Ofer - Plea Bargain, Stone Throwing
Translation: Marganit W.
We spent most of the day in Courtroom 2 and the end of the day in Courtroom 1.
Judge: Arie Dorani
There are 32 cases in the docket; in half of them the main charge is production, possession, trading or throwing of combat material.
There are a few cases of various kinds of disturbance of the peace (throwing objects, leaving the territory without a permit).
There is one criminal case and 9 with charges of membership and activity in an illegal organization - including holding a position in such an organization.
We observed 12 cases in the morning and after lunch break.
The pace of the proceedings was unusually slow, with much time spent on setting further hearings.
Most of the discussions were "memos" and "arraignments".
The judge was tolerant of the noise in Court and allowed the defendants on the bench to confer with their family members who, as usual, were sitting in the back of the large hall.
Present in court were delegates of a Spanish Human Rights Organization, guests of the Palestinian organization A-Damir.
We noticed a new addition in court: a computer monitor placed on the defense's desk, allowing the defense attorneys to monitor whatever is written in the protocol. (Altogether there are 4 monitors: for the typist, the prosecution, the judge and now the defense).
Assem Abd Al Hamid Ibrahim Sharuf - (Case 1755/08) ID No. 901136523
Released on bail after spending 75 days in jail for possession and trading in combat material. He is a young man from Kafer Nuba in the south of Mt. Hebron. He looks sick, and standing in court is obviously very taxing for him.
His attorney, Tawhid Sha'aban, states that he has reached an agreement with the prosecution regarding amending the indictment. The defendant will accept the revised indictment and both sides will discuss the penalty. The defendant accepts the charges.
The prosecution demands a deterrent punishment, citing a precedent of 18-month verdict for a similar offense, but points out that a released detainee is rarely remanded in custody. Thus the prosecutor moves for a stiffer punishment plus monetary fine. At the very least, the 10.000 shekel bail should be forfeited.
The defense points out that the defendant bought the weapon for a family feud in the Nuba village. He turned the weapon over to the counter-terrorism agency.
The affair happened in 2005 and lasted a short time. In similar cases, the penalty is usually around 1000 shekels; the prosecution's demand is exorbitant.
The Judge describes the circumstances of buying, selling and shooting of the gun.
The area is drenched in blood and special vigilance is required to prevent the transfer of arms from hand to hand... The offense is serious but not the worst kind... The defendant was released from jail because there was no witness to corroborate the evidence.
The judge continues to read... Leniency...Severity... On balance...
Finally he reaches a decision:
75 days (already spent in jail), 24 months probation for 5 years from the day of his release. A fine of 6000 shekels docked from the bail he had posted.
Muataz Suleiman Muhammad Qawassme (Case 2709/08) ID No. 850250036
A 22-year old man, accused of entering Israel 4-5 times without permit, the last time in December 2007.
The defense is Attorney Anwar Abu Omar.
The defendant has been convicted and the penalty, reached in a plea bargain between the two sides,
is accepted by the judge: four and a half moths in jail from the day of arrest (already spent),
plus 6 months probation for two years and a fine of 800 shekels.
Ali Ahmad Shamsana (Case 3677/07) ID No. 988646253
Fares Halil Mehmed Shamsana (Case 3676/07) ID No. 900404260
The two defendants may be related. Both are residents of the village of Qatana.
One (or maybe both) is a member of the village council. They have been in jail for 15 months. Witnesses were supposed to testify today, but none showed up.
Defense Attorney Labib Habib is furious, vehemently demanding to "release the detainees forthwith, so they could live at home, and the case could be processed normally without constraints put on the defense due to the prolonged detention". The defense resents the prosecution's contention that "at the end of the process the detainees will be convicted, and the penalty for those charges is longer than the period they spent in detention..." which the prosecution claims justifies the long detention.
The defense tells the judge: "the court, too, should balk at the prosecution's contention."
But the court does not balk and does not release the detainees forthwith, but tries to calm down the attorney, explaining that the witnesses were not brought to court because of changes in the procedure and delays in negotiation between representatives of the prosecution and the defense regarding work relations.
