Opening Statements (July 24, 2007)

Every inch of all eight wooden benches were occupied Tuesday, July 24, 2007 when the long-awaited Holy Land Foundation trial began. Among the attendees were many supporters of the defendants, law students, journalists and other anxious individuals. A little past 9 a.m., U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish started by reading brief instructions to the jury. The indictment is not evidence, so don’t treat it as such, he said. It will be up to you to decide which witnesses to believe and which not to believe Ö Do not read about the case in the newspapers, listen to it on the radio or watch it on television.

Government attorney Nathan Garrett followed by reading the almost 40-page indictment, which took about an hour. Prosecutor Jim Jacks then began his opening statement, which seemed like a big joke. He said the evidence will show that the HLF knew about the Zakat committees’ link to HAMAS. He also spoke briefly about the formation of Israel in 1948 and the 6-day war in 1967. Additionally, he discussed the creation of HAMAS in 1987. It was upsetting to hear Jacks stand up in front of the jury and say, “These defendants are deceitful and they lied.” He then tried to intimidate the jury by telling them how most of the defendants are related to designated terrorists. He talked about the 1993 Philadelphia Conference, where the defendants met to discuss the 1993 Olso agreement. He concluded by saying that the HLF and the defendants are a fundraising mechanism to funnel money to HAMAS.

All the defense attorneys made this point: None of the Zakat committees mentioned in the indictment were ever designated as terrorist organizations.

Nancy Hollander, Shukri Abu-Baker’s lawyer, began by telling the jury a little about Mr. Abu-Baker’s life and the history of Palestine. She said that when Jews migrated to Palestine in 1948, it wasn’t just empty land. Thousands of Palestinians were kicked out of there homes and many ended up in refugee camps. The only land left for the Palestinians was the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. And even those territories were militarily occupied by Israel. Jewish settlements were then built in the occupied Palestinian territories. She also mentioned that the Inifada, or uprising, was mainly caused by Palestinians being fed up by the occupation. In addition, she mentioned that the reason the defendants supported Palestine was because they all had strong ties to their homeland — much like the people from Louisiana were the first to give to victims of Hurricane Katrina. She ended by saying that the HLF’s motto was: “need not creed.”

Josh Dratel, Mohammad El-Mezain’s attorney, told the jury that because the government does not have quality evidence, they will overwhelm them with quantity. He also talked about Mr. Mezain’s life. He said that HLF was under the microscope for almost 8 years, so why would they violate the law? He said that the government will show some evidence of angry speech, but that is not against the law. In fact, that’s what makes this country stand out.

Linda Moreno, Ghassan Elashi’s lawyer, talked a little about his life story. She said the defendants were fortunate enough to escape the occupation and therefore wanted to help the less fortunate. She also said the government of Israel controls the borders of the West Bank and Gaza through hundreds of checkpoints. Palestinians need permits to work or travel from one village to the other. The Israelis also enforce curfews that don’t only last hours — but days and sometimes weeks. Children were rendered homeless because their homes were bulldozed to the ground. She said that it was this need that the HLF responded to and supported. HLF was not born to support HAMAS, rather it was born to support Palestinians under Israeli occupation, she said. She told the jury that it was illegal to convict someone on a basis of a family relationship.

Marlo Cadeddu, Mufid Abdulqader’s lawyer, also discussed her client’s biography. She said Mr. Abdulqader would sing songs about the plight of the Palestinians and perform skits at weddings, festivals and graduations. The videos showing Mr. Abdelqader performing were taken a few years before HAMAS was designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. She said his songs did not talk about supporting terrorism. Rather, they condemned Israel for their oppression and they talked about the Israeli uprooting of Palestinian olive trees and their love of Jerusalem.

Greg Westfall, Abdulrahman Odeh’s attorney, said his client is a relief worker — it’s that simple. He took a job for the HLF for about $25,000 a year. His job included going to conventions, setting up booths about the HLF and collecting donations. He was also among the HLF employees who visited refugee camps in other nations and provided the needy with humanitarian aid. In 1999, he opened a food pantry in New Jersey that provided meals for nearly 200 families living in N.J. He ended by saying that it is not a crime to say bad things about Israel.



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