First witness continues testimony (Sept. 23, 2008)

With a failed attempt to sound like an academic, the Holy Land Foundation retrial’s first witness, Matthew Levitt, continued direct examination on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008 with a transparent agenda.

He began by speaking about the 1993 Oslo Accords, an agreement singed by late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and late Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Oslo, Norway. Hamas was against it. It sought to undermine it by conducting attacks, he said. And challenging the peace process has been the number one obstacle to securing peace for Palestinians.

[That’s funny, because many experts think the Israeli occupation is the number one obstacle.]

Jonas then asked Levitt to identify photos of Hamas leaders such as Ahmad Yasin, Khalid Mishal, Musa Abu Marzook, Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Jamal Hamami. Levitt elaborated on their whereabouts, duties and U.S. terrorist designations.

Levitt then spoke about the military wing of Hamas—the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades. They are engaged in acts of violence. This is the terrorist wing of Hamas. They kill Israeli civilians in busy areas like pizzerias, buses and cafes using weapons that are discriminante, like the suicide bomb. To Levitt, the act is part of the “radicilization campaign” that has made it “a praisable act of faith.”

He went on to explain that suicide bombers—exactly like he did in last year’s trial—have no profile. They used to only recruit young, single men with no families. But now they’re including children, women and at least one grandmother, which are less likely to be suspects. They dress in a Western disguise. The women wear tight jeans and the men carry a guitar case.

Jonas then showed a picture of the aftermath of a suicide bombing in an Israeli bus. Following a timeline on his screen, Levitt briefly described more than a dozen incidents of suicide bombings.

Jonas then showed the jury a video—which prosecutors played during last year’s trial—of an Arabic news report about a kindergarten graduation ceremony in a Gaza school that Levit said was controlled by Hamas. In the video, small Palestinian children who wore green Hamas headbands and soldier garb, held fake machine guns. Others marched and stomped on the Israeli flag. Jonas paused it a few times pointing out details, like one boy dressed in a pretend suicide vest and two boys dressed as late Hamas founder Ahmad Yasin and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. “It’s actually a little freaky how much the kid looks like him,” he said about child dressed like Nasrallah.

Family members and supporters of the defendants scrunched their eyebrows and shrugged their shoulders as they watched this video, wondering what connection it had to the men being retried.

Levitt then said licenses given to zakat (charity) committees mean nothing. There’s no such thing as denying a license to open a zakat committee, he said. He added that Hamas controls many zakat committees in Palestine. To identify whether the committee is Hamas-controlled, he said, you look at the items on their walls and their leaders. Toward the end of his direct examination, Levitt read aloud the designations of Hamas leaders like Ahmad Yasin and Musa Abu Marzook.

Defense attorney John Cline—who represents Ghassan Elashi—was the first to cross-examine Levitt. He began by naming the three lists in which entities can be designated in the United States: FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organization), SDT (Specially Designated Terrorist) and SDGT (Specially Designated Global Terrorist.) He showed Levitt the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of designated terrosits and asked him if Hamas and leaders Ahmad Yasin, Musa Abu Marzook, Khalid Mishal and Abdul Aziz Rantisi are on the list. “Yes,” Levitt answered.

Cline then asked Levitt if any of the zakat committees listed on the HLF indictment—including Qalqiliah Zakat Committee, Islamic Chaity Society of Hebron, Tulkarem Zakat Committee, Nablus Zakat Committee, Ramallah Zakat Committee and Jenin Zakat Committee—were on the list released July 2004 when the indictment was released. “No,” Levitt said. Cline passed the witness.

Defense attorney Nancy Hollander—who represents Shukri Abu-Baker—began cross-examining Levitt by stating facts about the impoverished condition of Palestinians, like the high poverty, infant mortality and malnutrition rates. Mrs. Hollander then exposed Levitt’s bias by asking about his background. His boss was a founder of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) that’s America’s pro-Israeli lobby. Levitt interned with no pay for the consult government of Israel. He spoke for the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Conference in Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu (who opposed the Oslo Accords) was the keynote speaker. And he spoke at numerous AIPAC Conferences.

Mrs. Hollander then asked, Some Jewish people think God gave them the entire map, correct? To which Levitt answered snarkily: Yes, just like Hamas believes the entire area belongs to them.

Mrs. Hollander then addressed the settlements in the West Bank in addition to the checkpoints, the bypass roads and demolished homes inflicted by the Israeli occupation. She said some Jewish settlers have committed terrorist acts against Palestinians, like Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein who in 1994 opened fire at Muslims praying at a mosque in Hebron and murdered 29 Palestinians.

Hollander said late Columbia University professor Edward Said’s choice to throw a rock across the Lebanese-Israeli border in July 2000 was a powerful symbol, to which Levitt again responded snarkily, It was no act of suicide bombing.

She concluded by clarifying a couple points. Jamil Hamami—whom prosecutors deemed to be Hamas—was invited to the U.S. in the late 1990s to speak about Islam. Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yasin was not simply killed; he was assassinated on his wheelchair by missiles of an Israeli helicopter as he left the morning prayer. Abdel Aziz Al-Rantisi was also assassinated by an Israeli helicopter gunship.

Defense attorney Greg Westfall—who represents Abdulrahman Odeh—briefly cross-examined Levitt. Referring to the video of the kindergarten ceremony, he explained that Palestinians were destitute and living under a harsh occupation by Israel. If children are suffering malnutrition and see sewage running through the streets, their world view is expected to change.

Defense attorney Marlo Cadeddu—who represents Mufid Abdulqader—began making clear that some Jews were happy about Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Palestinians. Some even put on skits of the murder. That was a very small fraction of the Jewish population, Levitt said.

Mrs. Cadeddu spent the next 45 minutes or so discrediting Levitt by pointing out that he relied heavily on newspapers, magazines and Israeli government articles to write his book.

Levitt’s testimony ends Wednesday.

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