Mohammad El-Mezain Statement at Sentencing (Holy Land Foundation case)

May 27, 2009

In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.

Good morning, your Honor.

I start my speech with what Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, said in the holy Quran, Chapter 20 Ta Ha, verses 25 to 28: “Oh, my Lord, I ask you to fill my heart with peace and wisdom. It is my task for me, and remove the impediment from my speech so they may understand what I say clearly.” Your Honor, this is a difficult day for me, my family. I sat through two trials listening to videotapes, tape recordings, reading evidence, watching videos. It is not easy to be a spectator when your life is at stake.

Nevertheless, today is a remarkable day for me, for my life, for my family, the eight million American Muslims, and the history of American justice.

I Mohammad El-Mezain, a Muslim born in Palestine and raised in a modest family. My 105-year-old father, my 105-year-old father and my 95-year-old mother have raised me throughout my childhood as a righteous person who devoted himself to serving his family and community.  I lived 19 years in Palestine, went to university for five years in Cairo, Egypt, worked another five years in the United Arab Emirates, and for the last 20 years I lived in the United States, where I earned my Master’s degree and very close to completing my Ph.D.

Your Honor, I would like to thank Almighty God that throughout my life I gained no enemies and I have never been in violation of the law. I certainly kept away from crime and related activities.

I believe Your Honor has received and perhaps had an opportunity to read hundreds of letters addressed to you by members of the community nationwide, narrating their experience with me and citing some of my qualities.  I acknowledge the Jewish delegate, even though, of course, I disagree with it. But that is not what today’s proceeding is about. It is about a just and appropriate punishment for the conduct that I have been convicted of.  No one disagrees that I was a founder of the Holy Land Foundation, and that I fully supported its mission for providing aid to the needy, not only in the West Bank and Gaza but also the many the United States, and everywhere our charity was needed and could reach. We never wavered that from that mission, and it is more important to me than any political—It was more important to me than any political agenda or goals.

I am a religious person, and as an imam for over 30 years what motivates and guides me are religious principles, family principles, and social principles regarding what is acceptable conduct, and on all three levels I believe the work of the Holy Land Foundation was right and successful.  Your Honor, my awareness and interest in the charitable work picked up at such a young age when I was about 10 years old. Like all other Palestinian refugees, my family lived in a refugee camp in Khan Yunis in Gaza Strip after we were driven out from our homeland in Palestine in 1948. Like everyone else, we suffered from severe shock, depression, on top of poverty and humiliation. We waited desperately for the United Nations to hand us our monthly food parcel, some marked as gift from the people of the United States to the Palestinian refugees, not for sale or exchange.  However, we remained malnourished as the food was still not enough. Some unfortunate families were served meat only once or twice a year. Families were banded together in one or two small rooms that were forced to accommodate five to eight people, regardless of their basic human and private needs.  We endured a life without electricity, running water, proper sewage system. Many of the people ran in the streets barefooted with worn out clothes. We have had the firsthand experience with poverty, alongside the orphan, the poor, and the needy, and the elderly.

For the United Nations and the world, those humanitarian aids were meant to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people who lost their homeland to Israel in 1948. The Palestinians expressed appreciation to the United Nations and to the United States, and I grew up to share their gratitude to the helping hand.

The love of charitable work for the poor and needy and the orphan was seeded in my heart as a part of my upbringing, my religious teaching, and my observations as how charity affects the life of the needy.

I have become proud of my role with the Holy Land Foundation as our work expanded and started to reach the needy all over the world. We have saved human life in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Bosnia, Albania, Mozambique, and in the other parts of the world. We have responded to the tragic bombing of Oklahoma City in 1995.

We have always acted as a proud American charity, with full respect and adherence to the law. We have not engaged in promoting violence, much less advocated terrorism. This is why when the laws were changing in 1995, we were careful not to break the law. That is why so much of the Government case was before Hamas was designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

Unfortunately, the Holy Land Foundation and my role in it was not fully shown. The Court needed to know about lives we saved and enhanced throughout our humanitarian work—the hundreds of thousands that received our food packages and financial aids, the countless men and women and the children that benefited from our social services, our health services, and community improvement. We did it all in the name of America, under the American law.

We gave the same people, Your Honor, we gave the same people and the same—unto the same organization that the United Nations and the world community gave to.  Your Honor, the Holy Land Foundation was no different than any other religious charity, whether it is Catholic or Methodist or Jewish or Baptist charity. They all give and continue to give to the needy and the orphans, regardless of who they father or mother were.

But our situation at the Holy Land Foundation, as the largest Muslim charity in the United States, is unique because, to my knowledge, never before have officers of a charity been prosecuted for giving aid to the poor and needy.  Your Honor, we believe in America as the land of abundance, the land of the free, and the land of the Constitution. I think Israel’s invasion into the Gaza Strip earlier this year shows that we were doing the right thing at the Holy Land Foundation.

For many, Gaza Strip may be thousands of miles away, just some brief glimpse on the TV news or a footnote in the newspaper, but it is very close and personal, personal for me.  My family still lives there. My aged parents, my brother and my sisters, as well as hundreds of other relatives, they were trapped there during the invasion. I have not seen them, Your Honor, for 24 years.

