Ofer - Plea Bargain, Release on Bail
Translation: Marganit W.
Before we entered the compound gate we were approached by two men holding payment vouchers for fine or bail. The voucher proves that they have paid the required sum, but the prison refuses to accept it and refers them to Ofer Military Court for a judge’s signature or some other official confirmation. However, these people are barred from entering Ofer because their names do not appear on the list of defendants’ family members tried today, so they remain outside the gate, lost and perplexed.
This bureaucratic hurdle pits the prisoner, whose release depends on the family paying the fine or bail, against the inaccessibility of the court. Parents often spend days on the road and at checkpoints. An appeal to the Public Relations Officer could have solved the problem, but this recourse is not available to the Palestinian public.
Eventually, a passing attorney agreed to take on their request. Hopefully he was able to solve their problem.
Ramadan is still on, so the court operates on a limited scale. Only remand extension hearings take place. Detentions and arrests go on, perhaps with increased vigor, and the courts teem with “business”. Israel announced a generous policy of issuing entry permits to Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers. No similar announcement about work permits during this period. Thus, dozens of illegal sojourners are brought in every day, waiting for remand extension. They have all tried to infiltrate, using ingenious methods, for the sole purpose of supporting their families.
Justice Menahem Lieberman, president of the Military Court, officiated during the first part of the morning session. Later, justice Etty Adar officiated. (In violation of a long standing custom, Lieberman refuses to give us the list of cases, which makes it difficult for us to identify the defendants.)
It is gradually becoming apparent how the court treats violators that the security forces arrest on the pretext of security risk. The court, obviously, has no solution for the problem of Palestinians staying illegally in Israel, yet the army continues to ambush and arrest these violators in order to provide employment for the military courts. This violation does not endanger Israel’s security: perhaps it forestalls an uprising by hungry masses. It also helps maintain the occupation in its present form.
Perhaps this explains why the judge today showed some consideration in the cases before him, which he saw as somewhat exceptional.
A 40-year old defendant suspected of forging an ID was taken off a bus after passing the checkpoint. Atty. Abu Ahmad represents him. But the detainee explained to the judge that he was released from prison less than 3 months ago, having been charged with staying illegally in Israel. A suspended sentence is still in effect. He told the court that he has no choice but to risk arrest again and again in order to provide for his family. The judge advised him to accept the charge; he will be given a chance for a plea bargain and will receive a penalty of one month in jail.
Another detainee, also on charges of entering Israel illegally, had no legal counsel. He has a previous conviction for the same violation.
The hearing was set for 8.8.13 to allow him to get an attorney.
Another detainee, 32 years old was charged with the same violation, but the case is complicated: the man is in dispute with his family and with the Palestinian Authority. Perhaps this explains why he carried a knife in his pocket. He was arrested by the soldiers and when frisked, the knife was found. He claims that the commander told him, “pay 1000 shekels and you can go home.” He did not have the money, so he called a friend who promised to help. He waited for the friend, apparently inside Israel, and that’s when he was arrested for staying illegally.
The detainee addressed the judge directly, “Do me a favor, I haven’t done anything….”
The judge’s decision: released him on 1000 shekel bail. The release was postponed for the following day because the prosecutor wanted to appeal the decision.
A defendant named Fahima, 50 years old. She has medical issues and a sick son.
Atty. Lubani represents her.
Like the other detainees today, she has a prior conviction for staying illegally in Israel, and a suspended sentence is still in effect. She repeatedly entered Israel without a permit. During Ramadan charity is handed out to indigents at Al-Aksa mosque, so she went there. In view of Ramadan and other mitigating circumstance, the court decided to give her another chance and ordered the suspended sentence from the earlier case extended to four months over 3 years, starting with the day of the trial.
Two other detainees are charged with staying illegally in Israel. They are represented by Atty. Ahma Safiya.
One, receiving treatment at a mental hospital got remand extension until 5.8.13, and the other’s hearing, at the defense’s request, was set for 7.8.13, with a view to reaching an agreement with the prosecution.
The cases heard today illustrate how what the occupation regime defines as crimes deserving punishment, does not fit the cases, which involve no security risk or endangerment. They merely provide work for the security forces. This explains the lenient sentences handed down by the judge: he regarded these cases as exceptions. To us these are not exceptions but the rule: the reality of people with no respite and no escape from daily hardships.