One of my hobbies here is cataloging all the oddities of the Bush Administration’s anti-terror policies. Today, the NY Times writes about yet another example. The Justice Department trumpeted its case against the Holyland Foundation, a Palestinian charity which supported social projects sponsored by Hamas in the Occupied Territories. According to the government’s case, donors were not giving charity, but rather furthering Hamas’ terror aims against Israel. But let’s examine that assumption a little more closely:
The charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and five of its officers have been on trial here since July 16, charged with conspiracy, money laundering and providing financial support to a foreign terrorist organization. The foundation, which was based in a Dallas suburb, raised more than $57 million before the government closed it in 2001, according to the prosecution, and sent $12.4 million to Palestinian charities the government contends were controlled by Hamas.
Prosecutors did not contend Monday that the foundation directly financed suicide bombings or weapons purchases. Rather, its financial contributions to charities controlled by Hamas helped that group win the hearts and minds of Palestinians, said Barry Jonas, the Justice Department prosecutor who summarized the government’s case for the jury Monday.
The group “specifically targeted the families of martyrs and prisoners” for aid, Mr. Jonas said, adding that the foundation “was helping Hamas take care of its own.”
Since when is it illegal for any political or social organization to “take care of its own?” Who else would it take care of? Israelis? In most societies families of prisoners or slain soldiers are considered deserving of charitable consideration. If during any of the wars this country fought I had donated to support a prisoner-of-war or the family of a slain soldier any citizen would consider this performing a civic duty. But not in the twisted mind of the Bush Administration.
I want to make clear that I have no sympathy for Hamas as a political organization. I don’t support either its military actions or its political agenda. Personally, I wish that Fatah could reform itself and become a truly representative democratic organization capable of leading all Palestinians to freedom (though I see the likelihood of this happening as nil). But to criminalize the type of activity engaged in by Holyland is simply absurd.
Here is a bit more of the government rationale, such as it is, for its case:
Many groups — lawyers, charities, terrorism experts and many Muslims who feel their charities have been unfairly made targets — have been watching this case carefully, in part because the government has given it such a high profile. In December 2001, President Bush announced that he was freezing the Holy Land Foundation’s assets and said Hamas had “obtained much of the money it pays for murder abroad right here in the United States.”
After the foundation and its officers were indicted in 2004, John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, said, “There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks.”
So in George Bush’s mind supporting a wife, husband or children whose spouse/parent dies engaged in terror is the same as making a payment in a murder for hire scheme (“the money it pays for murder…”). Ashcroft’s statement is even more preposterous because it somehow maintains that Holyland actually financed terror attacks, which even the government’s lawyers are NOT claiming in this case as the following makes clear:
But at the trial, the government made a more complex and nuanced argument, contending that Holy Land gave money to charitable groups, known as zakat committees, that were controlled by Hamas. They in turn used the money for charitable purposes, including building hospitals and feeding the hungry, which the government said increased public support for Hamas, spread its ideology and helped it recruit terrorists.
Someone will have to explain to me how building a hospital recruits terrorists. You mean to tell me a guy’s going to look at a new hospital built with Holyland funds and say: “Cool, Hamas builds hospitals–I think I’ll go blow myself on their behalf?”
And lest you wonder where the feds are getting their star witness and evidence you have to look no farther than the Israeli Shin Bet:
Much of the evidence linking the charities to the radical group came from the Israeli government, in particular from an Israeli security analyst who testified using only the name Avi.
But defense witnesses said that Israeli intelligence was biased in such matters. “Not even the United States government will accept Israel’s intelligence at face value,” Ms. Hollander said, adding “and that is really where this all comes from.”
I would hope that the defense was able to cross examine “Avi” intensively to test how sound his claims were. From my experience, claims by Israeli intelligence are full of manipulation and can be quite self-serving.
