Four witnesses in one day (August 20, 2007)

His face was cherry red. He was outraged at this mockery of a trial. Defendant Ghassan Elashi’s voice was loud and clear. As U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish and jurors exited the courtroom after a mid-morning break Monday, August 20, 2007, Elashi let out his frustration toward the unjust judge. This is an extension of the Zionist occupation. We can’t win the case with this judge because he is a bigot, Elashi said. The judge later replied, We can’t have outbursts like that. I’m warning you that a further outburst wont be tolerated. If another outburst occurs, you will waive your right to be present in the courtroom. The jurors followed closely as four witnesses were put on the stand. The jury box was exceptionally colorful as the 15-member jury wore bright red, green, yellow, purple and blue shirts. Maybe they were in a jubilant mood. Or maybe they were eager to learn.

Defendant Mohammad El-Mezain’s attorney, Josh Dratel, continued the cross-examination of Avi by displaying several posters that the prosecutors showed the jury. He pointed out that most of the posters that the Israeli government seized from the zakat committees in occupied Palestine were created after the U.S. government shut down the Holy Land Foundation in 2001. He specifically talked about a poster announcing the death of Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin. He made clear that Israeli forces assassinated Yassin with a missile in 2004 as he was being pushed in his wheelchair on his way back from a mosque in Gaza. Dratel wanted to conclude by showing the jury a 1993 document that would prove that the Israeli government permit the construction of a Jenin hospital, which was a zakat committee project partially funded by the HLF. The government objected to the document on the grounds of hearsay and the judge sustained their objection, thereby not allowing Dratel to discuss the document. This frustrated many people, including Elashi.

Nancy Hollander, defendant Shukri Abu-Baker’s lawyer, began cross-examining Avi by making it clear that some zakat committees are large and operate hospitals while others are small and send livestock to family and friends. She also pointed out that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — a U.S. government organization — provided aid to the same zakat committees to which the HLF is accused of sending humanitarian aid. USAID provided Palestinians with food, water and urgently-needed medical supplies, the document read. She also mentioned a few other American charities — such as CARE International and ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid) — that supported the Palestinian zakat committees. She concluded by stating that the U.S. has financially supported four individuals from the Islamic University of Gaza, an institution that Avi said is Hamas controlled. I’m not surprised, Avi said. The U.S. didn’t support the institution, just the individuals.

Prosecutor Elisabeth Shapiro then redirected Avi. She began by stating that the Palestinian Authority is aware that some zakat committee board members are affiliated with Hamas. She also played a video showing the Palestinian detainees that Israel dropped in the middle of a desert in southern Lebanon in 1992. She said some of the detainees shown in the video are leaders in many zakat committees. Shapiro also asked Avi about the photo in his office that Dratel asked him about during cross-examination. Does it have a suicide belt? Is blood dripping from anyone’s hands? Does the image include a Hamas symbol? she asked. No, he replied. Shaprio then said the HLF was created by design to support Hamas. She then asked, Was USAID created for the purpose of supporting Hamas? Avi’s response: No.

Dratel then re-crossed Avi by making it clear that none of the detainees deported to Lebanon were charged of any crime.

Dawn Goldberg, an agent for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), was the government’s next witness. Prosecutor Barry Jonas began by saying that the HLF was a 501(c)(3) charity, a tax-exempt organization. HLF employees filled out annual information returns — not tax returns — that became a public document, Goldberg explained. Jonas then said the U.S. designated Hamas in 1995. So it would be illegal to deal with Hamas financially after they were designated, correct? That’s even if they were sending money for charitable purposes, Jonas asked. Yes, it would be illegal. The charity, like other businesses, must assume the responsibility of knowing what the law is, Goldberg answered.

During the short cross-examination Goldberg, Hollander asked her if the IRS ever audited the HLF. Never, Goldberg said.

The next witness was Steve McGonigle, a reporter that covered the HLF for the Dallas Morning News since 1996. He was subpoenaed to testify about his 1999 trip to the occupied Palestinian territories, where he interviewed a couple Hamas leaders and paid a surprise visit to the HLF office in Gaza. With his salt-and-pepper hair and mustache, McGonigle said he went to find connections between Hamas and the HLF. He interviewed Hamas affiliate Mahmoud al-Zahar and Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin. During Yassin’s interview, McGonigle asked him if the HLF had any connections to Hamas. McGonigle told the jury that Yassin said Hamas had no connections with the HLF. After his two interviews, McGonigle stopped by HLF’s Gaza office. There, McGonigle asked office manager Mohammad Muharram if he could meet some HLF clients, or poor people who received funds from the foundation.

Prosecutor Jonas then played two tapped conversations between Muharram, HLF employee Haitham Maghawri and defendant Abu-Baker. Part of one conversation went like this: The office manager in Gaza just informed me that Steve McGonigle will be interviewing our clients. Do you want to cancel the meeting? Maghawri asked in Arabic. Abu-Baker replied, No. But make sure he doesn’t interview the family of a martyr or a prisoner. Maghawri then said, Yeah, because if half a percent of an interview did not impress him, then McGonigle will focus on that half a percent. Abu-Baker said, This journalist is a Zionist. He’s not a friend. He’s in cooperation with the Jewish lobby in the U.S. For the last few years, he’s been trying to connect the HLF with terrorism. If he messes up this interview, that is what we’ll need to finally sue the Dallas Morning News.

Hollander then started cross-examining McGonigle by asking him how long he stayed in the Middle East during the 1999 visit. Two weeks, he replied. She then asked him if the Ramallah Zakat Committee that he visited had posters or political messages. No, he replied. He thought that the Richardson office of the HLF did not know that he was visiting the Gaza office, he said. He concluded by saying he was very affected by what he saw in occupied Palestine. The Palestinian people lived in desperate conditions. They were in great need of services — including food, school and medical, McGonigle said.

Linda Moreno, defendant Ghassan Elashi’s attorney, cross-examined McGonigle next. She made it clear that McGonigle wrote about 10 articles on the HLF since 1996 and many thought the stories targeted and defamed the foundation. She asked him if HLF employees and area Muslims thought the reporting was unfair. Yes, he admit. Moreno went on: And some picketed and rallied in front of the Dallas Morning News, is that right? His response: Yes. She also made it clear that HLF employees contacted the president of the paper, wrote letters to the editor about the unfairness and even filed a lawsuit against the newspaper.

During the redirect examination, Jonas made it clear that the lawsuit was dismissed by the HLF.

As she re-crossed McGonigle, Moreno asked if the lawsuit was dismissed shortly after the closure of the HLF. Yes, McGonigle replied.

The fourth witness of the day was Robert Miranda, an FBI agent who has worked in the Hamas squad of the counter-terrorism department for the past decade. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the Air Force Academy. He ended the day by briefly discussing the speaker’s list of the HLF.

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