered the suicide bomb. It could also mean innocent people who were killed.
Hollander then asked, When you discuss prisoners, you mean people who are under administrative detention? You know the Israeli law permits jails to hold Palestinians without charges or trial
Yes, Burns answered.
Objection. What’s the relevance, prosecutor Jonas yelled.
Sustained, said U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis.
Hollander had another essential question: You know that some Palestinians were detained for throwing rocks, correct
Burns’ snarky reply: I’m not personally aware of that.
Aaron Mysliwiec—who represents defendant Mohammad El-Mezain—was next to cross-examine Burns. He clarified one vital point: When Israel was the authority controlling the zakat committees in the West Bank in the early 1990s, it approved the expansion of a Palestinian hospital.
Mysliwiec’s cross-examination was put on hold as prosecutors called their second-to-last witness to the stand.
Georgetown professor Dr. Bruce Hoffman was the government’s next witness. Jonas began by talking about Hoffman’s background. He received his graduate degrees at Oxford University in England. He’s written a few books and nearly 400 reports on terrorism. He’s interviewed people worldwide and worked for RAND, a think tank that offered military advice. He testified before Congress. He previously did not testify at a criminal trial to maintain his credibility as a scholar. He broke that rule today, getting paid $434.50 an hour for his testimony.
Hoffman began by addressing the services of terrorist organizations’ social wings. They provide schools, medical supplies and jobs “to win the hearts and minds of the people,” he said. Hoffman then compared the Palestinian zakat committees to Irish Northern Aid, saying both essential social wings. In addition, he said Irish Northern Aid claimed they sent charity to the Irish people, but reports concluded that about 70 percent of their aid was in forms of weapons for the Irish Republican Army, or the IRA. He also compared Hamas to the IRA, saying that both are terrorist organizations, which depended heavily on front organizations that “publicly concealed their identities.” You’ll never find a document that says the Irish Northern Aid equals the IRA, he exclaimed.
Jonas asked Hoffman if there were charities in Palestine who were not fronts for Hamas. Yes, he said. The Palestine Red Crescent. UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund.) Jonas concluded by asking Hoffmn if charity in the hands of terrorist organizations was a good or bad thing. Hoffman’s answer: It’s definitely a bad thing because they’re looking for something in return—to control the population and garner support.
Defense attorneys intentionally did not cross-examine Hoffman.
AS Aaron Mysliwiec continued to cross-examine Lara Burns, he displayed numerous documents with Palestinian National Authority Symbols, thanking the HLF for sending necessities to the zakat committees and congratulating them on their 10th year anniversary. Mysliwiec also talked about the deportees who were arrested by the Israeli government in 1992 and dropped on a deserted mountaintop in southern Lebanon. Burns previously testified that the deportees were members of either Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Mysliwiec proved that Burns’ claim was a false statement by playing a video previously played by the government of a Palestinian man saying, The deportees were from Hamas or Islamic Jihad and others are from— and then it cuts off. Mysliwiec asked Burns if she knew what the man continued to say. Burns’ response was predictable: I don’t remember. Mysliwiec clarified that man said the other deportees were not affiliated with any group.
Burns will likely conclude her testimony on Monday, Oct. 27, 2008. This week, prosecutors will call their last witness (another anonymous Israeli agent) and rest their case.