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Defending Charity: Supporting the Holy Land Five


“As I stand here in Dallas, I have to say it’s one of the most monstrous injustices in modern times in America.”

British MP George Galloway on HLF case


Defending Charity: Supporting the Holy Land Five

The enclosed packet offers an informative, yet concise synopsis of what the American Civil Liberties Union has determined is a “discriminatory� case against the Holy Land Five.

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“It’s remarkable. My client was convicted of providing charity. There was not, in ten years of wiretapping his home, his office, looking at his faxes, listening to everything he said, there was not one word out of his mouth about violence to anyone or about support for Hamas. He provided charity. That’s what he was convicted of. And to say that someone or these people who provide charity should get a sentence four or five times longer than someone who professes to come to the United States with a purpose in mind that’s clearly violence shows essentially that these people were convicted because they were Palestinians.”
 Nancy Hollander, Defense Attorney


Who are the Holy Land Five? The Holy Land Foundation, or the HLF, was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down three months after 9/11. After a decade of raids, arrests and trials, the Holy Land Five were convicted of conspiring to give material support in the form of humanitarian aid to Palestinian charities called zakat committees that prosecutors alleged were fronts for Hamas. The guilty verdicts baffled defense attorneys who pointed out that USAID, the Red Cross, UN agencies and many international NGOs had provided charity to the same zakat committees listed on the HLF indictment. The Holy Land Five received sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years.

Case Timeline 1993: INVESTIGATION BEINGS. Following the Israeli interrogation of a Palestinian-American man named Muhammad Salah, the FBI begins its 12 plus years of investigation on the HLF. 1994 – 2000: RELENTLESS DEFAMATION. Pro-Israeli politicians and lobby groups accuse the HLF of supporting Hamas. September, 2001: The Bush administration launches the “War on Terror.” December 4, 2001: HLF SHUT DOWN. Capitalizing on the sour mood of the country after 9/11, President Bush shuts down the HLF through an executive order. July 27, 2004: CHARGES & ARRESTS. Upon the release of a 42-count indictment, the Holy Land Five are arrested and charged. July 16, 2007: TRIAL BEINGS. The trial lasts three months. October 22, 2007: MISTRIAL DECLARED. After 19 days of deliberations, the jury deadlocks on most of the counts, returning zero guilty verdicts. Prosecutors vow to retry the case. September 22, 2008: RETRIAL BEGINS. The retrial lasts about two months. November 24, 2008: JURY CONVICTS. The jury returns all guilty verdicts. May 27, 2009: SENTENCING. The sentences range from 15 to 65 years. May, 2010: TRANSFER TO CMU’S. Four of the Holy Land Five are transferred to Communications Management Units; the fifth defendant is sent to a prison in Southern California. December, 2011: APPEAL DENIED. The Fifth Circuit Court dismisses the appeal. March, 2012: SUPREME COURT. Defense attorneys take the case to the Supreme Court.

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Why is the Holy Land Foundation case purely political? I. Pattern of Shutting Down Muslim Charities: The Holy Land Foundation was among several charities that the Bush administration shut down soon after 9/11. These include: Benevolence International Foundation, Global Relief Foundation, Kind Hearts USA and Islamic American Relief Agency. In 2009, the ACLU released a report titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity,” addressing this issue. To read the report, visit http://www.aclu. org/human-rights/report-blocking-faith-freezing-charity. II. Flawed Legislation: The HLF case was authorized by the Patriot Act, which expanded a provision in the “material support” law to include those who provide “assistance.” This made it illegal to send charity to the U.S. Treasury Department lists of designated terrorists. (Note: The HLF was never found guilty of giving charity to a designated terrorist organization; rather, they were convicted of conspiring to give charity to zakat committees that prosecutors argued were fronts for Hamas). What the “material support” statue has essentially done is undermine bona fide humanitarian efforts, and thus, cause an economic chokehold on Occupied Palestine. According to the ACLU, the law is “in desperate need of re-evaluation and reform.” The legislation also raises serious due process concerns and violates human rights obligations and constitutional provisions that protect freedoms of religion and association. The Center for Constitutional Rights has challenged the constitutionality of this law in the Supreme Court. III. Timing: Post 9/11 Hysteria: The HLF was shut down amid the Bush administration’s so-called “War on Terror.” In December 2001—three months after 9/11—Bush met with then Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon. Almost immediately after the visit, Bush shut down the HLF through an executive order and the Treasury Department froze HLF’s assets without a hearing or statement of reasons, and by relying on secret evidence. IV. Relentless Defamation: The political persecution against the Holy Land Foundation began as early as 1993 and became more relentless throughout the 1990’s. Pro-Israeli researchers, politicians and lobbyists—such as notorious Islamaphobe Steven Emerson, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner, former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the Israeli advocacy group, the Anti-Defamation League—accused the HLF of supporting Hamas without providing proper evidence to backup their claims. Some urged the state and justice departments to investigate the HLF, some heightened congressional pressure by proposing legislations including the Material Support Law, while others asked the IRS to revoke HLF’s taxexempt status. In response to the accusations, numerous news outlets linked the HLF to Hamas throughout the 1990’s, stories by The New York Times, Dallas Morning News, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, 60 Minutes and 20/20. Why was the HLF persecuted? It was gaining prominence as it continued to alleviate the economic devastation in Occupied Palestine and some saw its prominence as a threat so they sought to close it down.

