Ofer - Interrogation of Witness, Minors
Translation: Marganit W.
Morning and Afternoon sessions
The humiliating and depressing harassment of detainees' families continues. The gloom was somewhat alleviated when the audience erupted momentarily in spontaneous disobedience. However, the 2 evidentiary hearings we attended- both relating to the non-violent struggle against the separation wall in Bili'n and Umm-Salmone - prove that the Israeli agencies involved in the occupation (police, GSS and the military courts) are also affected by this struggle. The prosecution witnesses seemed to have lost their memory in the hustle and bustle...
At 9:50, when we arrived, we saw dozens of family members [families of detainees/defendants] streaming from the parking lot to the North entrance. Two minutes later, when we were at the entrance square, we saw frantic soldiers dragging a bench to erect a barrier to prevent the families from entering. Immediately, a thick line was formed of people trapped like cattle between the compound wall and the fence. Later, the attorneys came out of the court building to talk to the families. They explained that, once more, the problem was with Beituniya Checkpoint, which is the last checkpoint the families have to cross before reaching Ofer. In the last few months families were stopped several times at the checkpoint and barred from reaching the court:
Eventually, after an hour waiting, the families were allowed to enter. It was the protest by the attorneys, or perhaps intervention by the judges who sided with the families. Or maybe the presence of consular representatives, including the European union. Perhaps all the above.
The families huddled together for half an hour, some clamored, others tried to communicate with the attorneys over other people's heads, when suddenly, in a simple natural gesture, a young man standing in front of the bench-barrier lifted one leg after the other and voila! He was in the square before the entrance. A woman followed suit, and a third and a fourth then removed the bench, and in a minute the entire line was inside. There was a sense of relief, of a small triumph. But then the waiting continued and the soldiers shouted "irja lawara" [move back in Arabic] and the tension rose again. But then Muhammad Hatib [from Bil'in] stepped forward and began shouting at the soldiers and the policemen beyond the fence "Stop treating us like this!" The soldiers answered back that they wouldn't let him in and he replied, "I have a trial to attend, I'm getting in, whether you like it or not...Enough!" Eventually everyone got in.
Judge: Major Sharon Rivlin-Ahai
Defense: Atty. Gaby Lasky
Prosecutor: Captain Yael Cohen-Wagon
Defendant: Muhammad Abdel Karim Mustafa Hatib - ID 85161053, Case No. 3599/09, resident of Bil'in, released on bail with restrictions.
Background report of earlier hearings:
Examination of prosecution witness Sharif Katish, investigator of terrorist acts in the Israeli Police - his mother tongue is Arabic.
We learned from the testimony that a special team, headed by Itzik Shmuel, deals with Bil'in detainees: the three juvenile incriminators and the 33 incriminated, most of them members of the Popular Committee Against the Fence. This is a special team for investigating hostile terrorist acts, or in the witness's vivid phrase "Green Hostile Activity" - not green in the ecological sense, but referring to the green ID cards of non-Jewish residents of the Territories. We also learned something about the complex relations between the police and the GSS: although "the GSS is the address" when it comes to detentions (even of minors), "the investigation team is not subordinate to the GSS: "We work together with the GSS."
It was obvious that the witness had prepared well for questions about the interrogation of minors. Relying on documents he had in front of him he described several times the hospitality he used when interrogating minors. "On 23.6.09 the suspect was offered soft drinks, cigarettes and cookies during the interrogation ... On 22.7.09 he was offered cigarettes, coffee and water..." Later, during the interrogation of a (minor) incriminator, on 29.6.09 he testified (from his document): "As I see here, there were no unusual circumstance and the suspect was offered a cold drink". When the defense pressed for more details about the interrogation of minors, the judge interjected, explaining to the witness, "she asks because this is how minors are interrogated in Israel." One wonders if the coffee, cigarettes and cookies are compensation for Palestinian minors NOT being interrogated according to standards used in Israel. Perhaps those amenities were simply the "carrot" of the interrogation, which, according to one of the minors, offered many "sticks"...
"The witness claimed that he signed the statement only because the interrogator frightened and threatened him...with beating and curses..."
The famous "Bil'in Book of Incriminations" featured in the hearing, too.
It is important to note that before the testimony the judge asked the witness if his testimony was based on memory or on the documents in front of him. His answer, "the prosecutor gave me the police statements earlier. I testify... based on the written documents. I do not remember the interrogations themselves." The interrogations took place six months ago. The witness stuck to the written documents. Interestingly, those investigators display phenomenal memory when they arrest Palestinians for offences that allegedly occurred 5-6 years earlier, which happens quite often, based on our experience.
The next evidentiary hearing was set for 13.4.10
Defendant: Issa Yusef Ibrahim Samandar - Case No. 2079/08, ID 952730166, resident of Ramallah.
Accused of disturbing the public peace. Released on bail with restrictions.
Interrogation of Prosecution Witness No. 2 - Salah Ghanem, Border Police
Interrogation of Prosecution Witness No. 3 - Muhammad Hun, Investigator at Hebron Police Station.
On 8.6.07, Issa Samandar, photographer and activist on behalf on Palestinian farmers, participated in a demonstration in the village of Umm Salmona, near Bethlehem. The reason for the protest there, too, was confiscation of land for the building of the Separation Fence. He was brutally arrested and his face was bruised. He complained during his interrogation and his face was photographed, but the photos have since disappeared. The requisite complaint to the Police Investigation Department was never submitted. The interrogation, which was conducted in Arabic, was not recorded, which is against the regulations. The trial is a result of his refusal to cut a plea bargain.
The memory of the arresting officer (responsible for the arrest of Mr. Samandar and his injuries) was limited to the text he had in front of him, from which he read his testimony.
"I remembered the event when the prosecutor presented me with the police statement..." he said at the start. However, his memory went totally blank when the defense asked him what happened during the demonstration. He answered "I don't remember" or "I can't recall" MORE THAN THIRTY TIMES. He did not remember who made the arrest, the fact that the defendant had a camera and that it was he who forced the defendant into a jeep. Neither did he remember that there were also Israeli detainees, or how long the demonstration lasted etc. etc. One answer was an amazing mix of memory and forgetfulness, "I noted that there was reasonable use of force, but I don't remember who was applying this force..." He saw the use of reasonable force, because this was written in his statement, since "I wouldn't write something that didn't happen..." but he naturally forgot who was applying this ‘reasonable force' during the arrest. That figures.
The second witness followed suit: "I remember vaguely... when I saw the statement, it came back to me... But I can't rely on my memory, so I testify mostly according to the written statement." Again, total amnesia in answering the crucial questions posed by the defense regarding the missing photos of the defendant's bruised face (which he himself hat photographed), as well as about the complaint to the Police Investigation Dept. that was never lodged, or about the existence of 2 arrest reports, where the second "corrects" the first.
The next hearing is set for 13.4.10. The defense plans to depose the defendant and two witnesses.