Defense attorneys rest their case (Nov. 6, 2008)

After seven weeks, the Holy Land Foundation retrial finally nears the end on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008 as the defense lawyers rested their case.

Former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem Edward Abington began the day by saying he was being paid for his testimony. In addition, he said he received daily briefings from the U.S. government, and he had strict instructions not to deal with Hamas officials. Unlike the Israeli anonymous witness called “Avi,” Abington said he’s been to Palestinian zakat (charity) committees and he’s met its members. In fact, USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) sent money to some of the same zakat committees to which the HLF gave money. CARE International, an American contractor, does projects with USAID in the West Bank. For example, USAID provided assistance to the Palestinian population during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. It was basically chaos. In essence, the West Bank was under military Israeli occupation, Abington said.

Abington said he heard about the HLF while he was in Jerusalem. I knew it was a Palestinian-American charitable organization. It had a good reputation that was known for assisting the needy in Palestine, Abington said. He compared the HLF to other legitimate charities like the World Food Program and UNRA (United Nations Relief Agency.) The West Bank and Gaza housed hundreds of thousands of refugees who live in “relatively primitive conditions,” he said. Gaza, in particular, is the most densely-populated city on the planet.

UNRA runs schools in Occupied Palestine in addition to providing medical help and monthly food rations to those in need. They are still providing assistance even though Hamas is in charge of Gaza. Abington then addressed the 1992 deportation of 415 Palestinians to a deserted mountaintop in southern Lebanon. He said the U.S. strongly opposed Israel’s actions. Ultimately, he said, Israel allowed the deportees to return home. He then discussed the 1993 Oslo Accord, which was signed by late Palestinian Prime Minister Yasir Arafat and late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Abington said there were numerous Palestinians and Israelis who opposed Oslo. Palestinian groups like Hamas opposed it because it did nothing to stop the Israeli confiscation of land and building of settlements. Israeli groups like the Lakud Party opposed it because they believed the West Bank and Gaza belongs to the Jews.

Nancy Hollander—who represents Shukri Abu-Baker—then briefly brought up the 1994 massacre when Jewish-American doctor Baruch Goldstein opened fire and killed 29 Palestinian worshipers at a Hebron mosque. For about two months following the massacre, Israeli enforced a 24-hour curfew on Palestinians. Hollander then asked, Did anything happen to the settlement where Dr. Goldstien lived? Abington’s answer: Nothing.

Abington told the jury about the settlements and bypass roads for Jews living in the West Bank. He said he has seen posters of martyrs in some Palestinian zakat committees. But I’ve also seen them on light posts and offices. I’ve seen them all over the place, Abington said. In addition, Hollander displayed a calendar seized at a zakat committee that prosecutors previously showed the jury. By describing the dozen or so photographs, Abington concluded that the images did not depict violence. Instead, he said the pictures express “the extraordinarily difficult life” that Palestinians lead. The calendar includes the following images: An Israeli soldier holding an M16 facing Palestinian school children, a demolished Palestinian home and a young Palestinian man throwing a stone using a sling. When prosecutors presented this calendar, they zoomed in one only a few images like one picture of an Israeli bus blown up by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

As for the term “Islamist,” it is not the same as Hamas, Abington exclaimed adding that an Islamist is a pious Muslim. Moreover, most Palestinians have relatives who are either members of Hamas, Fatah or other groups. Hollander asked a few final questions. She asked, Were you ever told in any U.S. government briefing that the zakat committees listed in the HLF indictment operated on behalf of or under the control of Hamas? After establishing the fact that Israel does not provide food, medical care and school for the Palestinian people, Hollander asked, Are charities necessary for Palestinians to survive? Abington’s sincere answer: Very much so.

Prosecutor Jim Jacks began his cross-examination of Abington by asking him about his position in Jerusalem. A Consul General is not subject to confirmation by the Senate, Jacks said. He also clarified that Abington became a consultant for the Palestinian Authority the same day he resigned from the State Department. Jacks then read aloud segments of the Hamas charter like one part that calls for the destruction of Israel. Zakat is part of a Muslim’s faith, but is not required that they send money to zakat committees, Jacks said.

Many jaws in the room dropped as Jacks insinuated that the reason behind the poverty and overcrowding in Gaza is because women have too many children. But Abington quickly responded with the truth, Poverty is cause because people are unable to work. Jacks tried again, Do men have more than one wife? Abington’s answer: That’s pretty rare in Palestinian society.

Jacks then tried to justify why Abington never received a government briefing saying the zakat committees were controlled by Hamas. You were never previewed to the investigation nor the items in the HLF case, Jacks said. As for the calendar depicting signs of Israeli occupation, it has a Hamas symbol on it. Jacks concluded by saying, So you know that Hamas uses its social wing to gain support. But you don’t know which committees specifically are Hamas-controlled.

During her quick redirect examination, Hollander asked, Did you ever learn from any U.S. government briefings that the zakat committees in the HLF indictment were controlled by Hamas? Abington’s answer was crystal clear: No.

At this time, defense attorneys rested their case. Closing arguments will be on Monday, Nov. 10 and Tuesday, Nov. 11. The defense, prosecution and the rest of the world wait for 12 average Americans to reach a verdict. Many are hoping and praying that this retrial will end with full acquittals.

Comments are closed.