A witness who was formerly the State Department's second-highest-ranking intelligence official testified Tuesday that he had no knowledge that the Palestinian charity committees the Holy Land Foundation is accused of illegally funding were controlled by Hamas.
But on cross-examination, Edward Abington, a retired U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, testified that he was not aware specifically who was in charge of the committees.
Mr. Abington, who also worked as a paid adviser for the Palestinian Authority, was the first defense witness to be called after the government rested its case last week.
He told jurors that while working as consul general in Jerusalem from 1993 to 1997, he observed the effects of the harsh Israeli military occupation on the Palestinian people, whom the Holy Land Foundation was trying to help.
The former Richardson charity and five of its former organizers are accused of sending millions of dollars to Palestinian charity committees, which government witnesses have testified are controlled by Hamas. The committees used the money to distribute humanitarian aid, but supporting Hamas in any way became illegal in 1995 when the U.S. declared the group a terrorist organization.
Countering government witnesses who say the charity committees are filled with Hamas operatives, Mr. Abington described them as being staffed by "pious Muslims."
He said that they gather religious contributions, known as zakat, and help the needy in various ways, including "buying a cow, setting up a small business or giving money so that people can buy food."
More than a quarter of the 3.5 million Palestinian refugees under Israeli military occupation are in need of food assistance, he testified.
Mr. Abington also testified about key chains and posters lauding Hamas suicide bombers that were found inside some zakat offices by the Israeli military. The government says the propaganda is evidence of the groups' terrorist affiliations.
Mr. Abington said that such propaganda is "plastered all over light posts and in people's offices" in the West Bank and Gaza. It does "not necessarily mean the person supported that political party," he said. "These are seen as signs of resistance to the Israeli occupation" in general, he said. (MORE)