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Ghassan Elashi, and the HLF, hostages to Zionism in the USA

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Ghassen Elashi (c) with the Holy Land 5

An overview of the case of Ghassan Elashi and his four co-defendants in the Holy Land Five case in the US.

Introduction

[Updated 6 October 2013] Ghassan Elashi, a Palestinian-American and chairman of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), formerly the largest Muslim charity in the US, was sentenced to 65 years in prison in May 2009, following a mistrial from 2007. Despite further appeals the Supreme Court declines to hear the Holy Land 5 case without any explanation.

In the original trial, federal prosecutors used secret evidence and secret witnesses to establish a connection between HLF and Hamas. The Texas jury was convinced that the HLF materially supported Hamas by giving humanitarian aid to Palestinian charities, amongst which included charities that the United Nations and USAID sent money to. Elashi is currently housed in a Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Indiana.


Background on Ghassan Elashi and HLF

Ghassan Elashi was born in Gaza City, Palestine in 1953. After living there till the age of 14, he and his family moved to Cairo, Egypt. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Ain Shams University in Cairo in 1975. Elashi later moved to Saudi Arabia and London for several years before settling in the United States in 1978, living shortly in Ohio and then moving to Florida where, in 1981, he earned a Master’s degree in accounting from the University of Miami.


Elashi married in 1985 and moved to Culver City, California, near Los Angeles. They lived there approximately seven before moving, in 1992, to Richardson, Texas near Dallas, where he obtained his US citizenship. There, he was the vice-president of InfoCom Corporation, a company that hosted about 500 mostly Arab websites, including Al Jazeera. Elashi was also a member of the founding board of directors of the Texas branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Elashi was also a volunteer at and the chairman of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), in addition to being one of its founding members. Originally known as the Occupied Land Fund, HLF was founded as a tax-exempt charity in California in 1989 and, in 1992, it was moved to Richardson, Texas, which became its headquarters. HLF became the largest Muslim charity in the US and had an annual budget of around $14 million. It had offices in California, New Jersey, Illinois, the West Bank and Gaza and had representatives scattered throughout the US.

The HLF website described the organisation as follows:

"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."

HLF provided humanitarian aid and relief to Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan and Occupied Palestine. HLF also provided aid to countries including Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Turkey after natural disasters and wars and in the US during the aftermath of Iowa floods, Texas tornadoes and the Oklahoma City Bombing. HLF also ran volunteer-based services throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas.

The HLF website described the organisation as follows:

"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."


Timeline of events (from the HLF case campaign website, freedomtogive.com):