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Are there human and civil rights violations in the case? In addition to the flawed nature of the Material Support Law, there are a plethora of civil and human rights abuses in the HLF case. In fact, David Cole, a Georgetown University professor of constitutional law, has compared the HLF case to prosecutions that took place during the McCarthy Era. Months before the first HLF trial, prosecutors unsealed a list of 300 unindicted coconspirators, including three major Muslim organizations: CAIR, an advocacy group; ISNA, an educational organization; and NAIT, a trust that holds deeds of American mosques. “By listing these groups… it says I don’t want you to have any advocacy, any education or to own anything,” a Dallas leader was quoted saying in the aforementioned 2009 ACLU report. The purpose of the list of un-indicted co-conspirators was to allow prosecutors to use their statements in court without it being considered hearsay. The individuals and groups on the list cannot challenge the designation.

“The government’s actions ...violated the fundamental rights of American Muslim Charities and has chilled American Muslims’ charitable giving in accordance with their faith, seriously undermining American values of due process and commitment to First Amendment freedoms.” ACLU Report During both HLF trials, prosecutors disregarded the first amendment and used tactics such as guilt by association and collective punishment. Most notably, the prosecutors denied the Holy Land Five’s constitutional right to confront the witness by direct examining their star witness—an Israeli intelligence officer who refused to release his identity, agreeing only to testify under a pseudonym. All in all, the HLF prosecution, which has been dubbed the “largest terror-funding” case in U.S. history, has hindered our freedom to give.

Why were there convictions in the second trial compared to a mistrial in the first? The prosecution’s approach was more aggressive in nature, and the prosecution and defense each presented a couple additional witnesses. Nevertheless, the arguments were essentially the same. This is why the defense attorneys and civil libertarians were baffled at the results of the second trial.

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Legal Background Upon shutting down the Holy Land Foundation in 2001, President Bush said in a press conference that “money raised by the HLF is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers.” Two and a half years later, the indictment was released. After sifting through hundreds of wiretapped phone calls and hundreds of thousands of documents, prosecutors could not find a connection between the HLF and Hamas. Therefore, the prosecutors altered their allegations. They charged the HLF with providing charity to Palestinian zakat committees that were allegedly “controlled by” and “worked on behalf of Hamas.” The first trial in 2007 lasted three months, and after 12 plus years of investigation, millions of taxpayer money spent and 19 days of deliberation, the jury failed to return a single guilty verdict. William Neal, one of the leading jurors of the first trial, said, “They kept trying to show us stuff around the case, not the case. They presented to the jury, you know these committees, these organizations controlled by or on the behalf of Hamas, but they kept showing us blown-up buses and they kept showing us little kids in bomb belts reenacting Hamas leaders. It had nothing to do with the actual charges. It had nothing to do with the defendants.” Another juror Nanette Scroggins said, “I kept expecting the government to come up with something, and it never did. From what I saw, this was about Muslims raising money to support Muslims, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.” Following a hung jury, or a split decision, the judge declared a mistrial and prosecutors persisted on retrying the case the following year. In 2008, after essentially the same arguments, jurors returned all guilty verdicts. In 2009, the Holy Land Five received sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years. The defense attorneys are currently appealing the case.

