Israeli Official Details Zakat Committee Links to Hamas
October 30, 2008
*Updated 10/31 4 p.m. The prosecution rested its case Friday morning and the first defense witness testified. The trial resumes Monday.
DALLAS – Palestinian charities receiving millions of dollars from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) were controlled by Hamas throughout the time they received the Texas-based charity's money, a lawyer for the Israeli Security Agency testified Wednesday and Thursday.
That opinion is based on the presence of Hamas leaders and activists serving in "key leadership roles" on the committees and the committees' work advancing the terrorist group's goals, said the lawyer, testifying anonymously under the pseudonym "Avi." He has been accepted as an expert witness on Hamas financing and social programs based upon his years of research in Israeli criminal probes.
And his opinion is based further on the presence of internal Hamas documents and propaganda items hyping the group in charity offices - even schools.
Five former HLF officials are accused of conspiring to provide material support to Hamas, largely through donations to Palestinian charities, known as zakat committees, which prosecutors say are controlled by Hamas. Avi, expected to be the final prosecution witness, is tasked with proving that connection.
The Islamic Center of Gaza, founded and run by Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin, received $733,000 from HLF between 1989 and 1994. The Jenin Zakat Committee received $554,000 between 1991 and 2001. Another $475,000 went to the Nablus Zakat Committee between 1991 and 2001. Ramallah's zakat committee received $295,000 in that time. Tulkarem's committee received $366,000. The Bethlehem Orphan Society and a predecessor committee received $429,000.
In each committee's case, Avi described the Hamas connections of committee members. In most cases, those connections were acknowledged in Hamas publications or by other leaders of the terrorist group. In raids of the zakat committees by Israeli military, soldiers found key chains honoring Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a poster announcing the death of notorious bomb-maker Yehya Ayyash ("the Engineer"), a card hailing the martyrdom of a Hamas fighter, and even a school scheduling sheet with images of terrorist attacks, including a burning bus, a bullet-riddled car and a dead body on a stretcher.
The items serve a purpose, Avi said, adding that pure charitable institutions wouldn't have them. "Even a keychain is something to remember. We don't have to say what we are. In the items you can see them."
Jurors were shown nearly two dozen such exhibits; often over the objections of defense attorneys who argued the images were prejudicial. In one 2001 video of a summer camp taken from the Islamic Charitable Society of Hebron, a children's song is sung while images of rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons are shown. A child hails Ayyash and five Hamas suicide bombers, including those who carried out attacks in Hadera and in Jerusalem's French Hill area.
Summer camps are part of a "life cycle" of social programs Hamas runs in the Palestinian territories, Avi testified. Kindergartens, primary schools, summer camps, universities and direct support for the families of martyrs and detainees helps build popular support and win future recruits.
"They can absorb very easily the ideas of Hamas," Avi said. "This is why the idea of kindergarten is so important to Hamas."
In some cases, the Palestinian Authority agrees. In 2001, a PA Security memo said committee members were associated with Hamas and some were activists. A year earlier, a lengthier report listed six leaders of zakat committees in Ramallah and El-Bireh. All were listed by the PA as Hamas members.
At the Tulkarem committee, soldiers found a release from Hamas' Izzedin Al Qassam brigade touting a 2002 suicide bombing at the Park Hotel that killed 19 people and wounded 170 more during a Passover Seder. The statement called the seaside town of Netanya, where the bombing occurred, "the heart of our occupied land '48 A.D" and reminded anyone who might have forgotten that Hamas stands against any peaceful settlement with Israel, saying "it will not accept other than Jihad and resistance."
The statement also made clear that, to Hamas, every Israeli is a fair target:
"What the Zionist entity and its ally America call as ‘innocent civilians' are in Al Qassam's and in our people's dictionary but settlers and oppressors of our land and people and they have nothing from us other than death and displacement."
At the Hebron charitable society, soldiers found an internal Hamas memorandum in the director's office. The 2001 handwritten memo summarized a meeting of the Hamas Shura Council in the West Bank and discussed the movement's approach to the second Intifada. It also indicated the zakat committees indeed were used to move money for Hamas:
"Please comfort us regarding your financial situation as we try hard to make more transfers to your end, whether through charity work, or through emergency budgets with which we still operate.
On that regards, we confirm our need for new account numbers for the transfer from … [incomplete], and stress the fact that work is underway to provide money to aspects relating to the martyrs and detainees and other issues through what is being transferred through the charity organizations as this is a main goal for the increase in transfers to those organizations so that budgets are dispensed according to the most ideal means which elevate the performance of the Movement."
Defense attorneys spent Thursday afternoon cross examining Avi. Joshua Dratel, who represents defendant Mohamed El-Mezain, attacked the anonymity afforded the witness, saying the defense has no way to research his background, his writings or research. "We have to take your word for everything about yourself … If you weren't even a lawyer, how would we go about proving that, without your real name?"
The cross examination continues Friday morning. After that, prosecutors are expected to rest their case.