Key civil liberties case on trial

DALLAS — One of the most important civil liberties trials in recent times has been under way here since July 26. Each day, government prosecutors inundate the jury with evidence of the Holy Land Foundation’s involvement in providing assistance to the suffering people of Palestine without any mention of actual crimes.

The government’s main contention is that some of the aid may have passed through the charitable initiatives of Hamas. The United States designated Hamas a “terrorist organization” in 1995, but, so far, prosecutors have only tried to prove that Holy Land Foundation employees and Hamas had connections prior to that time.

Most of what the government has presented was seized by Israeli agents during raids on Hamas. The origins of the documents are shrouded in mystery, since the workings of Israeli security forces are being protected. The jury has heard a great deal of testimony from Israeli “Agent X” without knowing his/her identity.

Before 2001, the Holy Land Foundation was headquartered in Richardson, Texas, just outside Dallas. It provided funds to Oklahoma City bombing victims and others in need. Many of its donors are devout Muslims, whose religion requires big charitable contributions. After Sept. 11, 2001, virtually everything done by Muslims came under severe scrutiny.

Defense attorneys say the five men on trial have worked hard to provide charity for those who need it, and have gone out of their way to cooperate with government agents. One defendant, Ghassan Elashi, even met with FBI agents to ask how to comply with the fast-changing U.S. anti-terrorism laws.

Civil libertarians, some of whom have known the defendants for years, are rallying around the case. The Dallas Peace Center’s executive director, State Rep. Lon Burnam, released this statement: “We are concerned that these are trumped up charges being used to harass a legitimate nonprofit organization. We want to do all we can to make sure that these people receive a fair trial.”

Daily trial updates and background information are available on the Hungry for Justice web page .