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Appeals judge upholds sentencing for Holy Land Foundation Five

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HLF co-founder Ghassan Elashi:

“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.”

On Wednesday, December 7, a federal court of appeals upheld the conviction of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) co-founders and staff, affirming sentences that range from 15 to 65 years, convicted under the Providing Material Support to Terrorists Act. Co-founders Ghassan Elashi and Mohammad El-Mezain, along with the CEO and president Shukri Abu-Baker, volunteer fundraiser Mufid Abdulgader, and HLF New Jersey representative Abdulrahman Odeh were convicted in 2009, after a 2007 mistrial, for providing charity in Gaza.

The prosecution filled the case through an extension of the Material Support to Terrorist Act, which criminalized “assistance” to organizations on the US Treasury’s terrorist list vis-à-vis the Patriot Act. HLF was charged with assisting Hamas–by providing aid to orphanages and hospitals in Gaza–although the Palestinian charities, called zakats, were not on the US Treasury list.

Criminalized charity

The defendants were not convicted for providing material support to Hamas, but for providing humanitarian aid to organizations that also received support from USAID, the United Nations, the Red Cross, CARE, the European Commission–and USAID continued to provide support to some of the same zakat charities after the HLF was shut down by the Bush Administration in 2001.

Writer Noor Elashi, daughter of HLF co-founder Ghassan Elashi comments, “these Palestinian-American humanitarians were convicted of giving material support in the form of humanitarian aid to Palestinian charities called zakat committees that prosecutors alleged were fronts for Hamas, which the U.S. designated a terrorist organization in 1995.”

Defense attorney Nancy Hollander said:

“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 any- one 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.”

Twelve years of harassment

HLF was targeted (like Sami al-Arian) prior to the Bush Administration post-9/11 measures. Investigations against HLF began in 1993, when the Clinton Administration froze HLF assets, hindering donations to schools. HLF funds were frozen in a wave of closures to 150 US tax-exempt organization’s bank accounts–targeting mostly Muslim organizations–in a move that brought praise from Yasser Arafat. The 1993 freezing of assets also targeted suspected U.S. supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad–with intelligence provided by the Israeli government–who at the time, were rival political parties to the changing landscape of a post-Oslo PLO. These organizations were viewed by the US as “weakening” the so-called “peace-process” (in 1992 Hamas officials held approximately 30% of the elected positions in professional unions in both West Bank and Gaza).

The Forwards Ira Stoll reported in 1996, and throughout the 1990s, public statements were made by Islamophobic figures such as Steven Emerson, and also Rep. Nita Lowey (Dem-NY). Stoll noted Emerson and Lowey asked the U.S. government to revoke the tax-exempt status of the HLF–citing without evidence–that it was “the main fund raising arm for Hamas in the United States.”

Unconstitutional practices by the prosecution

The re-trial of the HLF Five began in 2008, after previously reaching a mistrial in 2007. During the first three-month trial–based on a twelve-year investigation–the prosecution exposed jurors to images from the al-Aqsa Intifada. Juror William Neal said of the first trial, the prosecution “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.”

In the second trial, “secret evidence” from one of the Israeli informants, known as “Avi,” was used. Avi also stated to the jury that he could “smell Hamas.”

Sentenced to “little Guantanamo”

Elashi and other defendants are currently being held in Communication Management Units (CMUs), or “little Guantanamo,” which are prisons with approximately two-thirds of the population being Arab and/or Muslim, and the remainder being left-political activist.  Most notably, animal rights activist Andy Stepanian, was held for five-and-a-half months before becoming the first prisoner released from a CMU, who has since become an outspoken critic against the detention centers. The ACLU is challenging the legality of the CMUs, as they “didn’t meet the regular approval process, which has to go through the Administrative Procedures Act and go through the oversight of Congress,” according to Stepanian.

The defense hoped to overturn the harsh sentences, for providing humanitarian aid to charities in Gaza, by in-part, appealing the testimony of two-Israeli informants. Hollander, though uncertain of what will proceed, indicates there are a few options, including asking for a rehearing from the “three judge panel that heard the case,” or asking for a rehearing of the entire court, and then petitioning the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, with the additional possibility of filing a writ of habeas corpus.

Elashi, Despite loosing the appeal, is hopeful. Stating in an  interview earlier this year with Electronic Intifada:

“I feel like things are going to get much worse before they get better, and it’s an uphill battle. A lot of people within the families of the Holy Land Five believe that the appeal is going to be the end of it, while I — not as a cynical person but someone who knows about the history of this country, and our very heinous past — probably acknowledge that it’s going to be a little bit of time before these men are exonerated and freed, and vindicated through the court system or through a presidential pardon.”

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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13 Responses

  1. Eva Smagacz on December 9, 2011, 9:24 am

    If you break the stranglehold of Israel Lobby on the political process, you will create the conditions where such miscarriages of justice can be recognized and reversed.

    And the only way to break the stranglehold of Israel Lobby on the political process is to she the light on immorality of what they fight to preserve.

