Ofer - Stone Throwing, Holding and trading of combat materiel

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Hava Halevi (reporting)

Translation: Diana Rubanenko

The Military Court of Appeals, in a panel of three judges, is discussing the prosecution's appeal to increase the sentence of Mahmoud Burkan, a resident of Hebron accused of stabbing a Border Police soldier at the Cave of Machpela [the Ibrahimi Mosque] checkpoint and charged with attempted manslaughter. The case has been proceeding for three years. The court sentenced him to five years, and the prosecution is now appealing the light penalty.

The prosecutor, whose name I don't know, argued vigorously and at length. He cited precedents and previous rulings to persuade the judges to hand down an aggravated sentence for the man who "stabbed a  Border Police soldier in his neck". For the prosecutor, the idea that five years after the stabbing incident the accused could go home and constitute a grave risk to his surroundings (that is, the soldiers at the checkpoint) seemed appalling and dangerous.

It transpired during the hearing that the accused, who is married with six children, has been schizophrenic for the past twenty years. His statements to the police and during the trial itself were inconsistent and contradictory. And it also transpired  that the knife - the weapon - was a small knife that broke on the soldier's neck during the stabbing, and the soldier was slightly scratched. In a previous session, the accused had apparently said that he bought the knife to kill his brother. In that statement, the prosecutor found confirmation that the knife was indeed suitable and appropriate for use as a murder weapon. The psychiatrist's evidence, given at previous sessions in the course of 16 hours, did not persuade the lower court - which handed down a five-year sentence. The lower court decided and the prosecution quoted accordingly: although the accused is a schizophrenic, during the attack he was not subject to a schizophrenic episode and was acting like a normal person, and he is thus certainly fit to stand trial. (In the words of one of the judges "he may have been mentally ill beforehand, and maybe afterwards too, but during the incident he was not ill"). Thus it must be stated that the background to the stabbing is not pathological but rather hate and anger - i.e., a nationalist motive. The witnesses for the prosecution were other soldiers who were staffing the checkpoint at the time. No Palestinian witness was brought from the people who were standing at the checkpoint at the same time.
We wondered why...

The defence lawyer, Mahmoud Shahin, told the court that the accused has lived all his life by the checkpoint and has never demonstrated any hostile or dangerous behaviour towards it, had never been recruited by any organization, and did not think about harming soldiers serving at the checkpoint: the stabbing had no nationalist motive, therefore.

What was missing at the trial, though it may have been described at previous sessions, was a description of the actual incident. How, and in what circumstances, did Mahmoud Burkan stab the soldier. The defence attorney said that he had gone to buy bread because he was hungry and had asked the soldiers for bread. The soldier pushed him but the interaction between them - who pushed, who grabbed whomand why he stabbed the soldier- was not described at this session.

The verdict is to be given at a later date.

Courtroom Nr. 2

Justice Sharon Rivlin Ahai

In this court, the prosecution lawyer was examining a high school student at an agricultural school in Hebron, who had been found to have a knife in his pocket, at the Cave of Machpela checkpoint. For half an hour, the examination centred on the knife:

Q. Where did you get the knife?

A. From home.

Q. Why did you bring a knife from home to school?

A. We need a knife for agriculture class.

Q. How many agriculture classes are there every week?

A. All our classes are on agriculture. It's an agricultural school.

Q. Do you bring the knife to school every day?

A. No. Only when I have to.

Q. Why do you need a knife in agriculture classes?

(The prosecutor shows the knife to the court)

A. For the trees.

Q. What do you do with the knife?

A. We cut open the trunk of the tree (the knife is for grafting)

Q. Which trees?

A. Pistachio.

Q. Why don't you leave the knife at school?

A. Because it's my property. It's not the school's.

Q. Where did you put the knife when you left school?

A. In my jacket pocket.

Q. Do you always walk around with a knife?

A. No, only when I have to bring it to school.

Q. It's April - why do you need a jacket?

A. It was cold in the morning.

Q. When the soldier at the checkpoint asked you whether you have anything made of metal, why did you say that you didn't?

A. I forgot it was in my pocket.

Q. How could you forget something like that?

A. It's a very big pocket.

(Here the judge asks why the jacket wasn't brought to show the court)

Q. So why did you start stammering and trembling when they asked you if you have a dangerous object?

A. I didn't stammer and tremble.

Q. But the soldiers said you started stammering and trembling

A. I didn't stammer and tremble.

Q. But the magnometer beeped...

A. I thought it was because of my belt...

And so on and so on, knife, knife, knife, knife....

Also tried before the same judge was Issa Halil Falach Fayik. He was 15 and a half when he threw stones and "incendiary material" at Road 60. He has been under arrest for six months together with three of his friends. Attorney Mahmoud Shahin hoped to conclude the trial on the same day, but one of Issa's friends agreed to a plea bargain in which he would receive a 17-month sentence. The attorney preferred not to conclude the trial that day, and to try and reach a more mitigating arrangement with the prosecution.

The trial will continue next month.