Closing arguments end, case goes to jury (Nov. 11, 2008)

Closing arguments continued on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008. After many sighs of relief from attorneys and attendees, jurors walked out of the courtroom and into the deliberation room to choose their foreperson. Ironically, the final day of the Holy Land Foundation Retrial fell on Veteran’s Day.

Defense attorney Greg Westfall—who represents Abdulrahman Odeh—was the second defense lawyer to give a closing argument. He began by saying, It’s fitting that were wrapping this up on Veteran’s Day, to honor the generations of Americans who have fought to preserve the Constitution of the United States. It’s a case like this that puts that document to the ultimate test. Westfall reminded jurors that his client was not on the Palestine Committee, and he was not a Muslim Brotherhood member. His chain of command were not Hamas leaders; they were HLF officials. Odeh was a relief worker who did charity work in Egypt, Jordan, Kosovo and the U.S.

The main reason Odeh is being prosecuted, Westfall said, is because of a January 1995 phone call in which he calls a suicide bombing “a beautiful operation.” A few other reasons behind his prosecution include photos from temporary Internet files, an undated picture from a newspaper of Muslim scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi alongside Hamas leader Khalid Mishal and a letter by “Sultan Mohammad” with this statement, This is for weapons to crush the enemy and attack the West with nuclear weapons. As for the anonymous Israeli witness nicknamed “Avi,” he denied that the orphan who Odeh sponsored was Hamas leader Yahya Ayyash’s son because the child received the same amount as other orphans, Westfall said.

The jury saw a few photos of Odeh in refugee camps giving food packages. They also saw a picture of Odeh surrounded by children in Kosovo, where he gave away flour, mobile bakeries and ambulances. He wasn’t in the business of brainwashing kids; look at those kids, Westfall said, pointing at the image. He continued, And besides, Palestinian people aren’t stupid. They’re not going to agree to brainwash their kids for a little bit of money. That’s an insulting argument. The need of the Palestian people has existed before Hamas was created because of the Israeli occupation, Westfall also told the jury. He concluded, Adbel Odeh is so not guilty of this. I honor the power that you have and position to change and affect lives.

Marlo Caddedu—who represents Mufid Abdulqader—was the third defense attorney to give her closing argument. She started by saying, We’ve seen the season change from summer to fall, even though it seems to have been winter in the courtroom all along. She said her client was an American citizen who worked for the city of Dallas as a civil engineer. He was also a volunteer for the HLF. He was not an HLF employee, he didn’t sign checks or authorize wire transfers. He was an average fundraiser. You’ve also learned that he’s an actor who has played the role of a Hassidic Jew, an Israeli soldier and Yasir Arafat—not just a Hamas member.

Caddedu then told the jury that her client joined a conspiracy to raise money for a bad purpose. How have they tried to do that? Through video tapes, she said. And most of the video tapes were recorded in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the first Intifada. In his closing argument, prosecutor Barry Jonas insinuated that Abdulqader’s words from a skit “I am Hamas” was a type of confession. Ladies and gentleman, this is drama, Caddedu said. This is purely-protected free speech. She reminded the jury of ethnomusicologist David McDonald’s testimony, where he said that Abdulqader sang a lament for the lost lands at the end of the skit. Caddedu said that there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that her client was at the 1993 Philadelphia meeting, where a group of Arab-Americans met to discuss worldly affairs. She ended by saying, The evidence shows that Mr. Abdulqader was a singer, volunteer and a brother. I ask you to return a verdict of not guilty.

Joshua Dratel—who represents Mohammad El-Mezain—reiterated what he said in his opening statement: Prosecutors tried to overwhelm the jury with quantity rather than quality evidence. The majority of documents and video tapes predated Hamas’ SDT (Specially Designated Terrorist) designation in 1995 and FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organization) designation in 1997. Some of the videos showed speeches by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian spiritual leader who fought alongside Afghanis against the Soviets during the late 1970s. He died in 1989 and he was here raising funds for Afghanistan, Dratel said. With regards to El-Mezain, there is “zero” evidence dated between 1997 and 2001, Dratel said.

El-Mezain’s name was in Hamas leader Musa Abu-Marzook’s phone book. They were cousins, Dratel said. Does that surprise you? Does that shock you? As for the calls between El-Mezain and Abu-Marzook, most of them were one-minute long, Dratel said. They could have been faxes. As for the rest of the calls, nobody knows who were on both sides of the line. Government witness Mohamed Shorbagi, a former HLF volunteer, stole from his boss and lied to the FBI. But because he cooperated with the government, his life sentence was dropped to 15 years and then to seven years. His testimony in the HLF case could win him an even lesser sentence. In addition, Shorbagi has never been to a single zakat committee in Palestine, Dratel affirmed. As for Avi, he has never been to a zakat committee, and he’s never interviewed a Palestinian who has received donations from the committees, Dratel said, adding that, “He’s here under orders.”

Dratel reminded the jury that until 2006, USAID (United States Agency for International Development) gave money to some of the same zakat committees to which the HLF sent money. According to Avi, this is years after Hamas began controlling the committees. Dratel then commented on the claim that the prosecutors are not here to defend Israel. And they bring an Israeli anonymous witness rather than someone appointed by the president of the United States (Edward Abington,) Dratel said, then continued, In her opening statement, prosecutor Elisabeth Shapiro told you to think like a terrorist. Do the HLF’s actions reflect actions of a terrorist? Actions like openly suing the Dallas Morning News. Like hiring attorney John Bryant, who sought guidance from the Israeli Embassy, the FBI and the State Department. And like keeping records around for years. Dratel finished by saying, There is no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mohammad El-Mezain conspired to send material support to Hamas. I am confident that you will find him not guilty.