    So each time one of us challenges the Hasbara in comments section of online publishing, freezes at the demonstration, or strains the friendship – remember these Palestinian men, who tried to do what flotilla people tried to do – bring relief to besieged people of Gaza.

    • Charon on December 9, 2011, 2:43 pm

      Agreed. Powerful lobby yes, immortal no. If you want to slay the beast, you gotta cut of its head. Unfortunately this beast has several heads and not all of them are even visible. Taking on AIPAC is a good start though since they are the primary Zionist lobby. Spreading awareness on their stranglehold over the US Congress and Congress’ treasonous behavior can take down two birds with one stone. The Zionists here don’t all dispute AIPAC’s power over Congress (since it is now more than obvious). Instead they act like it’s not a big deal and AIPAC knows what’s best. Tell that to the rest of the US. I don’t think they would agree if they knew about it.

      AIPAC and Congress have enough dirt to take them down. Yet even when they are convicted of espionage, it doesn’t make headlines like it should.

      There are campaigns aimed at forcing AIPAC (and all the Zionist lobbies and groups) to register with the justice department as a foreign agent as they should and as the US has asked them to in the past. I wish they were as prominent as the ‘end foreign aid to Israel’ ones are.

      And it shouldn’t stop with AIPAC. The soul of the Zionist lobby is B’nai B’rith. B’nai B’rith and their ADL use ‘antisemitism’ and ironically claim to advocate human rights when their primary agenda is advocating Israel and Zionism. They can pretend to hide all they want. B’nai B’rith is an organized criminal terrorist group. They recruited mafia goons out of NY for Irgun terror. There is a reason why people go nuts when B’nai B’rith and their ADL are singled out for their involvement in Zionist crimes. Because they are the perpetrators.

      • on December 9, 2011, 4:02 pm

        I’m too lazy to do the research — I recall that MW posted an article by a Jewish person that argued that the American lobby was the greatest obstacle to Israelis achieving peace with Palestinians.

        If that’s the case, and it seems reasonable to me, then BDSing Israel is not the most efficient way to behead the beast. Boycott/Divest/Sanction the American-based companies and corporations that support B’Nai Brith, and Jewish Federation, and ZOA, AIPAC, and settlements in Israel that are in violation of US policy as well as international law.

        This affirmation of the sentence on Islamic ‘charities’ is the most powerful ammunition one could have to prosecute companies in the US that support Israeli settlements and that support organizations that support illegal acts in Israel.

        One such American company that supports Israeli settlements etc. is Giant Eagle grocery stores in the Maryland-Pennsylvania-Ohio market. The company is privately owned by a Jewish family that is ardently pro-zionist, contributes to zionist causes, the president of the company has headed zionist organizations in the US. It seems to me obscene to buy food from a company that supports organizations whose agenda includes deliberately restricting access to food of millions of Palestinians and Iranians.

        Jewish children in the United States need to be made acutely aware of the food terror against Palestinian and Iranian children that their parents are subsidizing. Most MW regulars are aware of the “diet” Israel’s leaders impose on Gazans.

        Most of us also recall that the US starved or otherwise caused the deaths of 500,000 innocent Iraqis — women and children included, and that Madeleine Albright deemed the price “worth it.”

        In 2008, former Israeli Knesset member Ephraim Sneh told an AIPAC crowd that Iran’s leaders should be forced to worry about how they were going to feed their 70 million citizens. The crowd cheered.

        Last month, Charlie Rose interviewed Mohammad Larijani, and pressed Larijani to concede that “the Iranian people are having a hard time affording the food that they need.”
        (notice how Larijani’s voice lowered as he searched for a response to Rose’s probing. My impression was that he was trying to form the concept of what kind of person would seek to deprive innocent people of food.)

        What kind of ghouls rejoice over starving innocent people?
        Is that what Americans stand for — deliberately starving children?

        Jewish children need to know that THEIR PARENTS support those kinds of ghouls and the policies they pursue and the suffering that results.

        Take it to the mattresses, folks — or at least, make Jewish corporations and Jewish children in the United States worry about their next meal as much as Jewish monied interests are forcing Palestinians and Iranians to perpetually worry about their next meal.

  2. on December 9, 2011, 9:27 am

    America is turning in a totalitarian state/police . It is REAL. I know, because I lived in one, and I see it happening here.
    The main characteristic of the totalitarnian state is that the rights of individuals don’t count. Life,rights ,freedom of an average human being doesn’t count.
    Those, who are in Power count, those, who serve and protect the Power count. Those ,who voice the opposition, need/have to be silenced, jailed, destroyed.
    I wonder , WHEN majority of people realises it??
    When they will be dragged forcefully to one of many detention centers???
    People always think.” Oh ,something will change for the better”.” I hope, it’s not gonna be so bad”. “the politicians won’t let this happen”….yada, yada.
    NOTHING will change for the better just per se, out of nowhere. Majority of the politicians are corrupted, cowardly opportunists ,who only care about their own business. Counting on them is a mistake.
    I only see RON PAUL as THE ONLY honest, trustworthy politician among the sea of corrupted opportunists, who are pre-programmed parrots ,spiting out a cheap , sleazy propaganda.
    Many Jews, living in pre-war Europe , also hoped that nothing THAT BAD would happen to them. They believed that other people/ nations/ fate/ world/ G-d/whatever, would NOT let this happen.
    Allies (france, great britain), who signed treaties with Poland, turned away in 1939, when Poland was viciously attacked by Nazis. They did not lift the finger.
    Those treaties, signed with a big oopmah, were good for the restrooms.
    We are living in a very dangerous times, and those, who are behind the scenes are plotting horrible fate for many of us.
    We either realise it, and at least , at least try to do something about it, try to fight it, or we can already put chains on our hands , feet , gag our mouths and quietly,passively wait for the sentence, wait for the fate/G-d/ other people/nations/whatever, to save us.