The judge did not go into details.
Many of the "evidentiary" cases today became "memos" - not all the attorneys were aware of this.
The Judge turns to the defendants and tells them that the postponement is not the fault of their attorney... as if this is the first deferment in their 15-moths long incarceration.
The next hearing will be in September, the exact date to be determined by the court administration.
Muhamad Salame Abed Almuhsan Abu Ras (Case 2783/07) ID No.913994059
Charge: Membership and activity
Defense: Attorney Ahlam Hadad
The defendant denies the allegations.
The prosecution asks to summon Witness No. 3 urgently, because he is scheduled to be released from jail in the coming months.
Decision: Evidentiary hearing on 12.10.08
Judge: Major Amir Dahan
Prosecution: Attorney Captain Meital Zrihan
Defense: Attorney Gaby Lasky
Imad Mahmud Antasar Burnat (Case 5439/06) ID No.913994059
Imad Burnat (reporter and photographer) was arrested on 6.10.06 in the village of Bil'in during a demonstration against the separation wall erected on village property, which separates the villagers from their fields.
The indictment charges Burnat with the following offenses:
-Throwing rocks at the security forces that came to restore order on the site.
[Note: security forces are routinely present in Bil'in every Friday while non-violent demonstrations take place; they do not come to "restore order" but to waylay the inhabitants - N.O]
-Injuring a soldier - According to Border Police allegations, Burnat acted violently when apprehended and put in a vehicle, injuring a Border Policeman in the nose.
In the interrogation, the defendant denied both allegations, and he repeated the denial in court.
Pursuing his professional duty as a journalist and photographer, the defendant was present at the demonstration in Bil'in on October 9, 2006. Among other things, he took photos of rock throwers, which means that he could not himself have thrown any rocks, as officially attested by 2 witness from the village. However, the testimony [not under oath] of two BP (Border Police) officers contradicts this statement. The defense states that "the police did not make any attempt to obtain testimony from bystanders who do not belong to the security forces" (from the hearing protocol, 11.10.06).
As for the second charge: here, too, there are contradictory testimonies. Not only does the defendant deny the allegations, it was HE who was beaten inside the army jeep: "he was seriously injured and needed 5 stitches in his eye..." (ibid).
The BP testimony states that the defendant tried to escape from the jeep, so they had to handcuff him, whereupon he became violent and as a result was bruised by a weapons case or a communication gear that lay inside the jeep.
The defense further stated: "The defendant wore a press ID at all times... Surprisingly, the tag was not found in the evidence file. The deponent (Burnat) claims that the soldiers threw away his Press ID."
Burnat was detained for 20 days. At first he was kept at Ofer detention center, then he was transferred
to the facility at Etzion. On 19.10.06 he was released to house detention and on 6.12.06 was set free.
In today's session the prosecution summoned to witness stand the Border Policeman who was the driver of the jeep where the defendant was held. The lengthy interrogation, followed by the defense cross-examination, centered on what happened inside the jeep while the defendant was there. The witness's answers were evasive and replete with "I don't remember."
The judge, too, deemed the process redundant.
Further hearing was set for 26.10.08 at 13:00, when more witnesses will be summoned.
2 Israeli friends of the defendant attended the hearing.
At the entrance to the court compound we met two women from the Committee for (f.) Palestinian Prisoners, who came to attend a hearing of a certain detainee, but the Prison Service guards refused to let them in.
Luckily, we were there, and we phoned Hamdan, the Public Appeals Officer, to remind him of the principle of the public's right to know, which applies even to military courts! In no time Hamdan showed up at the gate and let the two women in, so they could attend the trial of Jamila Mazbah (46 years old woman from Aljib, in the Ramallah area; she was arrested on June 1, 2008 and was sentenced today to 2 months in jail
and 7000 shekels fine, then was released. Her sons, who had been arrested with her, were also released.)
However, most people don't know that they have a right to be present at the hearings and that they must insist on being admitted in court.
Presumably, the soldiers and the prison guards were never given instructions to admit anyone who wants to attend the court hearings.