This section of the article gets to the crux of the problem the government has in which it is attempting to criminalize protected political speech:
Mr. Jonas, the prosecutor, said that in one video clip, a defendant, Mufid Abdulqader, was chanting, “I am Hamas,” adding, “You can’t get much clearer than that.”
But Mr. Jonas acknowledged that expressing support for a group was protected under the First Amendment and that the defendants were not on trial for their political beliefs. The defense has argued that much of this evidence is more than a decade old, from well before Hamas was declared to be a terrorist organization by the United States government.
So get this, the evidence against Holyland comes from the period BEFORE the government designated Hamas as terrorist. Someone please tell me how I can claim that Holyland supports terrorism when the very crimes it is alleged to have committed happened before those crimes could possibly have been conceived of as illegal??
An additional injustice of this case is that CAIR and a number of other Arab-American organizations have been named as unindicted co-conspirators which implies that they have engaged in conduct only slightly less illegal than Holyland. The truth of the matter is that the government will have a hard time proving what Holyland did was illegal, let alone conduct by their alleged co-conspirators. CAIR is no more a tainted organization than any Jewish defense organization like the ADL or AJC is.
The federal government has overreached in this case as it has in so many other terror prosecutions. IF (and that is a very big ‘if’) it wins this case it will only because it got a sympathetic, white, conservative Texas jury. But despite that possibility, I don’t think the government can win. And even if they do win at this level, I have little doubt this case will end up getting thrown out as so many other Justice Departament anti-terror prosecutions have failed before this one.
Rupa Shah says
In respomse to above, an article from Jerusalem Post!! says it all.
‘Israel gives US unreliable intel’
AP and Herb Keinon , THE JERUSALEM POST Sep. 5, 2007
Israeli intelligence about Palestinian groups that a US-based Muslim charity aided was often unreliable, a former senior US diplomat testified at the organization’s trial on terrorism-support charges.
Edward Abingdon, who served as US consul-general in Jerusalem during the 1990s, said the Israelis had an “agenda” and provided “selective information to try to influence US thinking.”
Abingdon’s testimony Tuesday took dead aim at prosecutors’ claims that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was knowingly funding terrorists instead of providing humanitarian aid.
Holy Land, once the United States’ largest Muslim charity, and five of its leaders are charged with funneling millions in illegal aid to Hamas, which the US government considers a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors say Holy Land funded schools and hospitals it knew were run by Hamas. US agents raided Holy Land and shut it down in December 2001.
In six weeks of testimony, the prosecution’s key witness was an Israeli government lawyer who was allowed to testify anonymously. He said many of the Palestinian schools and charities to which Holy Land gave money were controlled by Hamas.
Prosecutors presented bank records of transactions with a man who later became a Hamas leader, and secret surveillance including Holy Land officials at a Philadelphia meeting of Hamas supporters in 1993.
Abingdon, whose post essentially made him the US ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, testified that he was privy to daily CIA reports in Jerusalem yet was never told that terrorists controlled the groups that got money from Holy Land.
Abingdon, the first defense witness of the trial, said the US Agency for International Development gave money to some of the same groups. He added that he met many officials of the charities.
The diplomat said he had heard of Holy Land “as a Palestinian-American charity that distributed assistance to needy families in the West Bank and Gaza.”
From 1993 to 1999, Abingdon was consul-general in Jerusalem, and like others he was under orders not to have contact with Hamas.
Abingdon said the Israelis provided intelligence to the CIA, and defense attorney Nancy Hollander asked him if he found the Israeli information reliable. “No,” he answered, and she asked why not.
“I feel the Israelis have an agenda … they provide selective information to try to influence US thinking,” he said.
Abingdon spent 30 years in the State Department. He resigned in 1999 and spent seven years at a Washington lobbying firm that represented the Palestinian Authority for as much as $750,000 a year. He said he never worked for Hamas.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Barry Jonas questioned Abingdon’s objectivity, suggesting that officials in Washington considered him anti-Israeli and close personally to the late Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestinian Authority.
