October 29, 2007 -- THE trial of four key figures with the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development ended last week with a hung jury. Holy Land's defenders and allies are trumpeting the mistrial as a huge victory. Yet the defendants remain in legal jeopardy, with a new trial almost assured - and the prosecution has, at a minimum, closed a lucrative funding channel for the Palestinian terror group Hamas.
Prosecutors in the Northern District of Texas deserve praise for bringing this case in the first place. The trial record conclusively demonstrated that Holy Land and several of its unindicted co-conspirators - including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) - grew out of Hamas. Moreover, it showed that they spent the better part of 15 years deceiving government agencies and the media, hiding their true goals under a mask of work for charity and civil rights.
To be sure, the mistrial was portrayed as another in a series of setbacks for the government's anti-terror prosecution strategy. Notably, several jurors seemed to discount the testimony of an Israeli security expert, testifying under an assumed name, apparently on the belief that Israelis cannot be trusted on Palestinian matters.
Some jurors may even have bought the defense argument that anti-Israel terror isn't truly terrorism, but merely "resisting the occupation." One juror told the Dallas Morning News of his difficulty in describing Hamas as a terrorist group, stating, "Part of it does terrorist acts, but it's a political movement. It's an uprising."
The highly technical nature of some evidence likely also played a role. Whatever the reasons, prosecutors failed to persuade the jury, unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt, that Holy Land and its officials deliberately routed money to Hamas through a set of Palestinian charities. But the jury was also unable to fully exonerate the defendants, and the government has announced its intent to retry the case.
Moreover, the trial uncovered numerous ugly secrets of Holy Land and its leaders. For starters, it exposed as lies their oft-made claims to not be supporting Hamas. The evidence clearly linked Holy Land and CAIR to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, the hard-line Egyptian Islamist umbrella group and godfather of every Sunni terrorist group from Hamas to al Qaeda.
Former Holy Land CEO Shukri Abu Baker, for example, told a Dallas Morning News reporter in 1996, "We were never associated with Hamas." Yet Baker's own credit-card bills show he and other Holy Land defendants repeatedly covered travel expenses for Hamas leaders - including Mohammed Siyam and Mahmud Zahar - in the early 1990s.
Siyam, a Hamas sheikh who has stated that jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine and that "America is the sworn enemy and it is from her that the Jews take the weapons and soldiers," and Zahar, the Hamas foreign minister recently deposed as a result of the factional infighting in Gaza, spoke at Holy Land fund-raisers in the United States and South America that generated tens of thousands of dollars. (True, transactions with and support for Hamas had not yet been banned - but those facts still stand in direct contrast with Baker's public denials.)
But the trial's biggest revelations was the full transcript of a secret 1993 meeting in Philadelphia of "The Palestine Committee" - a group of Hamas members and supporters.
Baker and co-defendant Ghassan Elashi (who's already been sentenced in a different trial to six-plus years for, in part, laundering money for Hamas) participated. At no time during it did either man reject Hamas' ideology or call for it to temper its violence.
Overall, the transcript shows that Holy Land was an active player in a larger Muslim Brotherhood network aimed at organizing support in America for Hamas.
Also at the meeting were two men who would later be founders of CAIR - Omar Ahmad, the group's first chairman, and Nihad Awad, who is now its executive director.
Ahmad convened the Philadelphia gathering: "This meeting was called for by the Palestine Committee," he said, "in order to have a seminar or a meeting to the brothers present here today in order to study the situation in light of the latest developments on the Palestinian arena, its effects and impact on our work here in America."
The transcripts (from an FBI recording) make it clear that all present opposed any peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, in fact, wanted a Palestinian state on the '48 borders, Palestinian code for the destruction of Israel:
Omar Ahmad: We've always demanded the 1948 territories. I mean, we demanded . . .
Unidentified speaker: Yes, but we don't say that publicly. You cannot say it publicly. In front of the Americans . . .
Ahmad: No, we didn't say that to the Americans.
CAIR seems to hope that, by trumpeting the mistrial as an exoneration, it can bury these disclosures. It has a lot to lose: Numerous people in government and the media, overly eager to find a "moderate" Muslim voice, have long accepted CAIR's denials of its radicalism and its ties to terrorism. The first trial produced copious amounts of evidence to the contrary; if people actually pay attention, CAIR might lose its "moderate" label even in the pages of The New York Times.