Linda Moreno—who represents Ghassan Elashi—was the fifth and final defense attorney to give her closing argument. She began by saying, Ghassan Elashi is an optimist. As an American citizen, he believes in justice. As a Palestinian, he believed in giving children hope to transcend the brutality in their lives. 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.

Moreno said that Elashi simply expressed his political views in the wiretapped phone calls that prosecutors played throughout the retrial. Furthermore, he did not receive a nickel of compensation for his charity work. He complied with the law, Moreno said, and he received no guidance after meeting with the FBI and OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control.) Moreno then made an important argument: The U.S. Treasury Department has not yet come up with a reasonable belief to designate the zakat committees, and the prosecutors want you to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the zakat committees were controlled by Hamas.

Moreno then told the jury, There’s something about the integrity of the prosecution’s evidence that you should be worried about. There are many unsigned, undated, handwritten documents. She also said that prosecutors could have searched the world for an expert who has done scholarly research on zakat committees, who didn’t have a vested interest in the case and who is not a component of the Israeli occupation. Instead, they brought you Avi, Moreo said. Avi lied because he has a mission to protect Israel, but he can’t be prosecuted for perjury, Moreno said, But guess what, we don’t know his name. She then read part of the jury instruction that addressed ways to determine the credibility of witnesses. Jurors should ask themselves questions like these: Does he have a good memory? Only when he wants to, Moreno said of Avi. Does his testimony differ from others? Absolutely, Moreno said.

The Palestinian people are in dire need of assistance, Moreno reminded the jury. Even government witness and self-proclaimed Hamas expert Matthew Levitt admits this in his book. In Palestine, the unemployment and the infant mortality rates are high. And Israel has failed to provide money to the Palestinian people, Moreno said. The next topic of discussion was the 1992 deportations, where Israel arrested and dropped nearly 415 Palestinians at a deserted mountaintop in southern Lebanon. This was labeled by the international community as the grossest form of collective punishment. It was condemned by the U.S. and the U.N., she said, then added that the HLF was among the many charities—like the Red Cross—that supported the deportees.

Next, Moreno read part of a poem that a Palestinian girl recited in one of the recorded plays shown the jury.

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.

Hamas has influenced Palestinian children to hate Israel, Moreno said, but the Israeli occupation has been the strongest influence. A child with no food, whose father doesn’t have a job, whose friend’s house no longer stands. What love, what respect can any Palestinian child have for Israel? In his closing argument, prosecutor Barry Jonas said HLF helped create widows and orphans. It’s the Israeli Defense Forces that creates widows and orphans, Moreno said. She also told the jury that prosecutors played numerous videos with performances by Palestinian children. Then she asked, Who is really exploiting children in the courtroom?

She concluded, Ghassan Elashi is an optimist. Were asking you to be courageous in this case. The system leaves it up to you. This is the one time in your life when you know you’re vote really matters. Ghassan Elashi did all he could to comply with the law. Justice compels you to provide a verdict of not guilty on behalf of Mr. Elashi.

Prosecutor Jim Jacks gave the government’s second and final closing argument. Like every other attorney, he thanked the jury for their service, then said, These defendants agreed they were going to work together to support Hamas. He exclaimed that the defense attorneys don’t want the jury to look at all the evidence and their main tactic was to mischaracterize pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

[That’s an odd accusation, because that has been the main strategy of the prosecution—not the defense.]

As for the unsigned, undated documents, FBI agent Lara Burns described them according to her investigation. He told the jury that the documents show that the defendants “are part of Hamas in America.” He continued, They attended festivals were bands sang about martyrdom, about jihad and about killing Jews who were referred to as the sons of pigs and monkeys. Regarding defense attorney Greg Westfall’s affirmation that his client Abdulrahman Odeh is a humanitarian, Jacks said, There’s another side to him. A side filled with hate. A side that takes joy and pleasure in the killing of human beings.

Jacks reiterated what his colleague’s remarks, This case is not about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We don’t represent the government of Israel. We’re here because people are accused of violating the law. He then asked the jury to empathize with Israelis, Can you imagine living in a country where people not just want you dead, they want you wiped out. Next, Jacks brought up Avi, All I heard about Avi is that he’s Israeli and we don’t know his name. That’s because people in his position are subject to kidnapping. As for Edward Abington, even he said Hamas has a social wing, Jacks said, adding that Abington was never told that the zakat committees were not controlled by Hamas.

Earlier in the trial, the zakat committees were compared to Irish Northern Aid, which supposedly gave money to the IRA (Irish Republican Army.) Now, in his closing argument, Jacks compared the zakat committees to the Mafia. If a scholar asked John Gotti if he was part of the Mafia, he would have said, ‘No, I’m in the waste management business.’ Yahya Ayyash’s son was considered a hero after his assassination in 1996, and it was an honor for the HLF to include him in their orphan sponsorship program, Jacks said. Marlo Caddedy said in her closing argument that her client is on trial mainly because his half-brother is Hamas leader Khalid Mishal. You saw a video of Mufid Abdulqader kissing Hamas leaders on the cheek. His brother is just icing on the case, Jacks said.

Moreover, Jacks pointed at defendant Mohammad El-Mezain and said, He may look like somebody’s grandfather sitting here, but he was a high-ranking member of the Palestine Committee. As for Ghassan Elashi, his web-hosting company gave money to the family of Hamas leader Musa Abu-Marzook, Jacks said. The HLF was a charity “with strings attached,” he added. Jacks only played one video during his closing argument. The clip showed a man interviewing a boy who received donations from the HLF. The man asked the boy in Arabic, Tell them what happened to your dad. The Jews killed him, isn’t that right?

He concluded, The evidence in this case is overwhelming to show that the HLF raised money for Hamas, a group who seeks the destruction of a country and its people. These five men are guilty of the crimes charged.

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