Groups attend trial to raise awareness

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    The federal government’s efforts to prosecute members of a Richardson-based foundation that allegedly funds a Middle East terrorist group are misunderstood, said students who plan to attend the trial in Dallas today. The Muslim Student Association and Interfaith Council and Community are trying to raise awareness about the Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down by the U.S. government in December 2001, said the vice president of MSA.

    MSA Vice President Fidaa Elaydi said the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim charity, was declared a major financial source for Hamas, an extremist group, without any evidence. Five members of the foundation were accused of supporting Hamas and their trial has been going on since July 24, Elaydi said.

    Elaydi and some members of MSA plan to go to Dallas today to watch the trial.

    According to the Web site launched by the defendants’ family members, the men involved in the trial are Ghassan Elashi, Shukri Abu-Baker, Mufid Abdulqader, Abdulrahman Odeh and Mohammad El-Mezain,

    Elaydi said four of the five defendants are U.S. citizens of Palestinian origin.

    In a December 2001 press release, President George W. Bush said the assets and accounts of the Holy Land Foundation were frozen because the money raised by the foundation was used by Hamas to support schools that recruit and train children to become suicide bombers.

    “Hamas is an extremist group that calls for the total destruction of the State of Israel,” Bush said. “Hamas has obtained much of the money that it pays for murder abroad right here in the United Sates, money originally raised by the Holy Land Foundation.”

    Elaydi, who has attended about eight trials, said the men are from Palestine and have familial relations to some of the people in the infrastructure of Hamas. He said the lawyers tried to prove the defendants’ familial ties with Hamas members in court. However, just because they are related to Hamas members does not mean they are guilty, she said.

    The order to shut down the foundation came during former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the U.S. in December 2001, Elaydi said.

    “I think the whole decision was strongly backed by the Israeli government or the Israeli lobbyist but I think mostly it was out of fear after Sept. 11,” Elaydi said. “I have been to the trial and I’ve seen the evidence and I’ve seen the point that they’re trying to prove and it really doesn’t make sense.”

    Elaydi said no one could establish that the money raised by the foundation was sent to the militant group.

    She said the foundation, which was founded near Los Angeles in 1989, was the largest Muslim charity. Before it was shut down, it had an annual budget of $14 million that was sent to the needy and the poor all over the world.

    Adam Gamwell, staff adviser of the Interfaith Council and Community, said he was glad MSA brought this trial to his attention.

    Gamwell said the Interfaith Council and Community promotes inter-religious dialogue and helps facilitate peace through that.

    Yasmine Javeed, a sophomore advertising/public relations major, said she might be attending the trial today.

    Javeed said TCU promotes the idea of globally-aware citizens and knowing about this trial helps students understand things that are happening around them.

    If people do not pay attention to what is happening inside their country, they cannot push kids to pay attention to what is going outside, Javeed said.

    “Martin Luther King Jr., when he was in Birmingham prison in 1963, he said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and this is a threat to justice for everybody here,” Elaydi said. “Our Constitution is at risk right now.”

    Elaydi said it does not affect Muslims or Arabs of Palestine alone. It affects all Americans, she said.