DALLAS - For jurors in the Hamas-support case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) who likely know nothing about the terrorist group, or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the first full day of testimony Tuesday was dominated by a lesson in Hamas 101.
Matthew Levitt, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury Department, and now the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, walked jurors through everything from Middle East geography to the Hamas charter to the way non-violent social branches feed the group's overall terrorist agenda.
The testimony lays a foundation for why the United States outlawed transactions with, and support for, Hamas in the mid 1990s. The five defendants, who lost an earlier court battle to prevent Levitt from testifying, are accused of breaking those laws by routing money to Hamas' social arms through a series of charities, known as zakat committees, in the West Bank and Gaza.
Levitt, author of the 2006 book Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, discussed Hamas leaders such as Mousa Abu Marzook, the organization's evolution and its attacks like a December 2001 suicide bombing on a bus in Haifa that killed 16 people in a community that includes Arabs and Jews.
The terrorist organization's charter was reviewed, including its overall objective of destroying the state of Israel and replacing it with an Islamic theocracy through a violent application of jihad.
Prosecutors then had Levitt explain the connection between the military and social branches of Hamas. "The social wing builds the grass roots for the organization" Levitt said, "and is the ideal mechanism for laundering money for all their activities."
It also is a recruitment tool by providing services ranging from medical assistance to food and education. Levitt explained that the social network fosters an environment in which children are taught at a young age to look up to suicide bombers. To illustrate that, jurors were shown a video from a Hamas Kindergarten Graduation Ceremony. The video shows children in military clothing, carrying toy machine guns and even wearing suicide belts. Some were dressed to resemble Hamas and Hizballah leaders.
The video seemed to grab jurors' attention. At least six of them had pens in hand during this video, and one older male could be seen raising his eyebrows and jotting down notes.
On cross examination, defense attorneys challenged Levitt's expertise, first by casting him as biased toward Israel in the conflict and then by challenging the sources of his research.
John Cline, who represents former HLF chairman Ghassan Elashi, focused on the zakat committees which received HLF money, making the point that none were included on the government list of designated terrorist organizations. Prosecutors argue that the committees are a part of Hamas, which is off-limits. They will show jurors evidence later in the trial that they think establishes the committees' link to Hamas.
Nancy Hollander, who represents former HLF CEO Shukri Abu Baker, followed Cline; slowly picking away at any and all connections Levitt has to Israel and organizations with Jewish connections in an attempt to challenge his objectivity. Hollander's tone was more combative, interrupting Levitt's answers in mid-sentence: We all know what you want to say, Dr. Levitt, but it would be helpful if you would just answer my questions, OK?"
Defendant Abdelrahman Odeh's lawyer, Greg Westfall, was up next, asking about expressions of anger in the faces of the children in the video shown to the jury earlier. Those people are in need, Westfall said and their living conditions might affect the "world view of the children."
U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis upheld a prosecution objection that Levitt couldn't answer about a child's world view. Westfall then turned to some of Levitt's written work, questioning Israeli intelligence numbers cited regarding Hamas' budget and how that money was spent.
Marlo Cadeddu, attorney for Mufid Abdulqader took up the questioning at the end of the day, and specifically got into Levitt's 2006 book on Hamas. She asked detailed questions about the sources in his footnotes, asking which ones - nearly line by line - were primary sources, secondary sources, newspapers, Israeli military press releases or Israeli government sources.
Cadeddu's cross examination will continue when court resumes Wednesday morning.