Your Honor, the victims that were shown on the news and in the newspapers are the same people we at the Holy Land Foundation were dedicated to help. So many of the people affected were civilians, yet they suffered so greatly. It is those people who the Holy Land helped through its existence.  Just because the cameras and the reporters were not there does not mean they were not in need. I think that was clear from the evidence of the trial, and that is why we helped them.

I am particularly proud of the Dar Salam Hospital, which was an actual project Khan Yunis, south of Gaza, where I grew up and my family lives there. I am sure during the invasion it was vital to treating the sick and wounded. That makes me proud. But it also makes me sad, because since 2001 we were unable to provide for the needy like we were before.  Your Honor, regardless of the verdict and the upcoming sentence, I hold strong my belief in the Constitution and the ultimate justice. I hope and pray to receive the ultimate justice today.

Your Honor, while exercising your duty to sentence me today, it is important to remember that all of us, along with all the entire universe, shall gather again on the day of judgment, the day when Almighty God will bring us all before him and hold us all accountable to our deeds, right and wrong.  I believe I am innocent and I have not committed any crime.

To the audience, thank you for believing—To the audience, thank you for coming today to the court, and thank you for believing in the judicial system of this blessed country.

To those who believed in my innocence from the Muslim and non-Muslim community, thank you for your moral support.  Please do not be discouraged. Continue your work for justice and charity. Love this country even more and cherish its Constitution.

To the American-Muslim community here and in San Diego, California, the Dallas metropolitan area, New Jersey, Illinois, and nationwide, thank you for standing beside us and asking about us. Thank you for sending your letters to our Honorable Judge. Thank you for asking about our family.  Thank you for praying to us in the day and in the night. We feel your prayer. And your prayer, that Allah will accept your prayer.

You face a huge challenge today. Do not be discouraged.  Do not give up your Constitutional rights, including the giving of charity; charity which is also a part of our religion, especially the giving of the zakat. You are a beautiful part of this American culture. You are a great addition, not a burden. You are not alone. Righteous Americans of all religion and groups stand with you.  To my dear parents, thank you for raising me as a righteous man; a man that gave and received love; a man to the best of his ability knows right and does it, and knows wrong and avoids it. Thank you for keeping up and putting up with me, despite the 24 years of separation due to the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel.

Please, my parents, forgive me, please forgive me for your emotional stress, and to pray for me, my wife, my children, and my grandchildren. We need your prayers. It is so powerful. I am sure your prayers will not go unanswered.  To my dear wife Fatima El-Mezain Um Ibrahim, thank you for unconditional support of me and the family in Gaza and in the States. My love and respect for you only increased during our 30 years from a blessed marriage.

Today is a difficult day for you. It is a difficult day for all, especially you. Please do not be shaken by the pain of the moment. Do not allow your big heart to be broken on this day or any other day. Allah will ease our difficulty.  Allah Almighty said in Chapter 94 Al-Inshirah, verses 5 and 6, “So, verily, verily, with every difficulty there is a relief.  Verily, with every difficulty there is a relief.” And I hope that soon I will be home next to you and to the children. Thank you for being a great wife. And as the mother of eight children and three grandchildren, please keep up your great work you are doing.

To my dear children Ibrahim, Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, Ali, Emam, Salsabil, Tasnim, my son-in-law Petri, my daughters-in-law Wileh, Browa, and Bushra, and my grandsons Erdam and Jashnim (all phonetic), thank you for all your unwavering support and love to me and to the family in Palestine and in the States.

It is your destiny to be separated from your father.

Please have strong faith, endure patience and perseverance.  I am proud of all of you. Today more than any other day you should feel proud of me and my Eid and my achievements. We have been through as much as we could to lead a happy and righteous life. Please stay the course. Keep your head up and your spirits high. Love and support each other and your mother, your family, your blessed country the United States and Palestine.

To my attorney Joshua Dratel and all his team, thank you so much for all your efforts and support to me, and I would like to thank all of our Defense team.

Finally, Your Honor, I believe my mission is still not finished. My natural place is among my family and my community. I need them as much as they need me. I want to be able to continue my role in advancing moral values to the new generation, and to teach the young and old about the goodness and success in the life and in the hereafter.

I had heard that President Obama wants to spend $900 million in aid to rebuild Gaza. I would like nothing more than the opportunity to participate in the relief that will provide aid and hope of the future to many needy people.  Your Honor, as God saved Moses and his followers and made them across the sea to the safety with a strike of Moses’ cane, I hope the Almighty God will open the road for me and my honorable brothers to the safety and freedom. Because to Almighty, feeding the children, orphans, and needy families is never a crime. Allah said in Chapter 76 Al-Insan, verses 8 and 9, “They give food for the love of Allah to the needy, to the orphan, to the prisoners, saying, ‘We feed you for the sake of Allah. We do not want any award from you nor any thanking.’”

I would like to end by recalling the advice of my father that Your Honor had heard in the court and that still rings in my ears, deep in my heart, when he quotes from verses from the holy Quran Chapter 21 verses 111 and 112 after he said to me, “Mohammed, do not worry, nor be afraid.” And he reminded me and described how everyone would be held accountable to the result of his deed in the day of judgment, and he recites, “All faces shall be humbled before the Living One, the All Sustainer. He will fail who bears the burden of wrongdoing, but whoever works of righteousness and has faith will have no fear of harm and will be rewarded to the full.” Thank you, Your Honor. God bless you. God bless America. And God bless and bring peace and safety to the Holy Land. Thank you.

THE COURT: Thank you.

 

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