  • January 1993: An Israeli interrogation of a Palestinian-American man sparks the American government’s witch hunt against the Holy Land Foundation (HLF.) The man, Muhammad Salah of Illinios, is arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces and transported to Shin Bet's Ramallah interrogation facility where he was tortured for the next 54 days. The Shin Bet forces Salah to sign false statements in Hebrew, a language he does not understand, and to write out false statements, which the Shin Bet used to advance their foreign policy interests and target desired organizations and individuals. The interrogation takes place four years after HLF’s establishment.
  • October 1993: With the FBI’s intelligence investigation now underway, federal agents bug a hotel conference room in Philadelphia, where Arab-American intellectuals—including a couple HLF officials—are gathered. The agents claim the meeting attendees criticize the 1993 Oslo Accord and “praise Hamas.” It’s important to note that Hamas was not designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization until 1995.
  • 1994 and Forward: The Dallas Morning News along with other local and national media outlets begin their long journey of defaming the HLF, citing Israeli intelligence (obtained by American agents) as their main sources. The American public listens to radio stations, watches news channels and reads articles and op-ed pieces—most of which share a parallel interest: to connect the HLF with Hamas. During this time, the FBI
  • also continues to scrutinize HLF officials by bugging their offices and wiretapping conversations between them and their families.
  • March 1996: The Israeli government shuts down the HLF office near Jerusalem. They claim the office is raising funds for Hamas. U.S. Representative Charles Shumer of New York launches a campaign encouraging the U.S. government to further investigate HLF’s ties with Hamas.
  • May 2000: Jewish-American couple Stanley and Joyce Boim sue the HLF, connecting the charity to the 1996 death of their 17-year-old son in the West Bank. HLF officials, who were outraged at this allegation, said they never supported Hamas. The HLF said they did, however, provide shelter, food and medical supplies to the impoverished widows and orphans of Palestine.
  • December 2001: President George Bush announces during a press conference in the Rose Garden that he’s decided to shut down the HLF office in Richardson, TX as well as it’s offices in California and New Jersey. He asserts that the HLF is a front for Hamas. (Note: Despite Bush’s bogus allegation announced to billions across the globe, the FBI never finds evidence connecting the HLF to Hamas. Instead, they later claim the HLF is helping charities that were somehow associated with Hamas.
  • July 2004: Federal agents barge into the homes of five men and arrest them in front of their families, leaving permanent scars on their wives and their children. The five men—Ghassan Elashi (HLF chairman), Shukri Abu-Baker (HLF C.E.O.), Abdulrahman Odeh (New Jersey office director), Mohammad El-Mezain (California office director) and Mufid Abdulqader (HLF volunteer)—are named in a 42-count indictment charging the individuals with conspiring to support Hamas.
  • November 2004: A federal jury awards the Boim family $52 million, and a U.S. magistrate judge triples the amount, setting the damages at $156 million. HLF attorneys appeal the case. The Treasury Department, which froze the HLF assets soon after the charity was shut down, is in possession of the money until today.
  • July 2007: The Holy Land Foundation trial begins. Jury selection begins on July 16, and opening statements start on July 22.
  • October 2007: Judge A. Joe Fish declares a mistrial in the Holy Land Foundation case. After a two month trial and 19 days of deliberations, the eight-man, four-woman jury deadlocks on most of the 197 counts against the five defendants, returning zero guilty verdicts.
  • December 2007: A federal court of appeals reverses the ruling in the Boim case, finding no evidence linking the HLF to Hamas. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also says the Boims failed to link their son’s death to the HLF.
  •  Early September 2008: Prosecutors drop 29 charges each against defendants Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahaman Odeh, leaving 3 counts against each defendant. Mohammad El-Mezain will be tried on one count. That leaves 35 counts against Ghassan Elashi and 34 counts against Shukri Abu-Baker. To prosecutors, the dropped charges are an attempt to simplifying the case. To defendants and their supporters, all of the charges should be dropped since the political case is nothing more than blatant attempt to criminalize charity.
  • September 15, 2008: The Holy Land Foundation Retrial begins.
  • November 24, 2008: Twelve Texan jurors, who fall for the prosecution's fear tactics, return all guilty verdicts. The Holy Land Five are instantly added to America's shameful pile of political prisoners. U.S. Marshals arrest them and send them to the federal prison in Seagoville, TX. The Holy Land Five are currently awaiting their sentences behind bars, which will likely take place in spring or summer 2009. Meanwhile, the defense attorneys are working hard on the appeal.
  • May 27, 2009: The Holy Land Five receive 15 to 65 year sentences.
  • 20 April 2010: US District Judge Jorge Solis ends the requirement for the men to be detained near their lawyers who needed their assistance in the appeals. This ruling allowed for the men to be moved to higher security prisons from the low-security Federal Correctional Institution, Seagoville, southeast of Dallas.
  • May 2010: Transfer to CMUs: Four of the Holy Land 5 are transferred to Bureau of Prisons' Communications Management Units (CMUs) so that their communications can be closely monitored. El-Mezain and Baker are being held at the Terre Haute, Indiana facility whereas Elashi and Abdulqader are detained at the US Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois,  according to reports. All their calls and mails are carefully monitored and they are required to speak in English when dealing with outsiders. The CMUs are condemend by human rights groups due to lack of due process, overrepresentation of Muslims and severe restriction of all communication of inmates.
  • The last of the group, Odeh, is currently held in a medium security prison in Adelanto, California.
  • December 2011: Appeal denied: Following the 149-page appeal submission against the legal violations committed in the ten years of effort to prosecute the Holy Land 5, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals finally dismissed the appeal and decided to uphold convictions.
  • Februray 2012: Rehearing denied: The full panel of the Fifth Circuit Court denied request for rehearing the case.
  • March 2012: The defence attorneys file the case in the Supreme Court
  • 29 Oct 2012: The Supreme Court declines to hear the Holy Land 5 case without any explanation. Their decision marks the end of the judicial process for the detainees, yet the struggle for their freedom continues by the defence team and supporters. A press release by the Muslim Legal Fund of America commented, "Attorneys for the five defendants and representatives from MLFA are evaluating all remianing options and will announce a decision on how they will proceed soon."


