Ofer - Plea Bargain, Stone Throwing
We were present at 15 hearings in three courtrooms. All the hearings were short because most ended in postponement of the hearing. Judges, attorneys and prosecutors worked hard and argued about the setting of date for the next hearing: 2 weeks, a month, two months and more. Meanwhile the detainees enjoyed the opportunity to talk with their relatives. Everyone has a role in this performance, in which the detainees have no part in setting the judicial schedule that will determine their personal timetables - taken from them on the day of their arrest, and who knows when and under what restrictive conditions time will be restored to them.
The main reason for postponement: to permit plea bargains between defence and prosecution.
[The report "Trials in the Back Courtyard" (Yesh Din) explains the phenomenon of plea bargain with emphasis on the responsibility of the GSS]
It is important to note that in most of the hearings it was difficult to follow what was being said. Only in the courtroom of Major Hilit Bar On were the hearings clear and calm, though they finished quickly.
In the courtroom of Judge Shlomo Katz, there was considerable uproar most of the time - lawyers came and went, three young boys sat on the dock waiting for their trial, while the hearing dealt with one detainee who stood facing the judge amid chaos, surrounded by a warder, prosecutor, lawyer and another defender who spoke to his clients over the heads of the others. The judge spoke in a manner difficult to hear. The courtroom of Judge Ronen Atzmon was calm, but the judge lowered his voice to a level that we barely heard.
Follow up data we received from families and defence attorneys.
We report on the hearings of interest, and first two that dealt with minors.
A 16 year old, and a 17 year old.
Ahmad Yussef Muhammad Tal, 16 years old - File no. 4410/08
Judge: Shlomo Katz
Defence: Advocate Muhammad Shahin
Charge: throwing stones at security forces
Verdict: 45 days imprisonment (concurrent with detention) Fine: 1000 shekels, 5 months probation for 2 years.
The youth was arrested on 20.9.08, late at night, after returning from a football match in Jericho. Mechanised troops were circulating in his village. According to his farther, this is a regular custom involving provocation of the residents by the soldiers, and particularly the young. Late at night there was a clash in which stones were thrown at the soldiers. Ahmad was caught by the soldiers and arrested. No notice was given to his family. Only the following night did he phone home from Ofer Detention Centre. He will be released on 20.2.09.
Ahmad has a clean record. During the hearing it became clear, that there was "evidential difficulties" in putting him on trial; nevertheless, and even after a plea bargain, he received a heavy punishment involving separation from his family. Their first visit of the prisoner will be on 30.11.08. He will also loose a year of studies (or more) - there is no study facility accorded to Palestinian minors in prison. Worst of all, he will be incarcerated with adults. His father does not know who will be his cell mate.
Musa Wahad - File no. 4399/07
Charge: membership and activity [in an illegal organization]
Verdict by plea bargain: 19 months imprisonment. Fine: 1000shekels. 3 months probation for 3 years.
Hearing takes place in continuous noise.
Musa Wahad has already been in detention for 19 months. According to his lawyer, he was an inactive member for only one month. The judge defines him, from the indictment, as member of a military team that planned to carry out military actions against the security forces... a student section (sign that he was studying before his arrest)... laying explosive pipes next to an army base... membership in a non-permissible organisation, facing no less than 19 months imprisonment.
In the courtroom of Judge Ronen Atzmon:
Adnan Muhammad Ata Shneita, 17 years old - ID 850240607
Defence: Advocate Haled el Arej
Charge: membership, activity and attempt to cause death
Postponement because of transfer of representation to another lawyer, and to allow a plea bargain.
Adnan was arrested on 25.10.06 at night in his home in Abadiyah near Bethlehem (a month after his brother was arrested, sentenced to 4.5 years). He is suspected of membership and activity, and in addition is suspected of attempted murder. According to the father, his two sons were held in administrative detention. It was the family that requested the trial, in order to know what they were accused of. The father has received no permission to visit his sons since the day they were arrested. He only sees them in the courtroom (needs to be checked with the Humanitarian Centre).
File determined for "reminder session" on 2.12.08. If there will not be a plea bargain by then, the defence attorney will be able to bring his case of "minor pleas" before the trial begins.
Additional information supplied by the defence:
This is a special case, as, according to the prosecution, Adnan was an accomplice in an attempted strike. He was recorded confessing to inmates who incouraged him to speak, collaborators, that he had been an accomplice. But he denied this immediately when the police investigator arrived to get his signature on the "statement." He did this prior to meeting a lawyer, and therefore his denial carries more weight. There is also no evidence connecting him to the strike.
The file is a difficult one, because of the discrepancy between a sentence of 10-18 years and one of 2-3 years, according to the defence attorney.
Next hearing on 2.12.08
Ahmad Muhammad Ahmad Abu Ali - File no. 1269/07 - ID 914091962
Defence: Advocate Haled el Arej
Charge: attempted manslaughter
Ahmad Abu Ali has been detained since the end of 2006. The hearing was short. Our impression was, that the judge makes efforts to end the trial, and sets dates as close as possible. The reason for continuing hearings till now is not clear to us, but clearly this is a trial involving evidentiary hearings. No plea bargain has been established so far. According to the prosecutor... "He is among the first to be heard." According to the judge, "the court still has to hear two witnesses. At the next hearing, if there is no bargain, I will order transfer of the material to the prosecution. The file has been dealt with for a long time.
A reminder hearing, with one judge, is set for 7.12.08, and if the file is not concluded, dates will then be set for evidentiary hearings.
In the last year we have frequently been present in hearings in which dates have been set as far away as possible for trials which involve evidentiary hearings with witnesses and evidence, trials "that waste the time of the court." This method punishes the detainee with long detentions before his guilt is proven.
Postponement of hearings:
As aforementioned, most of the hearings that we attended were delayed, of which only a small number for a relevant cause: illness, summoning of witnesses of replacement of lawyer.
Some were delayed to permit plea bargains, and others raised our wonderment. Here are two examples:
Farouk Abed Almajid Tuama Altroa, File no. 4505/08 - ID 953422789
Charge: use of faked documentation (suspected of forging an ID)
Judge: Hilit Bar On
Defence: Advocate Amer Yassin
This is a first arraignment hearing, and the defence requests a two weeks' postponement to permit talks with the prosecution.
Judge: next hearing is set fo 31.12.08
Defence: 2 weeks, not a month and a half. We are convinced that the period of detention can be shortened. There is no point in postponing until December.
The suspect speaks at length, contending that others received for the same offence only probation, and went home immediately.
Judge: the date 31.12.08 remains. If there will be an agreement between the parties and they request to conclude the file, application can be made to the court office to bring the date forward.
Defence: the decision delays and hampers us.
Judge: you may discuss the matter today. The day is still young...
But the attorney is busy with other cases, the detainee and his family are upset, and he goes out angry.
Walid Muhammad Ali Zakzuk - File no. 3766/07 - ID 410135636
Judge: Ronen Atzmon
Charge: shooting at a person
Defence: Advocate Ismail Tawil
This is an arraignment session, and the defence requests a postponement. Tomorrow he will meet with the prosecution, and is certain that everything will be completed.
Judge: that is what you said at the last hearing!
Defence: it was a holiday month and there were only ten working days.
Judge: what can be submitted? Who are the witnesses? You said you would name the witnesses!
Defence: it is a new file.
Judge: a file from June 2007?
Prosecutor: there is a written proposal.
Judge suggests a number of dates.
Defence: okay for 7.12.08.
The file is set for and evidentiary hearing on that date.