Two defense witnesses testify (Nov. 3, 2008)

Jurors listened more intensely than ever before on Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, as they got crash courses on Islam and the Palestinian culture.

Second Defense Witness

Dr. John Esposito, a prominent scholar on Islam and a professor at Georgetown University, was the next witness called to the stand. Esposito, who is Roman Catholic, began by briefing the jury about his credentials. He has published numerous books and articles and a six-volume encyclopedia. He also recently published results of a poll about the perception of Arabs and Muslims. He is the head of a center of Muslim and Christian understanding at Georgetown University, and he has lectured all over the world. In addition, he has consulted with numerous governmental agencies including the State Department, the FBI, the Homeland Security, the Pentagon and military organizations. He’s been to the West Bank several times, he’s received numerous awards and he can read the Quran in Arabic. Finally, he is an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Esposito cleared up numerous misconceptions that prosecutors attempted to twist around and blur during the course of the retrial. First, he defined Islam, which means “submission to God.” The religion has five pillars: Shadada (To bear witness that there is no God but God and Mohammad is his Messenger), Prayer (five times a day), Fasting (From sunrise to sunset), Zakat (charity) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca.) In Islam, Moses and Jesus are beloved prophets, thereby categorizing the religion with Christianity and Judaism. In fact, Mary appears more in the holy Quran that she does in the New Testament. Muslims are the followers of Islam and Allah is the Arabic term for God. In addition, he stressed the importance of caring for orphans and widows in Islam.

The true meaning of “jihad” is not associated with violence. It’s to struggle on the path of God, and to struggle to lead a moral life, Esposito said. Terrorists also use the term to mean “holy war,” but it’s never used in that context in the Quran. He also elaborated on “economic jihad,” which prosecutors used several times during the retrial. His accurate definition: To give money to the poor and destitute struggling locally and globally.

As for the term “mujahideen,” it literarily means “those who struggle.” It has been used both by freedom fighters and terrorists. In Palestine, mujahidheen would not only include Hamas affiliates, he said. It would include Fatah and other Palestinians. Esposito also defined “Islamist”: One who is religiously-oriented and engaged in social and political movements. Some Islamists mainstream, while others are radical.

He then addressed “Takbir” and “Allahu Akbar.” They are very much like applause, a form of approval from an audience. One person shouts Takbir and a group of people respond “Allahu Akbar. God is the Greatest.”

Esposito said he’s never been to a zakat committee, neither does he consider himself a Hamas expert. When defense attorney Nancy Hollander asked Esposito about Matthew Levit’s book titled “Hamas,” Esposito said the book lacks “first-hand experience,” and therefore affects the author’s credibility.

He also talked about one of his areas of expertise, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was established in the 1920s. He has interviewed numerous members and leaders across the Middle East. For the past 30 years, the group has not been violent. In fact, it has participated peacefully with governments and societies worldwide. The group still exists in Palestine, without being associated with Hamas.

After Esposito said he met a few Hamas officials throughout the years, Hollander asked, Does that say anything about whether or not you support them? Esposito replied, No.

The next topic of discussion was another man whose name was mentioned several times during the retrial: Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a prominent Muslim scholar and religious leader. Al-Qaradawi has denounced acts of terrorism like suicide bombings in general and the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. But he has been supportive of suicide bombings in Palestine. To Al-Qaradawi, Esposito explained, Palestine is a war-zone, where people are living under occupation. All Israelis are part of the system; therefore, fighting is legitimate. Suicide bombers don’t have the military power, so they use their bodies as weapons to sacrifice themselves for a noble and just cause, Al-Qaradawi has said.

Hollander concluded direct examination by asking Esposito, Why is it important for us here to understand Islam? Esposito answered, When you make a judgment, it’s important to understand the culture and the people involved. I grew up at a time when Italians were seen as the Mafia. It’s important to know the context before making a judgment.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Jim Jacks asked Esposito about the several times he spoke at CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) events. At one of the events, money was being raised for the Muslim Legal Fund of America, which Jacks claimed, pays the defense attorneys in the HLF case. This claim, of course, was false since all but one defense attorney are paid by 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals. Jacks inquired about whether Esposito was getting paid for his testimony. He said he was getting about $420 an hour. In addition, Jacks compared the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas mottos, saying the two were similar. Jacks then discussed a book seized by the FBI from HLF’s New Jersey office titled “A study of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas,” where Hamas leader Ahmad Yasin is quoted labeling Hamas’ security wing as the “Palestinian Mujahideen.” Esposito reiterated that “mujahideen” can be translated to mean holy warrior or freedom fighter. Jacks also asked Esposito why he has met with Hamas leaders. Esposito quickly replied, It’s part of my research to seek out Islamic movements.

