Ofer - Plea Bargain, Sentence

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Hava Halevi, Avital Toch

Translation: Marganit W.

This is a special day. In the U.S. a new president has been elected bringing new hope. At Ofer, too, we witnessed a day when all three detaineesinfo-icon brought before the court were acquitted.

Judge: Shlomo Katz

Defense: Issam Lidawi

Case No 1839/08 - Samer Nimer Muhammad Hassarme

Arrested on 29.1.08.

This Ofer court case was first recorded by Neta Golan and Leah Reichman on 27.2.08.

The charge: providing services for an illegal association. The association in question is Alhansaa - a women's organization sponsoring a school and a women's clinic in the village. The services consisted of fundraising and building the school. The defense pointed out several times that the defendant cannot be accused of being a member of this organization, because it is a women's organization.

The defendant is a wealthy contractor, owner of a construction company in Ramallah. He garnered donations, mostly from Dubai, to build a school in the village, which his wife runs for the Alhansaa association.

The defendant, who is not dressed in prison garb, looks good. He talks with his wife and brother in law, who sit in the court, behind the guards.

The court has held 11 hearings in this case, including two appeals which the defense presented against detention until the end of legal proceeding, and which were rejected by the military court of appeals. Attorney Lidawi has argued before the court that Alhansaa Association is endorsed by the Palestinian Authority. In one of the earlier hearings the defense proved that the association is not included in the list of proscribed organizations, but then the army added it to the list, thus making it retroactively illegal.

The entire hearing lasted about ten minutes, then, suddenly, the judge declared that a decision would be given within an hour, without explanations, and the military prosecution will be publicly reprimanded.

The decision was indeed given in the afternoon. Samer Nimer Muhammad Hassarme was acquitted of all charges, but...  Of course, the prosecution requested, and was granted, 72 hours to appeal. We'll see what happens on Sunday.

Case No. 4730/07 - Sheikh Ali Mustafa Ahmad Hanun

Arrested on March 2007 with administrative detention. Since 6.6.07 he has been detained on criminal charges.

Since 2007 he has been arrested and tried five times for the same offense: membership and activity in Hamas.

Defense: Iliya Theodori

We have been following this case for a long time. Hanun is blind from birth and until his arrest served as leader of the Ussra (Koran study group) in the village. He is accused of being a member of Hamas.

I ask myself, how can a blind man threaten state security? Throw rocks? Make explosive charges? Plan terrorist attacks? Hide weapons? Transfer money at Allenby Bridge? He can't see! He can't even blow himself up on Israeli buses. He can, of course, incite against Israel, but this is done better by the Israeli soldiers.

He sits on the bench in the military court, smiling and blinking his blind eyes.

His attorney reached an agreement with the prosecution: 17 months in jail to start with his arrest, as indicated by the revised indictment. The reasons for this arrangement: his relevant criminal record, the state of his health, his admission (which saved the court some valuable time), and on the other hand (how daintily phrased!) uncertainty about the evidence regarding his membership in Hamas.

In plain terms: the allegation cannot be proved, so the sentence is the same number of months that he has already served in jail, plus 1000 shekel fine. He will probably be released today.

The third case is the most intriguing.

Israa Ibrahim Alaa Alamarna, 21 years old, resident of Dahayshe.

Arrested on the night of 1.2.08 (it was snowing, her father says, and the soldiers ordered the children outside).

Charges: membership and activity [in illegal organization] plus conspiracy to cause death.

Defense: Ahlam Haddad.

The ‘conspiracy to cause death' is in fact an allegation that she was recruited to be a suicide bomber.

After ten months in jail, the defendant looks wan and emaciated. She is a commercial art student from the Polytechnic College in Hebron. She earns a living as a wedding photographer.

The defendant denies all the allegations.

Her parents are present in court.

The military prosecutor has compiled an impressive case including three witness and replete with many dates, names etc. The witnesses named her in the GSS interrogation (but not just her name; the entire case is based on incrimination). They described how and through whom they met her, and how they offered her to become a suicide bomber. As often happens, in the trial, they denied the earlier statement, claiming that they mentioned her name only because the interrogators applied pressure.

The prosecution declared them "hostile witnesses". The GSS interrogators testified that the interrogations were conducted by the book, and no pressure was put on the detainees, who volunteered their testimony "out of their own free will". (One can only imagine what "free will" looks like in the interrogation room). The defendant's categorical denial, said the prosecutor, only strengthens the prosecutions case against her.

We could not hear Asraa's voice. Throughout the hearing she sat with a book in her hand, praying.

Then the defense attorney dismantled the prosecution's case brick by brick. She described Asraa's life - a student, supporting herself and her parents with her work, very religious and socially involved. She had no suicidal intentions. Her incriminators had been declared hostile witnesses and the prosecution claimed that they had lied under oath. Why, asked the defense, should we believe their statement to the GSS and the police and not their testimony in court?

In short: there was no police lineup, no confrontation between Asraa and her incriminators, no witnesses (named in the interrogation) summoned, except the incriminators and the GSS interrogators. One witness said that he had proposed marriage to the defendant. How is this possible, asked the defense? Did he ask for her hand or did he ask her to commit suicide? These are mutually exclusive propositions.

Again, the prosecution made no attempt to collect information, present documents or summon witnesses mentioned in the interrogation. The prosecutors evidently depend on the judges to do their work for them, automatically accepting their allegations in the name of security concerns.

The judge suddenly lifted his hands and said: Decision time. "I have not rested my case," said the defense attorney, "Mrs. Haddad, you are pushing at an open door. This is redundant. I release the defendant for reasonable doubt.

When the word "baraa" (acquitted) was heard in the court, the amazed parents rose to their feet and her father clapped his hands. The defendant herself trembled and wept, all the while clutching the prayer book in her hand. A small commotion ensued, the judge went out to lunch, and we drove back to Jerusalem.

Later that afternoon, the father told us that the prosecution was granted 72 hours to appeal.

In America people were dancing in the streets. We will have to wait a while.

72 hours later, the father told us that the court had given the prosecution two more days to appeal. The next hearing will be presided by three judges.