Holy Land Five receive sentences of 15 to 65 years

The Holy Land Five received up to 65-year-sentences on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 for giving hope, for saving lives. Human rights leaders assert these five fathers and husbands officially became political prisoners caught in the disillusioned web known by the Bush administration as the “War on Terror.”

One by one, the Holy Land Five clad in orange prison jumpsuits plodded into the courtroom as they avoided tripping over the chains between their ankles.

Prosecutors argued the Holy Land Five were supporters of Hamas. The defense attorneys, on the other hand, told Judge Jorge Solis that their clients were humanitarians and leaders who received hundreds of character letters of support from their communities and sent donations to some of the same zakat (charity) committees to which USAID gave money.

Shukri Abu-Baker. 65 years for 34 counts.
He was animated as he gave his statement to the judge. Here’s a synopsis: Twenty Seven is not only the date of my sentencing—it is also my 27th week of imprisonment and my 27th marriage anniversary…I am blessed to be a product of mixed marriage between a dark-skinned Palestinian and a light-skinned Italian immigrant from Brazil… The death of my son, Mohammad, in 1983 and the birth of my daughter, Sanabel, in 1987 are what inspired me to co-found the Holy Land Foundation. As I watched images of Palestinian demonstrators being shot on television, I started to feel guilty. My conscious became restless. The great care Sanabel is receiving in this great country should be afforded to people in Palestine who are also children of God. I was there to care for Sanabel—my accusers were not there. It’s easy to demonize their opponent when they are not aware of the human inside them. The more resilient Sanabel became the more I clung on to my destiny—

Judge Jorge Solis interrupted Mr. Abu-Baker saying, “You made your point. I don’t want to go all morning.”

“He only needs about 10 more minutes,” said Nancy Hollander, Mr. Abu-Baker’s attorney.

“I’ll give him five,” the judge spewed back.

Mr. Abu-Baker leaned toward the microphone. “Thank you,” he said, picking up his papers and consciously making the decision to step aside.

Hollander objected to Solis’ interruption of her client’s statement.

“Overruled,” Solis said with the typical pompous demeanor of a federal judge.

After giving his 65-year-sentence, Solis said, “There’s no dispute that Palestinians are in need, but that doesn’t justify breaking the law and supporting a terrorist group…You weren’t convicted because you were helping people. You’re here because you were supporting terrorists.”

As Mr. Abu-Baker left the room flashing a peace sign with his fingers, his daughter Nida Abu-Baker bellowed, “I love you.”

Clearing his throat, Solis immediately warned, “No more outbursts in the courtroom or we’ll have to ask you to leave.”

Mohammad El-Mezin. 15 years for one count.
He addressed the judge with the same serious tone he used as he gave his sermons. Here’s a synopsis: This is a difficult day for me and my family…I am a Muslim born in Palestine. I acknowledge the jury’s verdict, even though of course, I disagree with it. I have become proud of my role in the HLF as we saved lives all over the world…Your honor, please remember that we shall all gather again on the Day of Judgement…To the community, you face a huge challenge. Do not give up your constitutional rights, especially giving charity. To my dear parents, thank you for raising me as a righteous man. Please, my parents for give me for your emotional stress (Here, he chocked up.) To my wife and children, please have strong faith, endure patience and perseverance. You should be proud of me…As God saved Prophet Moses, I hope God will save me and my companions.

As Solis gave El-Mezain his 15-year-sentence, he said “You were involved from the very beginning in the Hamas Palestine Committee.”

Ghassan Elashi. 65 years for 35 counts.
He was calm and animated as he gave his statement to the judge. Here’s a synopsis: First, I would like to declare that I am innocent of all the charges against me. The only evidence they have against me (he said while pointing at the prosecutors and federal agents) is my signature on checks that were used to buy charity…The Prophet Mohammad said: Me and the sponsor of an orphan will be as close as two fingers of one hand. That is what motivated me, not anything else. I only had one face, not two as they’ve claimed (he said, again, pointing at his accusers who sat motionless behind him.)
The occupation was providing them with death and destruction, and we were called criminals. The Holy Land Foundation assisted the Palestinians in their steadfastness against the brutal apartheid regime. One day, the apartheid face of Israel will come out. We provided books—not tanks, hope—not fear. I am honored and privileged to serve time for helping needy families.

As Solis gave Mr. Elashi his 65-year-sentence, he misquoted Mr. Elashi’s words and took them out of context by saying, “Hamas has two faces—not one.”

Trying to clear the record, Mr. Elashi interrupted the judge, “I said that I have one face, not Hamas has one face.”

The judge shot back, saying he will not tolerate any arguing. “If the Holy Land Foundation did have a face, it was the face of Hamas,” Solis asserted.

Mr. Elashi simply leaned on a nearby table, shaking his head.

Mufid Abdulqader. 20 years for three counts.
He was loud and assertive as he addressed the judge. Here’s a synopsis: I have lived in this country for 30 some years. I’m the classic example of the American Dream. I worked full-time and went to school full-time, paying my way through college as I earned my bachelors and masters degrees…I am a lifelong volunteer and a member of a band…To my youngest daughter Nadia: I’m sorry I can’t take you to buy your favorite ice cream. You will always be daddy’s little princess (he said as he wept) …Never in my wildest imagination did think I would be put in jail for helping people get out of their jail of hunger.

As Solis gave Mr. Abdulqader his 20-year-sentence, he said oh-so-matter-of-factly, “You weren’t convicted of singing, you were convicted of supporting Hamas.”

Abdulrahman Odeh. 15 years for three counts.
He was relaxed as he gave his statement to the judge. Here’s a synopsis: I would to thank my family for your unconditional love and unwavering support. I would also like to declare my innocence…One day, shall be judged by a higher court, but you have the opportunity to rule with such mercy.

As they exited the room, the Holy Land Five were not defeated, but rather, they were content and optimistic that they will be vindicated through the appeal process under a less politicized justice department.

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