Jacks addressed the Muslim Brotherhood, exclaiming that there have been members of the brotherhood who have engaged in violent acts. For 30 minutes or so, Jacks displayed various Muslim Brotherhood documents, in which he repeatedly pointed out violent statements. Next, Jacks attempted tackle Esposito’s definition of “economic jihad” by playing a clip of a speech by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian spiritual leader who fought alongside Afghanis against the Soviets during the late 1970s. In the video, Azzam proclaimed passionately in Arabic, It is a duty for all Muslims to do jihad with their souls and money … I pray for the paralyzed man, a man who moves a generation when he cant move, Ahmad Yasin … Oh children of Palestine, the opportunity to train you with weapons is open The end of the clip features a flashing request to send donations to the Occupied Land Fund (the original name of the HLF.)

Would you agree that in this video and this context, economic jihad is referring to supporting violence, Jacks asked after the clip ended.

I suppose he was referring to fundraising for Afghanistan, Esposito replied, concluding honestly and brilliantly.

Third Defense Witness

Dr. David McDonald, a professor of folklore and ethnomusicology at Indiana University, gave the jury the untold, candid story of Palestine through its history of music, dance, performance and culture. While working on his PhD, McDonald lived the West Bank for two years. There, he said he interviewed Palestinians and learned about what they thought and how they lived.

After completing his research, McDonald concluded that there are six basic types of Palestinian music that emerged at specific moments in Palestinian history.

1. Sha’bi (Folkloric)—19-teens to 1948: This type of music included stories of heroism and the British colonization. It became prominent again in Palestine from 1982 to 1987.
2. Watani (National)—1948 to 1967: This type of music emerged after the creation of Israel in 1948. It was a drastic change from Shaibi.
3. Thauri (Revolutionary)—1967 to 1982: This type of music coincided with the Six-Day War in 1967. It had many references of resistance against the brutal Israeli occupation.
4. Anasheed (Islamist songs)—1987 to 1993: This type of music emerged soon after the Intifada in 1987. It’s made up of a more simple, religious chant.
5. Classiki (Classical)—1993 to 2001: After the Oslo Accord, the type of music began reflecting a “spirit of anticipation,” McDonald said. There was zeal toward learning new things.
6. Pop—2000 and forward: This type of music sprouted after the second Intifada.

McDonald said he analyzed sound, behavior and concept when he reviewed the footage associated with the HLF case. Some clips showed music by Al-Sakhra (The Rock) Band of which defendant Mufid Abdulqader was a member. This group surprised me because they performed three different types of music in one performance: Sha’bi, Thauri and Anasheed, McDonald said. Defense attorney Marlo Caddedu played a video with Al-Sakhra Band singing behind professional dabka dancers. Dabka is the most important Palestinian symbol of identity, McDonald added. Caddedu played a video that prosecutors showed the jury earlier during the trial of masked men wearing black and holding up the Quran. McDonald pointed out that the individuals in the video looked like they were reenacting the demonstrations that took place during the Intifada. Another video featured Al-Sakhra Band member Monzer Taleb singing an ornamented solo as he recited poetic text.

At the end of the day, McDonald addressed a video that prosecutors played numerous times of a skit performed by Abdulqader and another individual dressed like an Israeli soldier. McDonald said the performance was a dramatization of a dialogue. He dissected the dialogue, putting the Palestinian frustration into context for the jury. Below are excerpts of the dialogue:

Mufid: I am Hamas, O dear ones.
I swear to wipe out the name of the Zionist.
And protect my land, Palestine.

Zionist Character: This, Hamas, is a new melody
that you have not gotten used to it. But
you do not know me.
And I am the known Zionist.
And my situation is known in the world.
I must take over Palestine
And make it Israel.

Zionist Character: You want to wipe out the name
of the Zionist, you, yourself? Armies and
will not wipe out the name of the Zionist,
and you are coming to erase the name of the
Zionist with a stone?
And I, the Jew, do not get scared.
And Hitler killed thousands.
And I, the Jew, do not get scared.
And Hitler killed thousands.
I am the Jew and I do not fight.
My daughters answer on my behalf.

Mufid: You, as many as you kill of the
children, elderly and women.
And the people of Palestine do not die.
Mufid: I will make your casket, and dig your grave
in Jenin.

Zionist Character: He thinks that Jenin in which
he is going to dig his grave in for me is his land.
This is not your land; this is our land.
And this is Yehuda and Samra.
And the abundant land and of my forefathers. .
And the world knows its story.
And from America to Berlin.
Do not say Intifada
This is nonsense.
The sling will not get me out.
Nor by the stone that is thrown on me.
Audience: You must leave, O cursed one.

Mufid: This is your work, against who
are you using your tanks and cannons?, against
unarmed people and children, the innocent people.
This is your work, O coward.
The killing of the elderly and the women.
And this is your work, O coward.

The skit ends with Abdulqader shooting and killing the Israeli soldier.
McDonald will continue his testimony on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2008. Attorneys will likely give their closing arguments early next week.

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