Closing arguments continue (September 18, 2007)

The courtroom on the 15th floor was packed once again on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 as three more defense witnesses gave their phenomenal closing arguments.

Josh Dratel, defendant Mohammad El-Mezain’s lawyer, was the first that day to give his closing statement. Dratel said the Holy Land Foundation case covered two main questions: Did the HLF send money to zakat (charity) committees? And did they do it knowingly? On Monday, prosecutor Barry Jonas spent the first two hours talking about things other than the zakat committees, Dratel said then added, I’m not going to wait to get to the point. Some defense witnesses lived in occupied Palestine and said the charities are not perceived by the Palestinians as being controlled by or for the benefit of Hamas. Dratel then made a valid point: The zakat committees listed on the indictment are still operating today. They could have been closed in a whim by the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. This alone proves that they’re not affiliated with Hamas, Dratel said. The Israeli government even licensed a hospital project by Jenin Zakat Committee, he said.

El-Mezain wasn’t at the 1993 Philadelphia meeting, where some defendants met to talk about the Oslo Accords. As for the kindergarten videos, none of them were found in the HLF and all were filmed in 2003 and later — after the HLF was shut down in 2001. Other videos — including the one where El-Mezain gives a speech — were recorded in the late 1980s. The organizations that the HLF dealt with — such as Global Relief and Benevolence International Foundation — were also designated after the HLF was shut down. He then made it clear that the Muslim Brotherhood was never designated.

Dratel then discredited government witness Matthew Levitt, a self-proclaimed Hamas expert. He testified with the government several times, he doesn’t know Arabic and he uses unreliable sources like Wikipedia, he said. Two government witnesses testified under anonymous names, he added. Government witness Avi, also a self-proclaimed Hamas expert, does not speak fluent Arabic. He sat in front of a computer and worked a VCR. That’s what he had to do to become a Hamas expert, Dratel said.

El-Mezain received a few phone calls and faxes of suicide bombing reports; that does not make him particularly interested in Hamas, Dratel said. He added that El-Mezain was a law-abiding citizen and there’s no evidence proving otherwise.

Dratel ended by telling the jury, The government has given you one piece of a one-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. Remember, none of these defendants have ever been designated. I ask that you find Mohammad El-Mezain not guilty.

Marlo Cadeddu, defendant Mufid Abdulqader’s lawyer, was the third to give her closing argument. She started by discussing the evidence pertaining to her client. She said out of thousands of documents and wiretap conversations and hundreds of videos, the government presented a small stack dealing with Abdulqader: 11 documents, three tapped phone calls and 13 video tapes. The evidence and testimony showed that Mr. Abdulqder was a band member and a volunteer who raised funds for the HLF. He was not the top fundraiser — he was an average fundraiser among 30 or so, she said.

She then discredited the prosecutors. She said that for the first time during the trial, government attorney Barry Jonas said in his closing argument that Abdulqader was present in the Philadelphia meeting. Then she added, In reference to that, he showed a voided hotel receipt. Mr. Abdulqader never appeared in any photos and the meeting’s speaker list.

Cadeddu then read aloud the 1st Amendment, adding that her client and the other defendants are on trial for simply expressing their political views. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution means something. It means you can talk, sing and perform whatever you like. During Jonas’ closing argument, he told the jury, Mr. Abdulqader said in a skit ‘I am Hamas oh beloved.’ It can’t get any clearer than that. Cadeddu noted that another Palestinian actor in that play says he’s a Zionist. That doesn’t mean he’s really a Zionist, Cadeddu said. She then added, Palestinians have been under occupation for decades. This is political speech. This is what the 1st Amendment was designed to protect.

She said most of the videos were made during the late 1980s and early 1990s, before Hamas was designated in 1995. Only one video was taped after 1995, where Abdulqader read a sheet that sent greetings to Hamas officials such as Ahmad Yassin, Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Musa Abu Marzook. Cadeddu then added, It’s not illegal to talk about Hamas.

Cadeddu said Abdulqader was one volunteer out of about 30 and one band member out of a dozen. She then asked, why was he specifically indicted? Because he’s related to this guy, she said, as she showed the jury a photo of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal. She concluded by saying this: All the tapes with Abdulqader are pure speech protected by the government. I ask that you find my client not guilty.

The attorney for Abdulrahman Odeh, Greg Westfall, was the last to give his closing argument on Tuesday. Westfall started by stating a fact: The HLF sent money to zakat committees. The speculation is that the money went to buy bombs. There’s not a single shred of evidence that proves this, Westfall said.

He then talked about his client. Odeh filled out weekly reports from the New Jersey office. He set up booths at national conventions. He was neither a Muslim Brotherhood member nor an employee for the Islamic Association for Palestine. He was not at the 1993 Philadelphia meeting and he was never an HLF board member. He was a relief worker.

In a tapped phone call, Odeh referred to a suicide bomb as a “beautiful operation.” Westfall pointed out that Odeh’s remark was made almost a year after Baruch Goldstein’s massacre, where a Jewish-American doctor entered the Ibrahimi mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron and shot and killed 29 praying Palestinians in 1994. He then said, Like many Palestinians worldwide, Odeh was frustrated after Goldstein’s massacre. His remark was a 1st Amendment right.

Prosecutors have criticized Odeh several times throughout the trial about Odeh’s sponsorship of Hamas leader Yahya Ayash. Westfall had this to say to all those criticisms: A baby’s not at fault for his father’s actions. Westfall then displayed video stills of footage showing Odeh visiting refugee camps in Jordan. Ayash then asked, Do these people look like they’re part of a deception (like Barry Jonas said?)

In February 1999, Odeh opened a food pantry in Patterson, New Jersey. Westfall played a clip showing the head of the food coalition in Passaic County praising Odeh during the grand opening of the pantry. Look at Abdel Odeh through this man’s eyes. Look at the pride on Mr. Odeh’s face, Westfall said, then he concluded. Mr. Odeh was not in the terrorism business. He was doing charity. I pray that you acquit Abdel Odeh because he’s innocent.

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