Both Israeli and American diplomatic officials placed little stock in Abingdon’s statement, saying that the intelligence cooperation between the two states was very tight.
The relationship between the national security establishments in Israel and the US is a close and intimate relationship, based on mutual trust, respect and cooperation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. Both countries value highly this cooperation which is built upon mutual respect for each side’s professionalism and integrity.
A US diplomatic official said that Abingdon expressed his opinion as a private citizen, and that it doesn’t reflect the attitude of the US government. “We have excellent relations with the Israelis,” he said.
So lets see, according to your logic, if the KKK has a political wing as well as a military wing, whereby the military wing burns crosses on the lawns of black families, rapes black teenage girls, and hangs from trees black men but the political wing builds a soup kitchen for the poor in a predminately white neighborhood, than funding the KKK is OK with you.
Richard Silverstein says
Likening the KKK to Hamas is preposterous. Hamas is like many other insurgent groups around the world including the IRA & ETA among others which have military and political wings. Criminalizing the political or social work of the IRA or ETA-allied groups would never have any impact whatsoever on the military wings of those same groups. That’s why neither Spain or Northern Ireland have done so.
Zhu Bajie says
The Holy Land Foundation should give $$$ to the Republican Party, the Scooter Libby Defense Fund, the George W. Bush Presidential Library, etc., and see what happens.
The hamas is much worse than the KKK. They ideology is more evil as well as their deeds.
Richard Silverstein says
Tell that to the thousands of Blacks lynched by the KKK & other white racists inspired by them in the past 150 yrs or so.
I can’t speak for the legality of the actions of the holyland foundation, the court will decide that one, but anyone sending money to the Hamas whether for its military wing or “charity” is sponsoring terror, evil and murder.
it’s not enough to not have sympathy for evil. Evil must be actively opposed.
Richard Silverstein says
The Foundation is not directly affiliated with Hamas and that is part of the case the government has to prove. I erred when I said that the funds went to build hospitals sponsored by Hamas as the NYT article only said the funds went to build Palestinian hospitals & not that they were affiliated with Hamas. It is highly possible that some or most donors might not have even known whether the funds would be used by Hamas, Fatah or any other particular organization. They prob. just knew it would go to projects to benefit the needy.
You see Hamas as worse than the KKK. I don’t. You oppose evil as you see fit & I’ll thank you to allow me to define how I should oppose evil. Hamas is not evil in the sense that you suggest. It is an insurgent nationalist movement in precisely the same way that Lehi, the Stern Gang and Herut were along with the IRA, ETA, the Tamil Tigers & countless others. To demonize Hamas as satanic forces equivalent to Pol Pot or Osama bin Laden poisons the well so that neither you nor Israel will ever be able to make peace with the group–and you WILL have to do so to attain real peace no matter how evil you see them. You will never eradicate Hamas. At least not with any means currently at Israel’s disposal.
BTW, I’m perfectly willing to see Hamas or Hezbollah terrorists brought before international tribunals for crimes against Israeli civilians if you’re prepared to do the same for IDF officers & Border Police who were responsible to killing Palestinian civilians.
I see. So if I’m willing to see my own stand trial, you’re willing to see your own stand trial. Very revealing statemet of yours.
Richard Silverstein says
NO, I am in favor of both culpable Israeli officers AND Palestinian/Hezbollah terrorists being tried for crimes against humanity. Period. You aren’t because you’re clouded by ideological bias.
Saying that Hamas is “my own” as if I am a supporter or ethnically identified with Hamas is absolute calumny & treif. Not only that–it is a lie because you know I have enunciated my views about Hamas and Hezbollah countless times here.
I have written privately to you demanding that you retract this comment. If not, you will no longer be welcome to participate in this blog’s comment threads. What is mere snark to one person is fighting words to another.
Since you have clarifyed your position that you favor Palestinian/Hezbollah terrorists being tried for crimes against humanity regardless of my position on IDF officers (who for the most part deserve metals of bravery in my opinion) I retract the comment that I made.