    • Chu on December 9, 2011, 10:18 am

      USA is on a slippery slope downhill steering toward hell. Cutting the ropes from this awful ally would help to bring a new course, but if you heard the republican ass-kissing session to the AJC this week, it’s clear that the US is now a traded commodity. Israel gets to bid on the biggest ass kisser (Newt) but will the public buy into it?
      I feel like the US is going to be broken down into sections and sold to the highest bidder. It’s already been happening. See how Chicago’s Mayor Daley sold the city parking vehicle traffic meters to a foreign company in Abu Dahbi. And there are plenty more examples out there.

      • on December 9, 2011, 11:54 am

        Divide et impera. Always works. Strong USA is not needed anymore.
        It did its job as one of the major fundaments, on which global Powers weaved its global, spider net. Now, it’s time to perish. The “helper” did its role, the “helper” is not needed anymore. We will turn the “helper” into the slave. Easier to control, easier to destroy, easier to use and abuse.
        Looking at what is going on in Europe, how the falling apart big “joke”,called The EU, is trying to hold on to its POWER ,using all available means, one can make an easy observation that it’s just a different side of the SAME Picture.
        Picture of a greedy, corrupted , ruthless elitists ,who desire full control over populations.
        Why , how and when did we let them??
        We are, like dazed and confused children of Hamelin, led by the Pied Pipers Politicians, straight into the cliff, straight into the WWIII, straight into hell .

  3. on December 9, 2011, 10:53 am

    Very bad news, confirming the ominous arrival of the Grim Reaper of WWIII.

    as of Dec 7th, 2011
    “A grim Ministry of Defense bulletin issued to Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev today states that President Hu has “agreed in principal” that the only way to stop the West’s aggression led by the United States is through “direct and immediate military action” and that the Chinese leader has ORDERED his Naval Forces to “PREPARE FOR WARFARE.”
    Hu’s call for war joins Chinese Rear Admiral and prominent military commentator Zhang Zhaozhong who, likewise, warned this past week that “China will not hesitate to protect Iran EVEN with a Third World War,” and Russian General Nikolai Makarov who grimly stated last week, “I do not rule out local and regional armed conflicts DEVELOPING INTO a large-scale WAR, INCLUDING using nuclear weapons.”

    The raising of global tensions between the East and West was exploded this past fortnight when Russian Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko and two of his aides retuning from Syria were brutally assaulted and put in hospital by Qatar security forces aided by CIA and British MI6 agents attempting to gain access to diplomatic pouches containing information from Syrian intelligence that the United States was flooding Syria and Iran with the same US-backed al Qaida mercenaries who toppled the Libyan government…….”

    And here again great lecture given in 2005 by prof. Michel Chossudovsky, that says about things, that are about to happen now.

  4. annie on December 9, 2011, 11:36 am

    Thanks for an excellent report on this travesty of justice. When i attended the Litigating Palestine conference @ hastings law school, Linda Moreno, another defense attorney of Elashi’s, addressed the conference and told us about the hoops the feds went thru to prosecute a completely innocent man. it’s a crime what they’ve done to him.

  5. Donald on December 9, 2011, 11:50 am

    Would Amnesty International consider these people to be political prisoners? It seems to me one could make a case for saying that they are, assuming that it is true that the only thing they’ve actually done is provide money for humanitarian relief in Gaza. Then the law that criminalizes that activity would be no different from the sort of law one might expect to see in some dictatorship or “democratic” state that discriminates against a certain class of people.

  6. Chu on December 9, 2011, 1:16 pm

    I remember when the story came out in 2007.
    I fear this story will get flushed into the memory hole
    by the msm and it’s collaborators.

  7. LeaNder on December 10, 2011, 6:14 am

    Thanks Allison, this is an important story, I wasn’t aware of the long history of activities against Muslim charities on US ground. interesting that “Fear Inc” member Stephen Emerson surfaced in this context already long pre-911.

  8. tommy on December 10, 2011, 1:01 pm

    Storm the Bastille!

  9. Hostage on December 10, 2011, 10:46 pm

    So who do you suppose is funding all of the charities for the Kahanist settler organizations who are on the US terror list? The US government has supposedly frozen their assets, but they are still open for business under new terrorist management.

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