Magistrate Court - Plea Bargain
Translation: Marganit W.
Tort claim by the Amor family for hacking of their olive trees
Brief account of Atty. Eitay Mack’s summation:
This is a third “Price Tag” incident perpetrated on the same olive grove belonging to the Amor family, which is situated near the settlement of Ma’on in South Hebron Mountain.
In 2006 extremist settlers mowed down and mutilated all 120 olive trees in the grove. In 2011 those raiders managed “only” to destroy the surrounding fence and hack one tree. In May 2013 the Israeli settlers cut down and damaged 62 trees in the grove and also sprayed the slogans “Price Tag – We’ve had it with the thieves” “Mutual Responsibility” and “Greetings from Eviatar”.
Following the last Price Tag attack on the grove, army trackers found footprints leading from the grove to a house in the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on. Shoe soles found in the house matched the prints. Outrageously, the policemen decided not to detain the settler nor to impound the shoes, using the pretext that they had not received an order from the commanding officer. The state then claimed that the fault lies with the Amor family, since they did not protect the olive grove and did not guard it themselves.
The interest the case aroused among the citizens irks the judge: she does not understand how a trial is supposed to be conducted in a democratic state. In a previous hearing of the case, the judge demanded those present to identify themselves. When Atty. Mack remarked that the trial is conducted in an open court and any interested person may attend, the judge retorted: “I demand to know who are the visitors in my court!” As if this is the living room of her private residence. Surely, it is easier if a Palestinian comes unaccompanied and there is no public supervision of the conduct of the court. This time the judge wrote down the names of the attending citizens before the hearing began. What will she do with those names? Give them to the Shabak [GSS]?
In its rebuttal, the state denied that the trees were damaged and that this is a case of criminal Jewish nationalists’ hostility (as if it was a Palestinian who cut down the trees, then ran to Havat Ma’on, leaving his shoes there to confound the security forces); the state also denied that there is violence by extremists settlers from Havat Ma’on toward residents of A-Tawani, whom they have been terrorizing for years. The state even went so far as to deny that the army provides daily protection to A-Tawani school kids because the kids are constantly harassed by settlers.
The state requested that the judge expunge from the record all references and evidence of Price Tag that the family adduced and any claim that the army could have anticipated the incident or prevent it (considering the repeated violations). The state insisted that the repeated complaints of violence by Havat Ma’on settlers and the army’s failure to protect the residents and their property are irrelevant to the case.
The judge wanted to leave out testimony by Mossi Raz, who in the past served as commander of the Magalan Unit. In his opinion, Mossi wrote that had there been proper lighting in the area – as the army provides to agricultural tracts adjacent to settlements (such as “Sde Kalev” belonging to Menahem Livni, past commander of the Jewish Underground), the incident could have been prevented, since in all three attacks on the grove, the perpetrators used the same method: they arrived on the darkest night of the month, sawed off each branch by hand and broke it. Since the grove is close to the road and to the village of Tawani, they could not use an electric saw, because the noise would have revealed their activity. Manual sawing of 62 olive trees takes several hours. Had there been light, their nefarious deed would have been seen by people using the road or by the residents of the village.
The judge claimed that Mossi has no relevant expertise and that his opinion is irrelevant to the case. Atty. Mack countered that there is no legal justification to exclude Mossi’s opinion. He had already contacted former commanders in the army and in the police who were appalled by the findings in the case, but were reluctant to testify against the state. The judge eventually realized that she had no ground for excluding the opinion and left it in the file.
The state claimed that the family was responsible for the damage because it did not install lighting and cameras. In response the family presented testimony by Alon Lifshitz Cohen, from “Bamakom” organization, who testified that the civil administration does not permit putting electric connections, except for pre-approved plans, and that there are many communities in the region that are not connected to the electric or other basic infrastructures. There is no way for the family to connect to the electric grid. However, the military commander could have circumvented this hurdle, had he declared that the light and the cameras were required for operational reasons (to protect the grove). The state attempted to exclude Alon’s testimony as well by reason of irrelevancy, but Atty. Mack objected and the judge rejected the state’s motion.
The judge stated that it would be hard for the family to prove violence on the part of Havat Ma’on settlers or to prove that security forces could have anticipated and prevented the incident. She added that the police has its hands full and cannot even prevent violence near the Magistrate court in Jerusalem. In response, Atty. Mack said that Havat Ma’on is not a regular place: life around this settlement and other such extremist outposts is a living hell.
Atty. Mack pointed out that the state cannot deny that the “Price Tag” attack on the grove was perpetrated by Israelis, while the police report and the army documents clearly indicate that the tracks led to Havat Ma’on. The judge then appealed to the state and the latter eventually agreed to declare that the events in the olive grove were in all probability carried out for nationalistic reasons.
In the end, the judge rejected the state’s motion to exclude the family’s testimony from the file, but added that it would be very hard for the family to win the case. The judge stated that security forces need to protect not only trees but also human beings (she presumably meant the settlers) and that if the claim is rejected, the family will pay heavy expenses.
The judge advised the sides to reach an agreement, seeing that there are risks for both: the state will compensate the family in full for damages to the trees, but without admitting culpability and without the family having to declare that the state is responsible (in other words, each side will maintain its claim regarding responsibility).
The judge also recommended that the family be reimbursed for half of the
fee they had paid, arguing that “what’s 600 shekels for them”.
The family and the state have to inform the court within a month whether they accept the judge’s recommendation.