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Key Witnesses

I. Prosecutors argued that the HLF conspired to support Hamas by providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian families with the intention of “secretly winning their hearts and minds,” and eventually encouraging them to be suicide bombers. The prosecution’s key witness was an Israeli intelligence officer, testifying under the fake name of Avi, who claimed he could smell Hamas. His testimony was unconstitutional since the defense could not challenge or discredit him. According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors also depended on “faulty translations” and “questionable foreign intelligence” mainly from Israel to make their case. Furthermore, they used fear tactics by showing jurors scenes of suicide bombings completely unaffiliated with the HLF, videos of children marching on a kindergarten stage wearing army garb and mock suicide vests, images meant to intimidate the jury. Prosecutors also used collective punishment and guilt by association by linking the defendants to relatives who are members of Hamas. II. Judge A. Joe Fish denied the defense attorneys from properly presenting their case; he prevented them from showing the jury examples of HLF’s charity work, which the judge deemed as irrelevant. HLF attorneys argued that their clients never funded violence and never broke the law since none of the zakat committees included in the indictment were listed on the Treasury Department’s list of designated terrorists. A key defense witness, Edward Abington—who was a consul general at the American Consulate in Jerusalem and the State Department’s second highest intelligence official—testified that after receiving CIA briefings and visiting the zakat committees, he was never informed that the zakat committees were controlled by Hamas. In fact, defense attorneys argued that USAID, United Nations, Red Cross, CARE, European Commission and many international NGOs have sent money to the same zakat committees listed on the HLF indictment. This was the way to distribute humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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What did the Holy Land Five say during sentencing day? Ghassan Elashi, Co-founder, Chairman “When the Holy Land Foundation was incorporated in 1989, I had no intention in my mind and my heart but to help the Palestinian indigenous people who have been and still are facing unusual economical distress… Nothing in my life was as satisfactory and rewarding as knowing that I could sign a check, the evidence that is used against me. It is the only evidence you have against me, signing the check. But that was the most enjoyable part of my life and rewarding, knowing that I could sign a check or a wire transfer to assist hundreds of Palestinian families who got displaced after their homes were demolished… Nothing was more satisfactory to me than granting scholarships to hundreds of Palestinian students who had high average grades despite the circumstances… Nothing was more rewarding to me than being a catalyst and turning the zakat into a real life assistance to the orphans and the needy families… We helped Palestinian orphans and needy families, giving them hope and life. Hope and life. We gave them hope and life… We at the Holy Land Foundation were giving hope and providing the basic essentials of life to the Palestinians, basic essentials—oil, rice, flour. And what was the occupation giving them? The occupation was providing them with death and destruction. And then we are turned criminals. That is irony.” Shukri Abu-Baker, President, CEO “It was not hate for Israel or passion for politics that drove my destiny. Sanabel’s entire life had been a symphony of suffering and pain” — Sanabel is Abu-Baker’s daughter who was diagnosed at birth with Cystic Fibrosis and Thalassemia — “and God helped me to remix that symphony into a mix of relief and hope for so many people around the globe. This is how HLF transcended. And the more Sanabel triumphed and showed resilience to her killer diseases, the more energetic I became and the more resolute I became. The more she fought back and clung to life, the more I fought the impossible to help others cling to their life.”

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Mufid Abdulqader, Volunteer Fundraiser “Unfortunately, the Holy Land Foundation and my role in it was not fully shown. The Court needed to know about lives we saved and enhanced throughout our humanitarian work—the hundreds of thousands that received our food packages and financial aid, the countless men and women and the children that benefited from our social services, our health services, and community improvement. We did it all in the name of America, under American law. We gave the same people, Your Honor, we gave to the organizations that the United Nations and the world community gave to.” Mohammad El-Mezain, California HLF Representative “Unfortunately, the Holy Land Foundation and my role in it was not fully shown. The Court needed to know about lives we saved and enhanced throughout our humanitarian work—the hundreds of thousands that received our food packages and financial aid, the countless men and women and the children that benefited from our social services, our health services, and community improvement. We did it all in the name of America, under American law. We gave the same people, Your Honor, we gave to the organizations that the United Nations and the world community gave to.” Abdulrahman Odeh, New Jersey HLF Representative “My involvement of charitable work here in the United States gave me an opportunity to extend my philanthropy globally. God allowed me to join the international family of giving and impressing other charitable causes such as the international cooperation with the World Food Program of the United Nations, relief missions in Egypt, Albania, and Jordan where we fed underprivileged adults and children. I have not experienced an aberration of behavior and still strongly believe in my intent and innocence.”

