Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Closing Arguments Made in Case to Determine Whether Holy Land Foundation was a Charity or a Terrorist Front

The Dallas Morning News reports that lawyers finished their closing arguments to jurors today to determine whether five defendants broke U.S. law by funneling more than $12 million to Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States before the government shut it down in 2001.

Prosecutor Barry Jonas told jurors that throughout the two-month trial, the defense has stressed the defendants’ relief work on behalf of Palestinians under Israeli occupation in order “to distract you” from evidence that the defendants gave Hamas money. He reminded jurors that since 1995, U.S. law has prohibited any support of Hamas, including humanitarian aid. The government contends that Holy Land sent money to specific Palestinian charity groups, called zakat committees, in Hamas’ social services wing. That wing provides aid to Palestinians, particularly relatives of suicide bombers.

Theresa Duncan, an attorney for former Holy Land CEO Shukri Abu Baker, began the defense summations by saying that Holy Land’s good works on behalf of Palestinians oppressed under Israeli occupation are not “mere distractions,” but are central to the case. She said that for Mr. Baker and Holy Land, “providing relief to people was not just a job, it was a religious obligation.”

Ms. Duncan said the defendants always wanted to follow the law. Holy Land submitted its books to annual audits, she said, and the charity kept detailed records for years — well beyond its obligations as a tax-free entity. After the U.S. declared Hamas a terrorist organization, Holy Land hired a former Dallas congressman to help the organization approach the U.S. government to get advice about which overseas groups were off limits to fund, but they were rebuffed, she said. The zakat committees Holy Land funded are still not designated as terrorism fronts, she reminded jurors.

Ms. Duncan told jurors that “no one disputes that Hamas is a terrorist organization.” She said that Mr. Baker never “advocated for the destruction of Israel. Shukri’s life and work is about helping people and not hurting them.”

Linda Moreno, attorney for former Holy Land co-founder Ghassan Elashi, told jurors her client put politics aside in order to help Palestinians under the brutal Israeli occupation. "For those who have been impoverished by politics and history and failed leadership, for all those generations of refugees that he helped feed and clothe and educate, Ghassan Elashi does not apologize for serving them," she told jurors. "He knew the work of the Holy Land Foundation attracted enemies." She acknowledged that wiretapped phone calls showed Mr. Elashi questioned the fairness of U.S. terrorism laws that he thought would stifle legitimate overseas aid to the needy Palestinians and other refugees. "But," she said, "he sought to obey.”

In the government rebuttal, prosecutor Jim Jacks reminded jurors of videos from the 1980s and early 1990s of Palestinian festivals where speakers and musicians openly praised Hamas and Holy Land raised money. "Can there be any doubt that these men were the leaders of Hamas in the United States, and that they were the fundraising mechanism?" he asked. "Look at all those videos. It seems like every song was about support of Hamas, about martyrdom, about jihad, about killing Jews."

Last year’s trial of the same men ended in a hung jury and mistrial. The retrial began two months with prosecutors eliminating much of their previous case but keeping their essential charge that Holy Land was created to raise money for Hamas.

Deliberations are expected to begin this afternoon or Wednesday. The case is being tried in the U.S. District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division, with Judge Jorge A. Solis presiding.

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