Holy Land Family Fights Terrorist Label

Despite a hung jury, the trials are far from over

The Elashi family enters, presents paperwork to the guard at the desk and takes seats in a row of plastic chairs to wait for Ghassan. After 20 minutes, Omar finds the playroom past the four vending machines and starts toward a TV he hears. Another 20 minutes pass. At the sound of the inmate door sliding open, Noor cranes her neck to see if it's her father. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Ghassan enters the room with his usual calm smile. He signs in with the guard, and the family gathers around with hugs and bursts of excitement.

 They have two hours of precious time. Everyone sits still as Majida gives him greetings from other family members that could not be there and tells him they are all praying. Others take turns spending time with him.

"What do you do all day while we're waiting the last two weeks?" asks Noor.

"Don't worry. I'm fine."

 "I wish you were waiting with us," Noor says.

 "I read in the room. I memorized 10 pages," he says.

Memorizing the Quran is a form of worship for pious Muslims. Ghassan reminds his family regularly that they're not the only ones to suffer.

"Mohammad is having difficulties in school," Majida says. Their oldest son and his brother Osama are fighting, she tells him.

"As long as I am inside, my influence on him is going to be little," Ghassan says. "I'll write and tell him this is an important time to be studying."

Mohammad has written his dad once but holds his feelings close.

"Keep talking to him.  Be patient."

"OK," Majida replies.

"Did Huda find a job?"

"No."

"She will have a job. Don't worry. Let her know she will. Just be patient."

"OK."

 "She needs to have a job close to home. She doesn't need to drive a long distance."

As time passes his thoughts nearly always return to the trial and how his family will hold up. He tries not to think about Atlanta or that this visit could be his last.  He gives his wife one final word of assurance for when the verdict is read.

"They presented the facts clearly," he tells her.

"Don't be so optimistic," Majida says.

The court is silent as the judge breaks the sealed envelope and reads the jury's verdict—or non-verdict. Most of the blanks have not been filled in, indicating jurors have been unable to reach a decision.

Noor hears her dad's name and leans forward on the overcrowded hard wood bench.

"Elashi—no entries."

The verdict is out. Not bad, but not good.

She exchanges smiles with her dad and then files out of the courtroom one last time.

She rides the elevator to the first floor. The doors open to the clamor of media and more than 200 supporters. In front of the lights, cameras and microphones, her voice shakes.

"My dad was singled out for feeding, clothing and educating the children of Palestine. Why? Because feeding Palestinian people has become a crime in this country."

Other members of the local Muslim community read statements. "America wins when we choose fairness over fear, tolerance over prejudice, unity over division," one of them proclaims. The prosecution said that the Justice Department would retry the case on the charges that reached no verdict.

They pour out into the mist and chilling winds and hoist their signs to passers-by. "Feeding children is not a crime," one reads. "Freedom from fear and justice for all," reads another. A few cars honk, and dispersing supporters shout their joy from open windows.

The crowd lifts defendant Shukri Abu Baker into the air and begins to chant, "Allah-u-Akbar"—God is great.

A few weeks ago, with the fate of the five defendants in the Holy Land case still in the hands of jurors, Muslim families flooded into Six Flags Over Texas amusement park for a day of pleasure and recreation. 

Noor wore a pink T-shirt from the Islamic Circle of North America, sponsor of the event. Earlier that day she had been to the prison in Seagoville to visit her dad. At the park, she enjoyed rides with her sisters, Huda and Asma, and cousin, Rawan.  The young women blended into the sea of hijabs and covered heads inside the park where thousands of Muslim moms with strollers and dads in polo shirts with sons in soccer jerseys lined up for rides such as Batman and The Titan.  

Noor did not see the 10 protesters near the park entrance holding signs that read, "Holy Land Foundation Guilty" and "Six Flags Over Terrorism."

They called themselves Americans Against Hate.

Dressed in a dark suit and flag-patterned tie, Joe Kaufman, president of the Florida-based group, told the media he has devoted his life to fighting terrorism through his public awareness campaign on political Islam. Not all Muslims are terrorists, he admitted. But as long as they are going to an event supported by Islamic Circle of North America, he said, they are supporting a terrorist organization and are part of the problem. The ICNA was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case.

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