In a packed Dallas courtroom yesterday, 18 jurors including 6 alternates listened to the opening statements given by the Government and Defense Attorneys in the case of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). Assistant United States Attorney James Jacks told jurors that the defendants in the case knowingly sent millions of dollars to HAMAS linked charities called Zakat Committees.
While none of the men are accused of engaging in violent terrorist activities, the material support charge stems from financial transactions which, according to prosecutors, defendants intended to further HAMAS' goal of destroying Israel. Jacks asked the jury "Are the organizations that received money from Holy Land Foundation controlled by and work on behalf of HAMAS and if so did the defendants know that?"
The defendants, according to Jacks, even went as far as using codes in a second set of bank records they maintained in an attempt to hide their conspiracy. The Government claims that the monies sent to HAMAS by HLF freed up funds that the terrorist organization used to finance their violent activities.
Following the Government's opening statement, attorneys for the five defendants: Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad El Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh, asserted that the prosecution's proof was based solely on associational evidence which will not prove that the defendants gave material support to HAMAS. Furthermore, the defense claimed that the Zakat Committees, which the prosecution mentioned, had never been designated as terrorist organizations and that they are even registered with the Palestinian Authority. Each one maintained that his client was a good, decent, law-abiding citizen who merely wanted to extend aid to people whose lives had been hardened by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nancy Hollander, attorney for Shukri Abu Baker, stated that following the US designation of HAMAS as a terrorist organization in 1995, HLF officials "were so concerned that they hired lawyers and went to the government and said that they wanted to make sure that they were on the right side of the law, but that they were never told to stop working with anyone because they were not breaking any laws."
Joshua Dratel, attorney for Mohammad El Mezain, picking up where Hollander left off, maintained that the Government's case is about "quantity, not quality." Dratel claimed that the Government wants to make this case about association and family relationships, which are not crimes, as substitutes for evidence, citing our First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
The case is expected to last several months and will include testimony from expert witnesses from the United States and abroad, evidence from wiretaps and material obtained through search warrants, bank records, and video tapes as the Government tries to prove its case that the defendants knowingly engaged in a 14 year conspiracy to support HAMAS from right here in our very own country.
Scott Rosenbaum is a Senior Researcher at the Investigative Project on Terrorism.