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Biographies of the Holy Land Five

Ghassan Elashi, 56 years old, sentenced to 65 years, 35 counts, inmate number 29687-177, located in Communications Management Unit in Marion, Illinois. Has three daughters and three sons. Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Ain Shams University and Master’s degree in Accounting from University of Miami. Immigrated to U.S. in 1978. American Citizen. Shukri Abu Baker, 51 years old, sentenced to 65 years, 34 counts, inmate number 32589-177, located in Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, Indiana. Has four daughters. Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Orlando College. Immigrated to U.S. in 1980. American Citizen. Mufid Abdulqader, 50 years old, sentenced to 20 years, 3 counts, inmate number 32590-177, located in Communications Management Unit in Marion, Illinois. Has three daughters. Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from Oklahoma State University. Immigrated to U.S. in 1980. American Citizen. Mohammad El-Mezain, 56 years old, sentenced to 15 years, 1 count, inmate number 92412-198, located in Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, Indiana. Has four sons and three daughters. Bachelor’s degree in Business from Al-Azhar University in Cairo and Master’s degree in Economics from Colorado State University. Immigrated to U.S. in 1983. Legal U.S. Resident. Abdulrahman Odeh, 50 years old, sentenced to 15 years, 3 counts, inmate number 26548-050, located in Victorville Federal Correctional Institution in Adelanto, California. Has one daughter and two sons. Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Montclair State College in New Jersey. Immigrated to U.S. in 1982. American Citizen.

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The Holy Land Five are being held in Communications Management Units or CMUs. What are CMUs? Communications Management Units, or CMU’s, are units within prisons that have been called “Little Guantanamos” since half to two-thirds of the inmate population is Muslim or of Middle Eastern decent. The units also hold men with unpopular political beliefs such as environmentalists and animal rights activists. The purpose of the two prisons in Terre Haute, Indiana and Marion, Illinois is to closely monitor inmates and restrict them from communicating with the outside world, which includes their attorneys, their families and the media. Inmates are allowed two 15-minute phone calls a week and two four-hour visitations behind plexiglass a month, all of which are live-monitored from Washington D.C. and must be scheduled in advance; that’s half the phone call time and one-fourth the visitation time given by most other prison inmates in the nation. The prisons went against federal law when they secretly opened in 2006 and 2008 since they had not provided opportunity for public comment. In March 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the CMUs, stating that they violate due process and inflict cruel and unusual punishment. In April 2010, in response to the lawsuit, the Bureau of Prisons opened a two-month public comment period, which gave thousands of Americans the chance to comment on the prisons. In May 2009, four of the Holy Land Five were transferred to Communications Management Units; Abdulrahman Odeh was transferred to a separate prison in southern California.

Case Information Docket Number: 304-CR 240G, Northern District of Texas. To read the indictment, which was released on July 27, 2004, visit http://freedomtogive.com/ files/HLF_indmt.pdf. Although the original indictment lists 197 counts, the defendants were only tried on 108 counts during the 2008 retrial since in September 2008, prosecutors asked the judge to drop 29 charges against defendant Mufid Abdulqader, 29 against Abdulrahman Odeh and 31 against Mohammad El-Mezain. These were charges that the three men were acquitted of in the 2007 trial.

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Charity Work and Humanitarian Mission In 1987, the Intifada took place. It was a time when Palestinian families demonstrated in the streets, praying that their cries would be broadcasted across the world. To the founders of the Holy Land Foundation, to ignore these cries would have been to deny their own humanity. They could not ignore the humanitarian crisis in Occupied Palestine. This was how the HLF got its start. The foundation was founded in 1989 in the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City, California and relocated to the Dallas suburb of Richardson,

Texas in 1991. The HLF mainly provided relief to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan through various projects, including orphan and family sponsorship programs, back-to-school funding, hospital building and home reconstruction. The HLF also aided the needy in Bosnia, Albania, Chechnya and Turkey. Furthermore, the HLF provided assistance in the United States, opening a food pantry in New Jersey and helping victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing, Texas tornadoes and Iowa floods.

By 2001, the charity’s annual budget had reached about $14 million, making it the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. According to the mission statement posted on its website: “The HLF believes that pain is a universal condition transcending racial, religious, national, and geographical boundaries. We believe that it is a God-given responsibility to permeate all the barriers separating humans and give them the best possible assistance. The future of the world depends on what we do today.”

“The government’s actions have created a climate of fear that chills American Muslims’ free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving, or Zakat.” ACLU Report

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www.freedomtogive.com info@freedomtogive.com

HLF Information Packet  

Information on the Holy Land Foundation trial and imprisionment of the the Holy Land Five 5 defendants.

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