Prosecutors rest their case (Oct. 31, 2008)

Avi—known to some as the phantom Israeli witness—concluded his testimony on Friday, Oct. 31, 2008. After calling sixteen witnesses and presenting numerous documents, wiretapped phone calls, images and videos, government attorneys finally rested their case.

Earlier in the day, defense attorney Linda Moreno—who represents Ghassan Elashi—continued her cross-examination of Avi by clarifying that the Palestinian zakat (charity) committees were not being secretive like prosecutors have claimed. All the zakat committees operate out in the open, Moreno said, adding that their addresses, fax numbers and phone numbers are available to the public. Moreno displayed the list that prosecutor Elisabeth Shapiro created of the zakat committees that Avi said were part of Hamas’ social wing. She asked if any of the zakat committees were designated in the U.S. Treasury Departments list. Moreno crossed out every name on Shapiro’s list after establishing that none of the zakat committees to which the HLF have money are on the Treasury Department list.

During redirect examination, Shapiro asked Avi why he wasn’t testifying under his real name. His explanation: Israeli law prevents him from testifying under his real name because of security reasons. In addition, Avi addressed the items that the Israeli army seized at the zakat committees after HLF’s closure in 2001. To Avi, they’re still relevant it shows “a timeline” and “a continuance.” He also elaborated on Jamil Hamami’s affiliation with Hamas, saying his rift with them ended in 2001. So, when U.S. officials invited him in 1999, he was still separated from Hamas, Avi exclaimed. Avi was sure to point out that Operation Defensive Shield that took place in spring of 2002 was prompted by a suicide bombing that killed about 30 Israelis.

Shaprio admit that the United Nations runs schools on Gaza and the West Bank, then asked, Is the U.N. a designated organization? Avi’s answer: No. Shapiro insinuated that if someone from the West took a poll of Palestinians, asking them whether the zakat committees were controlled by Hamas, it would not be determinative. She ended by bringing back the list of zakat committees that Moreno crossed out. She then asked Avi whether the committees were controlled by Hamas between 1995 to 2001. Avi responded predictable, They were not only controlled by Hamas, they were part of Hamas.

During re-cross examination, defense lawyer Joshua Dratel—who represents Mohammad El-Mezain—said Hamas was declared as illegal in Israel since 1989. Yet Israel did not close down these charities even though it had full military, civil and political control over Palestine. In fact, most of the committees are still operating until today.

During her brief re-cross examination, Nancy Hollander—who represents defendant Shukri Abu-Baker—clarified that about 500 Palestinians were killed and 1,500 were wounded during Operation Defensive Shield.

Soon afterward, prosecutor Jim Jacks stood up and said, At this point, the government rests its case.

First Defense Witness

John Bryant, a Dallas lawyer and a former Congressman, was the first defense witness to be called to the stand. Bryant was hired as an attorney for the HLF in the late 1990s after several years of unattributed media reports that accused the HLF with funding designated terrorist organizations. He said he met with several government entities to seek answers:

-In 1998, he met with an official of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. He asked for some type of guidance, but never heard back from him.
-In 1998 and 1999, he met with the FBI three times; two of the meetings included defendants Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu-Baker. Bryant said, I asked if the HLF should be doing something differently. They said No.
-In 1999 or 2000, he met with State Department officials who did not tell him his clients should not be doing business with the Palestinian zakat committees.
-Bryant also attempted to meet with then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright and then-Attorney General Janet Reno, but he didn’t hear back from them. I expected they would provide guidance on how the HLF could continue to provide relief in a way where they didn’t cause concern, Bryant said.

Prosecutor Elisabeth Shapiro then started her cross-examination of Bryant by saying that it’s important not to reveal subjects of an investigation. She then asked, When you met with the FBI, did you tell them that the HLF was part of the Palestine Committee? Bryant answered, That simply wasn’t true. I told them they were providing relief to people in need.

A couple defense witnesses will testify on Monday, Nov. 3, 2008.

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