Case goes to jury (September 19, 2007)

The jury mostly sat still, blank-faced and wide-awake on Wednesday, September 19, 2007. After listening to a third day of closing arguments and jury instructions, jurors left the courtroom to begin deliberation. As Linda Moreno — defense attorney for Ghassan Elashi — spoke, all four prosecutors leaned their chairs back and forth. Maybe it was to distract the jury. Or maybe they were feeling nervous and exposed.

Moreno began by telling the jury that her client supported orphans and the needy — not violence, terrorism and Hamas. Mr. Elashi does not apologize for feeding hungry women and children, she said. Moreno then said, Perhaps you didn’t know about the consequences of the Intifada (uprising) and the effects of the military occupation or the fact that Palestinians are refugees in their homeland. Perhaps you didn’t know about the families thrown out in the street, only to watch their homes being demolished with their own eyes. But Mr. Elashi knew all this and he could not stand by and do nothing.

As for the tapped calls that included Elashi, none showed he supported terrorism, Moreno said. They showed that Elashi had a strong opinion, she said, then continued. You didn’t hear any the defendants inquiring about ‘Hamas funding’ in any of the phone calls. Elashi complied with the law and even hired an attorney to make sure he’s abiding by the law, she added. Moreno said prosecutors criticized Elashi for having a copy of the law in his office. But he only did what a responsible charity official would do, she said.

She then discussed the security manual found among the HLF files in Infocom, a computer company that was owned by Elashi and his brothers. HLF officials broke the rules found in the unsigned and undated document. She then asked, Does this manual confirm that the government showed the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt?

Moreno reminded the jury of the testimony of defense witness Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat in Jerusalem. He spent 30 years in the State Department and he received daily briefings from the CIA, she said, then added, He was the eyes and ears of America. But Abington called Israeli intelligence “unreliable,” Moreno said. Abington also testified that zakat (charity) committees can’t take sides; they’re non-partisan. And according to another defense witness, the committees are transparent. As for the items found inside the committees — such as videos and key chains — none of the defendants have ever seen or discussed them, Moreno said.

She then read from transcript of a tapped phone conversation where defendants Elashi and Shukri Abu-Baker discuss a list of U.S. designated terrorist organizations. We won’t be able to send money to a Palestinian hospital or a university. This is an economic siege over the Palestinian people. I don’t care about the law; this is injustice. They’re singling out Islamic groups. I’m going to abide by the law, but in the meantime I’ll be very outspoken, Elashi stated. Moreno then said, This is free speech. They’re upset.

Moreno discredited a government witness — an Israeli agent who testified under the pseudonym of Avi — who said he could “smell” Hamas in occupied Palestine’s zakat committees. But he never stepped foot in a zakat committee and he never read a book about them, Moreno exclaimed.

The jury then listened to Moreno speak about the daily lives of the Palestinian people. It’s harsh. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein — a Jewish-American doctor — entered the Ibrahimi mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron and shot and killed 29 praying Palestinians. It’s ironic that after that massacre, Israel imposed a two-month curfew on the Palestinians in Hebron, she said. Moreno also discussed the home demolitions, the nearly 10,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and the numerous Jewish settlements in the West Bank. She quoted the prominent Edward Said, a Colombia University professor and a Palestinian activist, when he said Palestinians are “victims of victims.” You wonder if he’s right when looking at this, Moreno said as she showed the jury a photo depicting this graffiti by Israeli settlers: “Arabs to the Gas Chambers.”

She brought up the numerous kindergarten videos that prosecutors showed the jury. The HLF had nothing to do with these videos; HLF officials never discussed them or saw them, Moreno said. Then she asked rhetorically, Who is really exploiting children in the courtroom? One specific video showed a skit, where a young Palestinian girl dressed in suicide vests recites a poem. Moreno read aloud the poem that prosecutors never translated:

You do not know me O soldier.
You are afraid of my childhood.
Afraid of my small fingers,
and of my dreams.
You can grasp the collar of my shirt,
but you will not be able to grasp my heart.
You are afraid of my notebook,
and my toy, and my books.
You are afraid of my notebook,
and my toy, and my books.
You scream in fear of my innocence,
and hide in the rusty helmet,
and ask for help while in hiding.
I am looking you in the eyes,
what right do you have for me
to give you my homeland?
What right do you have for me
to give you my homeland?
What right do you have for me
to give you my homeland?

Moreno concluded by saying this: This case will say a lot about us as a people. This is the one time in your life when you know that your vote really counts. We’re asking you to be courageous and look beyond the fear, prejudice and politics of this cynical prosecution and find my client Ghassan Elashi not guilty.

Prosecutor Nathan Garrett had the final word from both sides before the jury left the wooden box to deliberate. Take your time. I don’t want you to rush to judgment, he told jurors. He reminded them that all they need is common sense, not a college degree. He admitted that Hamas wasn’t designated by the U.S. until 1995. But the story must be told from the very beginning; the HLF’s birth was near the time of Hamas’ creation during the first Intifada, he said. He read segments from the Hamas charter and used the widespread method of fear as he read aloud more than a dozen documents mentioning the words “jihad” and “martyrs.”

As for the videos, did they simply show words to a song, poem or skit, he inquired. The speakers on HLF’s speaker list raised money for the foundation to “promote the flare of jihad,” Garrett bellowed. He then confessed that the defendants were not individually designated. Only the HLF was designated in 2001. But does the HLF have a heart and mind. It is operated through its people, decision-makers and signatories, he said.

Next, Garrett attempted to reestablish credibility for government witnesses Matthew Levitt and Avi. Levitt has a PhD and wrote a book on Hamas, he said. Avi was also a Hamas expert; the defense attorneys made “cheap and unfair remarks about him,” he added. He then read from several documents for nearly half an hour before defaming defense witness Edward Abington. I was a bit embarrassed that he was the best the U.S. had to send to Jerusalem. I don’t mean to be rude, but he couldn’t even name one leader of Hamas in the West Bank. He criticized Israeli intelligence, Garrett said, then continued his rant. As for Nathan Brown, he’s clueless about Hamas. He didn’t know about its structure and leadership. His book barely mentioned Hamas. He then added, Forgive me for my bluntness, but neither one of them knows squat about Hamas.

Garrett said the zakat committees were more than “controlled by or operated for the benefit of Hamas.” They were part of Hamas, he exclaimed. He then reminded the jury that each of the five defendants has a relative who’s a Hamas member. Garrett then asked, Is that a coincidence? To HLF officials, it was all about protecting the American face, he explained. They exploited humanitarianism to make them look legitimate, he said.

He concluded by saying this: This is the point when I ask you to find these defendants guilty. But I’m not going to do that. I’m asking you to find justice. This day, this hour, this moment, this place, you are the system. Justice is what you say it is.

It was finally time for jury instructions. By about 3 p.m., Judge A. Joe Fish began reading to the jurors the first few pages, but his voice gave out. So a courtroom clerk read the rest of the instructions. As she read the 36-count indictment included in the instructions, the jury looked down at the packets flipping page after page. After nearly two hours of reading, the judge thanked the three alternate jurors and asked them to leave the room. The four-man, eight-woman jury — comprised of five Blacks, three Hispanics and four Whites — began deliberating by about 4:30 p.m. The judge instructed them to select their lead juror before they broke for the day.

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