Defense’s fifth witness testifies (September 10, 2007)

A modern-day Albert Einstein was called to the witness stand on Monday, September 10, 2007 as the defense’s fifth witness. His gray hair was a little shorter and neater than the 20th Century physicist, yet his mustache and his intellect were similar to that of Einstein. The witness, Nathan Brown, is a professor of international affairs and political science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Josh Dratel, defendant Mohammad El-Mezain’s attorney, began the direct examination of Brown by asking him to discuss his analysis of Palestinian politics. Brown, who’s an Arabic speaker, said he reviewed and analyzed three Palestinian newspapers from 1998 to 2003. He then made it clear that Islamists are typically individuals dedicated to spreading Islam — not radical fundamentalists. Not all Islamists are Hamas members and terrorists, he added. He then described the zakat (charity) committees in occupied Palestine as being honest and reputable charities. He said Palestinians have trusted zakat committees because they require little administrative expenses and have no political affiliation. According to his thorough research, he does not consider zakat committees as being part of or controlled by Hamas, he said.

Brown then commented on the previous testimony of an anonymous government witness from the Israeli Security Agency who went by the pseudonym of Avi. Brown said Avi used the press and public representation to make his conclusions about the zakat committees, but “he left out political and social context.” He didn’t study the issue in historical depth, Brown said. As for Avi’s theory that Hamas’ goal has been to “win the hearts and minds” of the Palestinian people, Brown thought this was an exaggeration. Avi never showed evidence to support this theory, Brown said.

Another government witness that Brown discredited was writer Matthew Levitt. In his recent book — “Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of the Jihad” — Levitt used “unreliable sources,” according to Brown. Levitt’s sources include the western press and Wikipedia. It’s not an academic book. It relies too much on the research of others, Brown said.

Brown then discussed his visit to the Ramallah Zakat Committee in spring 2000. He never saw any Hamas-related items at the committee, he exclaimed. I just saw a photo of the Dome of the Rock and the license of operation, Brown said. Dratel then displayed several licenses of operations from other zakat committees.

Once a consultant for USAID (United States Agency for International Development), Brown made it clear that USAID sent money to the some of the same zakat committees to which the Holy Land Foundation sent money. Unlike Avi and Levitt, Brown also stated that most detainees are not Hamas members. Dratel then passed the witness.

Prosecutor Nathan Garrett began cross-examination by saying that Brown is not a terrorism or Hamas expert. He also made clear that Brown is not familiar with the inner workings of the counterterrorism department of the Israeli Security Agency. When asked about Hamas, Brown said the organization is leading Palestinians into a disaster. He also recognized that the U.S. government designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. In addition, Brown said he’s never held posts in the counterterrorism and law enforcement fields. Garrett stressed the importance of accuracy in academia and counterterrorism, then asked Brown, What happens if you’re wrong? Do bombs explode? Are lives shattered? At this point, jurors began biting their nails, scratching their backs and picking their ears. The 15-member jury along with many others in the courtroom seemed fed up with Garrett’s jabber.

Brown then continued his testimony by saying that Hamas members refer to themselves as Islamists. He added that he’s never seen the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Garrett then read aloud in a monotone voice long segments of a transcript from the 1993 Philadelphia meeting, where the defendants and other individuals met to discuss the 1993 Oslo Accord. Garrett then asked Brown, Has Hamas ever renounced its charter, which calls for the annihilation of Israel? Brown’s response: No. Using his desperate technique of repetition, Garrett asked Brown to define the words “jihad” and “brother” in about a dozen documents. Like an interrogating cop, a pink-faced Garrett shouted as he asked Brown, Did you know that these men are indicted of supporting Hamas by sending money to zakat committees? Brown then calmly replied, Yes.

Josh Dratel concluded the day by beginning the redirect examination of Brown.

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