Ofer - Stone Throwing, Minors

Facebook Twitter Whatsapp Email
Norah Orlow, Hagit Shlonsky (reporting)

Translation: Marganit W.

A long day (both A.M and P.M sessions) at the military court; in addition to observations of several sessions in different courts, we had informative talks with a lawyer and a judge, we read an indictment and protocols of many hearings dealing with a defendant who, after a year long trial, was fully acquitted.

Courtroom 3: Appeals

Judge: Nathanel Benisho (deputy president of the military court)

Prosecutor: Shlomo Schneider

Two defense attorneys: Abu Ahmad and Iyad Misk

In the dock: 3 children from Bethlehem; they are 14-15 years old, but look younger.

Ahmad Mahmud Ahmad Deadra
- (ID 854600335; Case No. 1857/08)

Sari Elias Ata Abu Aker - (ID 854581881; case No. 1856/08)

Shadi Muhammad Halef Rian (ID 854598091; case No. 1855/08)

The judge moves to coalesce the cases to a single file.

The three have been detained at Ofer for 17 days on charges of rock throwing.

They all pleaded guilty at their first remand and were sentenced to 21 days in jail, plus three-year probation and a fine (how much?).

The prosecution appeals the leniency of the sentence.

The judge instructs the prosecution to forgo the appeal, stating that even though rock throwing  by youngsters is on the rise," it is difficult to prosecute young children... and for expediency sake... these children admitted their guilt, took responsibility..." (i.e., saved court time. The judge uses the same phrasing when talking about murderers and children who throw stone... H.S.)

Despite the judge's recommendation, the prosecutor points out that, according to the indictment, this is a serious offense... the soldiers faced grave danger... and in particular: the sentence does not constitute a determent. At this point, the prosecutor confers with the judge privately, then says, "the appeals court must intervene, because as matters stand now, the sentence is decided by only two judges, and this is not sufficient..." Sardonically he adds something like, "You know who I mean..." The judge's body language indicates that he does know, and he adds that the system needs to rethink the severity of punishment meted to very young offenders.

The prosecutor cites precedents, including a Supreme Court ruling, which prompts an angry reaction from defense attorney Abu Ahmed: "Suddenly you invoke the Supreme Court, drawing a comparison to what goes on inside Israel? Normally, you reject such analogies and stress the difference between the two systems."

Defense Abu Ahmad: These are minors who took part in a demonstration at least 200 people strong. Everyone there threw rocks. They got carried away... Nobody got hurt. They were aiming at a military tower and a fence. They pleaded guilty right away. In addition to jail time, they got probation and a fine.

He cites precedents of lighter sentences for similar offenses.

The father of one defendant (Shadi) is present in court with his eldest son. Through the attorney, he promises to keep an eye on the children (he has 8) so they won't throw rocks.

The judge will hand down his ruling later, and I will report it separately.

Courtroom 4

Judge: Captain Azriel Levi

Two defense attorneys: Ilan Katz and Elias Houri

Two defendants tried in a joint court case. Both sit in the dock.

Razi Kassem Ahmad Issa (ID 949260939; Case No.2533/07)

He is 55, sick, needs medication and looks old. A wealthy, respectable moneychanger from Ramallah, owner of "Alajouli" money changing company.

Arrested on 9.3.07, and kept in detention at Ofer for over a year "until the conclusion of the proceedings."

Imad Atiya Muhammad Dar Awad, (ID 954124442; Case No. 2533/07). About 35 years old. An accountant employed by "Alajouli".

Both have been detained at Ofer for over a year. Their trial opened with a bang in front of three judges (the president and deputy of Ofer military court and Justice Azriel Levi) and ended today with a whimper, in front of a single judge and with unconditional and full acquittal. The prosecution wanted time to consider an appeal, and in the meantime the two were released on bail (10,000 shekels and 3000 shekels) to guarantee their appearance before the court if summoned. They went home on 25.3.08.

Attorney Houri later told us that the defense attorneys demand the return of moneys taken from "Alajouli" and possibly compensation. The prosecution, on the other hand, intends to appeal. The court gave the prosecution until 17.5.08 to appeal.

The indictment (dated 22.3.07) includes 69 counts, all relating to the offense of providing services to an unlawful organization. The organization in question is the "Ramallah Charity Committee" (declared unlawful on 25.2.02 by the regional commander's edict). The 69 counts detail sums and dates when the defendant exchanged money (converting currencies) between 2002 and the beginning of 2006 for the Charity Committee, one of several dozens of the company's customers.

In September 2006 the IDF raided the offices of moneychangers in Ramalla, among them "Alajouli's" and confiscated money and documents. 6 months later, in March 2007, the defendants were arrested and charges were pressed.

They denied the allegations, and repeated requests by the defense to release them were unsuccessful. The defense claims that the refusal of Razi Issa (the owner of the company) to forfeit certain sums taken in the raid is the real reason for keeping them in jail. Other moneychangers agreed to "administered arrangements." i.e. to forfeit some of the confiscated money.

The attorney calls this "extortion by government." After the raid, and before his arrest, Issa petitioned the High Court of Justice against the military commander, demanding the return of his confiscated money. This measure, the defense claims, invoked resentment and revenge on part of the military authority. Consequently, he was arrested and prosecuted.

There were many lengthy argument throughout the year (we have the protocols of the trial, for those interested), focusing mostly on the status of Zone A, the military commander's authority to declare an association unlawful, the Palestinian Authority's jurisdiction over civil matters, the activity of the Charity Committee, the definition of "providing services" etc.

During the proceedings, the prosecution was reprimanded several times for negligence in producing documents and presenting evidence, and at one point was enjoined to pay a penalty to the defense.

From reading the protocols, I gleaned several comments and statements that are not of legal nature. For example: the claim by the prosecution that indictment for providing services to an unlawful organization is part of a policy aimed at "combating a civil-economic infrastructure that feeds and incites the military infrastructure of terrorist organizations;" the defense's claim (backed by evidence) that the regional commander's edict regarding unlawful organizations is not publicized in any way that can inform the relevant persons, even though there is a law that governs the publication of such orders; it also transpires that in the time between the arrest and the acquittal there was an agreement between the prosecution and the defense regarding the facts; there was disagreement about the interpretation of the facts (the defendant denied the allegations but did not deny the facts; he also helped the police find out the facts, since he did not regard his actions as offenses).

The seizure of money by the state, through an "administrative proceeding" that demands forfeiting some of the confiscated money, was not addressed in the trial, despite the fact that the defendant, unlike other moneychangers, stubbornly refused to pay a tax to the military authority and was willing to sit in jail until exonerated by the court.

To sum up, this case is a clear instance of abuse by the military and legal systems against a civil population and its institutions. There is no reference to "security threat" as a reason for the arrest. The protocols do not include the long remand extensions, but from long acquaintance with this procedure, we surmise that the detention judge was convinced that there is a "threat to security in the region" based on information in the confidential file handed to him. The prosecution insisted on bringing this allegation and the two defendants were remanded in custody "until the conclusion of the proceedings."

From the moment the military commander decreed that the Charity Committee was an unlawful organization, whoever had any connection to it became an offender. Whoever refused to part with his money was also an offender. The commander's decision does not require reasons or explanation, and is never questioned, at least not in the military courts. In this case, it seems that the commander's declaration that the organization was unlawful was an excuse to abuse and defraud two Palestinian citizens who, luckily for them, had the strength and the means to hire powerful lawyers.