Government rests its case (August 30, 2007)

It wasn’t a dramatic moment on the afternoon of Thursday, August 30, 2007. Some jurors nodded their heads while others gave small sighs as U.S. government attorney Jim Jacks quickly pushed his maroon leather chair back, stood up and said, Your honor, ladies and gentleman of the jury, the government will now rest its case. Six weeks into the Holy Land Foundation trial, the government was done presenting their evidence. They called nine of the 59 witnesses listed on their original witness list — two anonymous Israeli agents, two FBI agents and five smaller witnesses. The defense team will begin calling their witnesses on Tuesday, September 4. Defense attorneys anticipate that both sides will present their closing arguments and 12 of the 15 jurors will deliberate by mid-September.

On Thursday morning, Nancy Hollander, defendant Shukri Abu-Baker’s attorney, continued the cross-examination of FBI agent Lara Burns. She presented documents to show that a moneychanger did more than exchange HLF currency for the zakat committees; he was also a food merchant who passed out food packages to needy families. Hollander then added that Middle Eastern airports are filled with places that exchange money. Some of these companies are parts of banks and others are small businesses. In addition, much of occupied Palestine does not have a thorough banking system, Hollander said. Israeli agents could arrest any Palestinian they wish in the West Bank, Hollander added. I don’t know if that’s true, Burns replied. Hollander concluded by displaying a document showing that the HLF was one of four major charities to provide food for about 145,000 Palestinian households.

Linda Moreno, defendant Ghassan Elashi’s lawyer, was the last from defense council to cross-examine Burns. She began by saying that many zakat committees were established before Hamas began. Since then, their major programs have always involved medical aid, orphan sponsorship and food relief. She then played the rest of a clip shown by the government during direct examination. The footage showed children from a Gaza summer camp in a computer class and a reading class. It also showed children going on fieldtrips to a beach and a 7up factory. Moreno then said, These children were born under Israeli occupation.

Moreno then presented more than a dozen files showing the suggested monthly assistance for Palestinian families related to detainees and martyrs. Then she asked Burns to read aloud United Nations Resolution 799 that condemned the 1992 mass deportation, where the Israeli government captured over 400 Palestinians and dropped them in the middle of a desert in southern Lebanon. The U.N. “strongly condemns the action taken by Israel, the occupying Power, to deport hundreds of Palestinian civilians, and expresses its firm opposition to any such deportation by Israel,” the report stated. The jury then listened to a tapped phone conversation where defendants Elashi and Abu-Baker discussed a list of U.S. designated terrorist organizations. We won’t be able to send money to a Palestinian hospital or a university. This is injustice. They’re singling out Islamic groups. They were able to pass this for the Zionists, Elashi stated.

The jury then looked at one of the final documents that prosecutors displayed during Burns’ direct examination showing more than 50 entities that were “HLF ties to Hamas.” Holding a permanent marker, Moreno blacked out most of the names since they were not listed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s 2001 list of Specially Designated Terrorists. She then briefly discussed Steven Emerson, whom prosecutors called a terrorism expert. Moreno said, Steven Emerson has made a career out of crusading Arabs and Muslims. He is identified by many as being a racist and a bigot. Burns’ response: I was not aware of that. Moreno concluded by discussing a few Palestinian martyrs including Mohammad Al-Durrah, an iconic 12-year-old boy who was shot to death by Israeli soldiers and Bassam Al-Bilbeisi, the ambulance driver who was killed by Israelis on his way to save Al-Durrah. She then asked, All of these martyrs are victims, correct? Burns’s surprising reply: Yes.

Right before the government rested its case, Jacks read aloud a U.S. Department of Treasury designation and blocking memorandum that listed the HLF as a terrorist organization.

[In reality: None of the five defendants of the HLF trial are listed in the document.]

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