Salem - Plea Bargain, Holding and trading of combat materiel
Translation: Tal Haran
Northern West Bank Military Court
We came to attend the trial of Sereen Khaled Rashid Sawafta, ID 850389560, Case 2429/13
We arrived at Salem around 8:45 a.m. intending to be on time for the beginning of the court session at 9. Our phone clearance with the Salem officer in charge Tamer, and his with Adam, the official responsible for entry permits into military courts, took about half an hour. We entered and waited in line for inspection along with the families of the defendants and others wishing to enter the DCO for other matters.
In the meantime Sereen [released on bail] arrived, with her brother. They came after 9:30. Sereen was very stressed, not only because of the trial but from the mere fact that she was late. She was told to be there at 9:00, or else she'd be arrested again.
We knew we were not allowed to take telephones and other objects into the courtroom. We did not know that sun glasses were prohibited as well. We deposited them. There was a discussion over watches. Leah's watch was allowed, mine - pendant on a chain - was prohibited and deposited
We entered a large waiting hall, air-conditioned but wide open. Drinking fountain and toilets are outside. Many people, most of them women, waited seated on chairs inside the hall and on the step at its doorway. Others stood outside, close to the entry gate of the court area, fearing to miss hearing the name of their accused family member being called out. Among the waiting were also three children and a nursing baby.
We sat with Sereen and her brother. She also waited for two French monitors. Next to us sat parents, about 45 years-old, with their youngest child, a four-year old. They had come to the trial of their 20-year old son. Fearing their four-year old might not be allowed inside with them, for one of the women-soldiers there said so. Only two are allowed in. When their turn came, the child was allowed entry.
Waiting is tedious, not only for Sereen who awaited her verdict, and for the defendants’ family members, longing to see their loved ones, but even for us, outsiders.
Sereen told us about the inhuman prison conditions at the Kishon (Jalame) detention facility. She was held in custody, in solitary confinement, for 22 days in a tiny, dark cell. The only reading material allowed her was the Quran. Later she was held for 40 days in more reasonable conditions in Hasharon prison.
In the meantime Sereen’s brother was out of our sight. It turned out he got out to the Palestinian side, and that led to arguments and repeated inspection that took a long time. He came back with soft drinks for Sereen and for us, and a pack of wafers which he offered to all present. A kind gesture.
After 11 o’clock, the two French volunteers arrived – a man and woman who had met Sereen in the Palestinian Jordan Valley. Someone said that Sereen would be called at 12:00.
Leah and I entered the courtroom a little earlier, and attended other sessions as well.
Judge: Lieutenant Colonel Tsvi Heilbron
Prosecution: Lieutenant Tamar Gette
Ahmad Mahmoud Abu Raji
He is charged with entering Israel without a permit several times during the past 5 years, until the date of his arrest in August 2013. He is also accused of driving others without permits, staying inside Israel for two consecutive days, driving a vehicle without a driving license, and driving a vehicle that had been condemned off the road.
The prosecution and defense had arranged a plea bargain. The defendant confessed an amended charge sheet. The judge accepted the plea bargain and noted as extenuating circumstances, that the defendants’ motives were purely economic, without criminal or security-breach intentions.
Sentence: 8 months in prison, 1000 NIS fine or one month prison term instead, and two months suspended prison sentence for two years, no driving license issued to the defendant for six months from his release date. The condemned vehicle which the defendant had driven, will be returned to its owner pending the agreement of all sides.
In the meantime Sereen, her brother and the two French monitors entered the courtroom. Two other defendants sat on the defendants’ bench. The time was 12:20 and the court wished to break for lunch.
The judge agreed to hold the two defendants’ sessions before the break.
Sereen and her entourage left the courtroom.
The discussion of the two cases, Rajah and Washdi, was very short. Their defense lawyers, attorney Haraz (defending Rajah) and attorney Halabi (defending Washdi) requested postponement until mid-October because of a certain witness for the prosecution. The next session was set for 27.10.13.
A break was announced until 13:00. We joined Sereen, tense and tired, in the waiting hall.
13:35 Sereen was summoned for her session.
Defense: Attorney Adel Samara.
A plea bargain had been reached. The judge confirmed that Sereen realizes that he is not bound by this bargain. The amended charge sheet was read and Sereen confessed to it. She was indicted for three issues: two of possession of weapons (once an M-16 rifle, and once a Hartouche hunting rifle), and the third: contact with the enemy.
The prosecutor iterated the charges: the defendant held the M-16 only for a moment. She fired the hunting rifle once, in company of another. The contact with the enemy (on the internet) was to inquire as to the price of a weapon. The defendant was released on bail, reported to the court and confessed, spared the court time, her record is clean, and her deeds have not caused any harm.
The defense emphasized that holding the rifles was for photos only, and contact with the enemy was stopped at Sereen’s initiative. He added that Sereen is about to be married soon and wished to conclude her university studies.
The judge congratulated Sereen on her impending marriage (not on protocol). Sereen too told the court that she wishes to conclude her studies and that she is about to marry.
The judge accepted the plea bargain.
Sentence: prison term of 62 days, as the number she had been held in custody.
A fine of 4500 NIS which would be subtracted from her deposit of 7000 NIS bail. The balance will be repaid to Sereen or her representative.
4 months suspended prison sentence for 4 years.
It was almost 14:00. Sereen came out exhausted but with an intoxicating sense of liberation. We and the Frenchwoman hugged and kissed her. We received the protocol from Attorney Samara, and left.