Defense witnesses continue testifying (Nov. 4, 2008)

The courtroom air was chilly as usual on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, but there was something different about the atmosphere. Maybe it was the jury who seemed more engaged, or perhaps it was the overwhelming truth, uncovered at last.

David McDonald, a specialist in Palestinian folklore, continued direct examination by talking more about Al-Sakhra (The Rock) Band of which defendant Mufid Abdulqader was a member. He emphasized that the band’s approach to performing “shifted completely” after the 1993 Oslo Accord. They moved away from the Anadheed (Islamist) category, focusing just on Sha’bi (National) and Thouri (Revolutionary.) During their performances, they began dressing more folkloric with a thoub and a hatta. They presented Palestinian tatreez, or embroidery, which is another very powerful symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Next, he talked about a video played a few times throughout the retrial of a summer camp run by the Jenin Zakat Committee, one of the Palestinian charities to which the HLF gave money. This was a time of intense cultural stress for those living under Israeli occupation, McDonald said. The excerpt depicted a stage play where a young Palestinian girl with a suicide belt “kills” two Palestinian girls dressed like Jewish settlers. McDonald explained that the settlers, one of them armed, snatch a hijab, or headscarf off of a Palestinian girl at a checkpoint. I’ve witnessed these types of searches millions of times, McDonald said. He explained that the play was basically a dramatization of what it’s like for Palestinians going through checkpoints. The young Palestinian girl who takes the microphone right after the skit ends says what she wishes she can tell Israeli soldiers and settlers “in real life,” McDonald said. She says:

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?

Marlo Caddedu—who represents defendant Mufid Abdulqader—asked, Why do we see depictions of violence in Palestinian music?

McDonald responded, Performance is a means of transcending the trauma that people feel in their everyday life./

Caddedu concluded by asking a follow-up question: What is the significance of the depictions of violence?

Music, dance and theater give people the opportunity to reflect on their lives and create new spaces where you can imagine something different. People who feel powerless feel powerful for a brief moment on stage, McDonald said.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Jim Jacks unsuccessfully attempted to discredit McDonald by asking him when he received his Ph.D. In 2006, McDonald said. As for the video showing a skit performed by Abdulqader and another individual dressed like an Israeli soldier, the script was written by Palestinians, not Israelis, Jacks said. So the dialogue presented one side of the story, right? Jacks asked. No, we heard one opinion of both sides of the story, McDonald quickly answered.

In addition, Jacks asked, You’re not here to tell us what people in the videos were thinking. McDonald honest response: I don’t think anyone could do that. Jacks then addressed the skit where a Palestinian girl at an Israeli checkpoint killed two Jewish settlers after they forcibly took off a hijab, or headscarf, that another Palestinian girl was wearing. Jacks then made what many in the room thought was a purely bigoted statement: During direct, you said that was an offensive act, but there was no portrayal of this being done for security reasons. Jacks concluded by making two points: First, Al-Sakhra Band did not sing about other groups like Islamic Jihad—they only sang about Hamas. Second, some of the tapes that McDonald reviewed were found buried and burned.

Fourth Defense Witness

The next witness called to the stand was Mohammad “Wafa” Yaish, a Palestinian-American Certified Public Accountant who worked as HLF’s accountant from 1997 until its closure in 2001. Defense attorney Greg Westfall—who represents Abdulrahman Odeh—showed the jury numerous financial reports such as balance sheets and income statements. The purpose, of course, was to show that HLF finances were well-documented. He also showed a sample HLF orphan application, which included a photo, a death certificate of the parent, a birth certificate of the orphan and a report detailing why the orphan needed the money. Westfall ended by showing a couple photos depicting his client’s charity work.

Defense attorney Theresa Duncan—who represents Shukri Abu-Baker—began her direct examination of Yaish by mentioning HLF’s “open book policy,” which allowed donors to look through the charity’s records. HLF’s offices were open and their doors were not locked, Yaish testified, adding that “it was a pleasant atmosphere.” Not all HLF employees were Arab and Muslim. The women were not required to hear hijab and the men were not required to wear beards, right? Duncan asked. Yes, Yaish said.

Duncan then showed a photo of former HLF relief worker Dallel Mohamed giving a wheelchair to a Palestinian child. As the defense team attempted to move into evidence numerous images of HLF’s charity work, government attorneys continuously objected. However, Duncan was able to move into evidence about two dozen pictures.

For the next hour, Yaish took a trip down memory lane as he told the jury about HLF’s numerous programs. Through the back-to-school program, the HLF gave Palestinian children backpacks and school supplies. Through the food programs, the HLF gave impoverished families bags and boxes of rice, flour, lentils, sugar and oil. During the summer, the HLF helped fund youth programs. And during Ramadan and Eid, the HLF gave gifts to children, including orphans. In addition, they provided health care for the Palestinian population by providing medical equipment and funding hospitals and clinics. Sometimes, they paid for children to be brought to the U.S. and undergo surgery. The HLF also funded drinking-well projects in refugee camps and electric transformer projects. Duncan showed samples of HLF’s newsletters, which included stories and photos that portrayed HLF’s national and international relief work. She then asked Yaish, During the time that you worked, do you know how many people the HLF helped? Yaish answered loudly and proudly, Thousands.

Defense lawyer Marlo Caddedu had several other questions regarding her client, Mufid Abdulqader. Yaish has prepared Abdulqader’s tax returns for several years. So he knows that the HLF never gave Abdulqader a salary for his fundraising. Like all volunteer fundraisers, Abdulqader was simply reimbursed for airline tickets, hotel expenses, meal costs and taxi fares. Caddedu displayed a few documents showing that Abdulqader raised an average amount compared to other fundraisers. She ended by saying, Mr. Abdulqader never attended an HLF staff meeting. He did not have a key to the office. He did not have a desk or a computer or access to the network. He did not sign checks or authorize wire transfers. He had no power over how HLF operated.

At the end of the day, prosecutor Barry Jonas began cross-examining Yaish. Jonas began by asking him to point out defendants Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu-Baker who were responsible for authoring wire transfers and signing checks. Abu-Baker stood up, grining. Elashi waved his hands, smiling. Jonas then asked, Did you ever tell HLF officials that they’re not allowed to give money to terrorist organizations? Yaish answered, HLF only sent money to charities—not political, illegal or terrorist organizations.

The defense team plans to rest by the end of the week.

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