Holy Land Foundation – Occupied Land Fund

Shukri Abu-Baker and Ghassan Elashi of the Holy Land Foundation, were each sentenced in 2008 to 65 years in prison. Three others of the Holy Land 5 were sentenced to 13-20 years: Mohammad El-Mezain, Abdulrahman Odeh and Mufid Abdulqader. All were imprisoned for giving more than $12 million to charitable groups in Palestine which funded hospitals, schools and fed the poor and orphans. The U.S. government said these groups were controlled by Hamas, a group it lists as a terrorist organization. Hamas is the elected government of Gaza. Some of these charitable committees were also still receiving US funding through USAID as late as 2006. Testimony was given in the case by an Israeli government agent whose identity and evidence was kept secret from the defense. This was the first time in American legal history that testimony has been allowed from an expert witness with no identity, and therefore immune from perjury. The defendants were acquitted in their first trial when the jury remained deadlocked. http://freedomtogive.com

On December 4, 2001, less than three months after 9/11, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13224, which designated Holy Land Foundation (HLF) as a terrorist organization. On February 27, 2002, the Wall Street Journal quoted Bush as having said:

The facts are clear… The terrorists benefit from the Holy Land Foundation, and we’re not going to allow it. … Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers [and] to recruit suicide bombers and support their families.”

Bush’s accusations were not supported by any evidence but the president spoke and so the government had to act. The FBI raided the HLF offices in Dallas and seized their financial records, database, wire transfers, donor lists, and correspondence, freezing all their assets. Yet the government came up with no evidence linking HLF to Hamas.

In 1992, Congress passed U.S. Code 2333, the Civil Remedies Law, which says that any national of the United States who is injured as a result of an alleged act of terrorism may sue any person or organization that is suspected of funding a terrorist group.

In January 1995, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12947, which states that conducting any transactions with terrorists who threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process is illegal. In the annex to this executive order, Hamas was designated as one of these organizations.

Shortly after this executive order was signed, Ghassan Elashi, the pro-bono chair of HLF, along with other leaders of Palestinian-American and Muslim-American organizations, initiated a meeting with high-level Treasury Department officials to enquire with which Palestinian organizations they were still permitted to work. A sheet of paper found in Mr. Elashi’s office — which was later raided by the FBI — contained the names of all the participants in that meeting. It included Treasury Department officials like Richard Newcomb, the head of Treasury’s powerful Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC); and Bob McBrien, who later testified about this meeting in the HLF trial; among others. Though these officials were asked to provide guidance, no guidance was provided by OFAC at this meeting or at any other time.

HLF, on the other hand, had sworn affidavits and statements under oath that all translations of documents were true and correct. Since the Government of Israel provided much of the prosecution’s evidence, the original documents it provided were in Arabic or Hebrew and then translated into English; so the translations were a crucial issue. In one case, the government claimed that there was a statement made by the HLF office manager in Jerusalem, Mohammad Anati, in which he swore HLF did give money to Hamas. However, the HLF lawyers had the original statement translated and it turned out he said the exact opposite — no money was given to Hamas.

What followed was a criminal case in which the government — relying heavily on documents and two anonymous witnesses provided by the government of Israel — tried to show that, while HLF did not give money to Hamas directly, it did provide them with material support through local Palestinian charity organizations called Zakat Committees. According to Ed Abington — former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, who also testified on behalf of HLF — “The United States has never labeled Zakat Committees as controlled by Hamas or as being a terrorist organization.” In fact they were vetted and USAID, the Red Cross, and other international aid organizations worked closely with these committees.

Upon further questioning of Levitt by Cline, it was made clear that there are two principal lists that the U.S. government maintains that include all the designated terrorists organizations. One is maintained by the Treasury Department and one by the State Department. The Zakat Committees were not listed anywhere. Still, after two trials, the five men who came to be known as the HLF-5 were convicted of material support for a terrorist organization, Hamas, and are serving sentences as follows: Shukri Abu Baker, 65 years; Ghassan Elashi, 65 years; Mufid Abdulqader, 20 years; Abdulrahman Odeh, 15 years; Mohammad Elmezain,15 years.

The Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was the largest Islamic charity in the United States. Headquartered in Richardson, Texas, it was originally known as Occupied Land Fund. In December 2001, the U.S. government designated HLF a terrorist organization, seized its assets, and closed the organization. In 2004, a federal grand jury in Dallas, Texas charged HLF and five former officers and employees with providing material support to Hamas and related offenses. The prosecution’s theory was that HLF distributed charity through local zakat (charity) committees located in the West Bank that paid stipends to Palestinians who targeted Israeli civilians, or to their families if they committed suicide during the act; that Hamas controlled those zakat committees; and that by distributing charity through Hamas-controlled committees, HLF helped Hamas win the “hearts and minds” of the Palestinian people.

The first trial, in 2007, ended in the partial acquittal of one defendant and a hung jury on all other charges. At a retrial in 2008, the jury found all defendants guilty on all counts. The 2008 trial of the charity leaders was the “largest terrorism financing prosecution in American history.” In 2009, the founders of the organization were given sentences of between 15 and 65 years in prison for “funneling $12 million to Hamas.”

The organization’s website stated: “Our mission is to find and implement practical solutions for human suffering through humanitarian programs that impact the lives of the disadvantaged, disinherited, and displaced peoples suffering from man-made and natural disasters.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s