Second defense witness testifies (September 5, 2007)

They seemed exhausted, yet thrilled. As the 15-member jury walked out of the jury box in two neat rows on the late afternoon of Wednesday, September 5, 2007, some grinned so wide that their pearly whites became visible. Why the joy? They had just been told that after almost seven weeks of the Holy Land Foundation trial, closing arguments are finally around the corner.

Prosecutor Barry Jonas continued the cross-examination of retired U.S. diplomat Edward Abington by listing several zakat committees in occupied Palestine — including Jenin Zakat Committee, Nablus Zakat Committee, Ramallah Zakat Committee and the Islamic Charitable Society of Hebron — and asking Abington if he knew if each committee had been identified as a Hamas charity. Abington’s response: No. Jonas then showed the jury a video recorded in 2004 of a youth camp in Jenin, where a young actress wearing a mock suicide vest declares, You’re afraid of my youth. You’re afraid of my innocence. You’re afraid of my books. How can I give you my land? Jonas then said, You testified that the zakat committees are run by pious individuals. Do pious organizations have videos that encourage kids to dress like suicide bombers?

Reiterating himself, Jonas brought up other “Hamas-related” items — such as posters, postcards and key chains — that Israeli soldiers seized from the zakat committees. He then displayed a calendar with about a dozen photos, but Jonas only talked about one picture depicting a bus blown up by a suicide bomber. Abington said the rest of the photos represent the “daily life of Palestinians.” This includes being shot by Israeli soldiers, he said. Jonas concluded by discussing a letter faxed in 1995 by a Hamas spokesman to Paul Matulic, personal advisor to U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch. The spokeman asked Hatch’s office to help with the release of then-detained Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook. The letter stated that Abu Marzook’s arrest was motivated by politics. But to Jonas, it was more important that the letter stated, “Repercussion could ensue as a result.” Abington said “repercussion” did not necessarily mean an attack. He thought it meant anti-American sentiments and protests.

Nancy Hollander, defendant Shukri Abu-Baker’s attorney, then began redirect examination of Abington. She started by saying that he was never given the information retrieved from the intelligence investigation of the Holy Land Foundation, which ran from about 1994 to 2001. In addition, the FBI did not share wiretaps with Abington and his staff. No U.S. government agency has ever identified any of the zakat committee members as Hamas affiliates, Abington added. Rather, an anonymous Israeli witness in the HLF trial — who went by the alias of Avi — identified them as Hamas. Abington then said the information gathered at the Israeli Security Agency is “questionable to liability” because their sources are almost impossible to track. The U.S. government does not accept it at face value, he said. Hamas-related items found in the zakat committees do not make the charities Hamas-controlled, he said.

Abington then elaborated on the calendar discussed during cross-examination. Some photos showed a Palestinian child on a structure demolished by Israeli soldiers. Others showed a funeral and a confrontation between a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier. He then explained what he meant when he said the calendar depicts the “daily life of Palestinians.” The Israeli occupation is harsh. Frequent casualties are inflicted upon Palestinians by Israeli military activity, he said.

Hollander then cleared up a statement by Jonas during cross-examination, where Jonas asked if former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright withdrew Abington from Jerusalem after making a negative public statement about the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Abington told the jury the full story. During an interview with a New York Times reporter, he said, Many Israeli settlements were not occupied with Jews, but they were empty. The expansion of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories was based on ideological reasons — not growing Jewish families. Albright, who was infuriated when she read the newspaper the next morning, demanded an apology. She did not, however, order the withdrawal of Abington from Jerusalem.

The defense council’s next witness was Mohammad Wafa Yaish, who was HLF’s accountant from 1997 to 2001. Marlo Cadeddu, defendant Mufid Abdulqader’s lawyer, began direct examination of Yaish by discussing his background. He was born in the West Bank city of Nablus and raised in Kuwait. After earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, Yaish eventually became a certified public accountant. He then testified that Abdulqader was strictly a volunteer for the HLF. He did not get paid for traveling within the U.S. and raising funds. The HLF only covered his travel costs, hotel costs and other necessities. Traveling expenses were purchased by the HLF, he said. But sometimes, volunteers covered all the costs and were later reimbursed by the HLF by presenting receipts of their payments. Earlier in the trial, prosecutors displayed checks written to Abdulqader. Yaish proved that the checks written to Abdulqader were not meant to pay him for raising funds. The checks were simply reimbursements to Abdulqader, since he occasionally paid for his travel expenses.

In her brief direct examination, Hollander admitted into evidence a small stack of photos portraying HLF’s projects.

During his cross-examination of Yaish, Jonas played a nearly 20-minute conversation between defendant Abu-Baker and an official with CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations.) They mostly discussed HLF employee bonuses, specifically a $20,000 bonus to defendant Mohammad El-Mezain.

Greg Westfall, defendant Abdulrahman Odeh, concluded the day by admitting into evidence another stack of photos that depicted HLF’s charity work.

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