The Trial

Ghassan Elashi was convicted of 10 counts of conspiracy to provide, and the provision of, material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization; 11 counts of conspiracy to provide, and the provision of, funds, goods and services to a Specially Designated Terrorist; 10 counts of conspiracy to commit, and the commission of, money laundering; one count of conspiracy to impede and impair the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and two counts of filing a false tax return.

During both trials, federal prosecutors argued that HLF gave money to Palestinian zakat (charity) committees that they claimed were controlled by Hamas. To this, Mustafaa Carroll, Council on American-Islamic Relations, said: "The same charities that these guys gave to the American Red Cross is still giving to, the USAID [United States Agency for International Development] is still giving to". Not one of the zakat committees on the HLF indictment was included on any of the U.S. Treasury Department’s lists of designated terrorist organizations.

On this note, one of the jurors from the first trial, William Neal, said:

“They never proved — 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," he said. "It had nothing to do with the actual charges. It had nothing to do with the defendants.”Prosecutors called to the stand an Israeli intelligence agent testifying under the pseudonym of Avi who claimed he could “smell Hamas.” Scenes unaffiliated with the HLF, like suicide bombings, were shown to intimidate the jury.

On this note, one of the jurors from the first trial, William Neal, said:

“They never proved — 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," he said. "It had nothing to do with the actual charges. It had nothing to do with the defendants.”

Lydia Gonzalez, from the League of United Latin American Citizens, held that the defendants were not tried fairly, saying:

"When you're supposed to be able to face your accusers fully and against secret evidence and secret witness, I think that leads to reasonable doubt."

During the trial, federal prosecutors also used guilt by association by connecting HLF members to Hamas using family ties. Mousa Abu Marzook, Hamas’ political chief, happens to be married to a cousin of Ghassan Elashi, and Hamas’ political chief, Khaled Meshaal, is the brother of one of the HLF defendents, Mufid Abdulqader.

On 15 June 2009, George Galloway commented on the HLF case, saying:

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


Treatment in prison and transfer to CMU

Elashi was first sent to Seagoville Detention Center, a federal prison near Dallas. On 6 September 2009, during the end of a family visitation, Correctional Officer T. Thomas instructed inmates to stand on one side of the room and their families to stand on the other. As the group divided, Mr. Elashi’s 9-year-old son Omar, who has Down Syndrome, ran to his father to give him one final hug. Officer Thomas at that point called out, “That goes for you too Elashi. What, you think you’re an exception?” This incident, on the basis that Elashi ‘doesn’t listen to instructions’, prompted Officer Thomas file a request to terminate Elashi’s family visitations for six months to a year, that he only be allowed two phone calls a month, and that he be placed in the SHU, or Special Housing Unit, for an unknown period. The SHU is a small, cold, and dark, cell in which inmates are held for 23 hours a day. Some observers familiar with prison regulations and conditions called this treatment ‘extremely unusual, harsh and inhumane’.

The morning of 22 April 2010 saw Elashi transferred to a CMU (Communications Management Unit) in Terre Haute, Indiana, were he is currently housed. CMUs were designed to restrict inmates contact and communication with their families and the outside world. CMUs have been condemned by human rights groups, like the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), on the basis of lack of due process within CMUs, overrepresentation of Muslim and political prisoners at CMUs, the destructive effect of CMUs on families, and the conditions at CMUs which are regarded as amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.


SOURCES:
http://freedomtogive.com/
http://www.counterpunch.org/elashi03232010.html
http://www.alternet.org/rights/147130/my_father_cofounded_the_largest_muslim_charity_in_america_now_hes_been_branded_a_terrorist
http://www.elanthemag.com/index.php/site/featured_articles_detail/meet-nid272990270/
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2008/11/20081124212126642596.html
http://www.ccrjustice.org/cmu-comments
http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/new-bureau-prisons-rule-discloses-policies-and-conditions-experimental-segre
http://ccrjustice.org/files/CMU_SampleCommentLetter.doc  
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5396739/Founders-of-US-Muslim-charity-jailed-for-65-years-for-funding-Hamas.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Land_Foundation_for_Relief_and_Development
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghassan_Elashi
http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/e/ghassan_elashi/index.html
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/101206dnmetelashi.2a805efb.html
http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/255/a-letter-to-mr-ghassan-elashi
http://www.justice.gov/usao/txn/PressRel06/elashi_bayan_ghassan_basman_infocom_sent_pr.html
http://97.74.65.51/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=13221
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2260110/posts
http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=ghassan_elashi
http://www.globaljihad.net/view_page.asp?id=746

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