Ofer - Release on Bail, Stone Throwing

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Judith Sternberg, Hava Halevi, Hagit Shlonsky (reporting) and Ulrike V., a visitor from Germany

Translation: Marganit W.

Courtroom 5

Morning Session 10:15-12:30:   Remand Extensions
Judge: Captain (Res.) Zvi Frankel
Prosecution: 2 officers, a Captain and a Lieutenant

There were five attorneys in the court, each representing one or more detaineesinfo-icon of the 14 brought before the court this morning and processed "conveyor belt" fashion. Most of the detainees were boys, all dressed in
brown prison uniform, some looking like mere kids.
There were family members in the audience. Relatives of two of the boys were not present (both were represented by Atty. Lubani).

This was a particularly depressing session. It is was infuriating to watch how harshly the court treats young boys brought in shackled and manacled for remand extensions. The judge, the prosecution and some of the defense attorneys were obviously ignorant of many details of the detainee's stories: they scan the files quickly and perfunctorily, showing very little interest even in the circumstances that led to the arrests. The process we witnessed today smacked of mean-spiritedness, vindictiveness, or, at best, indifference and carelessness.

Most of the cases today involved minors suspected of rock throwing, often with other youngsters and over several years. We know very well how these "events" (in Security parlance) develop. On 6.12.09 Tamar P. reported from Qalandiya Checkpoint: "He (the policeman) and his colleagues from the Border Police created a provocation in order to lure kids from the refugee camp to throw rocks at them. As one of the Palestinians reported, 'even when the kids don't throw rocks, they (the police) make them (the kids) do it.'"

A few of the attorneys pleaded for the release of the minors, arguing that in some cases the events occurred several years ago (one of those minors was then11 years old), and besides,  none of the cases involved any damage. The attorneys complained about lack of evidence, even "alleged evidence" on which to base the charges at this point in the proceedings. The police or the army did not even report about some of these "events". The only testimony is an admission by the minor during the interrogation. About such admissions the attorney said: "under such conditions, of detention and interrogation, a young detainee will confess even to the assassination of [the late Prime Minister] Rabin."

A few months ago, the Military Court at Ofer began holding separate hearings for minors. The authorities declared in the media that the intention is to adopt some of the procedures used in the Juvenile Courts in Israel. So far they adopted only the practice of holding these hearings 'in camerainfo-icon'. Sessions are held on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to the end of day. The judge appointed to these hearings is Sharon Rivlin-Achai. Apparently, remand extensions of minors are still heard during regular court sessions, and the 'in camera' hearings are held only after an indictment has been filed. If this is indeed the case (we'll check), then the promise to separate the hearings of minors from adults, though a successful PR ploy, is an empty and irrelevant development, because the arrest (often carried out at night at the boys' homes) and the subsequent interrogations are precisely the stages when special proceedings for minors are called for. We saw no sign of such consideration in court today.

Here's a report of one of the cases we witnessed today:

Salah Abu-Ghosh, 14 years old, was arrested three weeks ago on charges of throwing rocks and an incendiary object.
Salah suffers from a stomach disease requiring treatments in hospital. During his last remand extension, on 1.12.09, the court ordered an 8-day extension and ordered a doctor's examination and the necessary treatment. Attorney Iyad Misk (from Addameer Organization) claims that the boy was indeed seen by a doctor but did not receive any medical treatment. The prosecutor responded, "the General Prisons Service knows how to treat detainees, young and old alike." The detainee's mother, who was in the audience, got up and explained to the court the nature of her son's illness and offered to be detained in his place.
The judge summed up the case in the usual clichés: the file shows that there is ground for detention until the conclusion of the proceedings: the detainee's admission and a testimony by Witness No. 2 are sufficient evidence ... nevertheless, the special circumstances - the boy's age and his medical condition - may justify a release on bail ... However, it is expected of someone with such medical problems to abandon all activity against the security forces and focus on his condition...

The detainee will be released under the following conditions:
12,000 shekel deposit; third party guarantee of 5000 shekels; the defendant will remain in his mother's custody at home, except for school and doctor's visits.

The mother, Maysoon Abu-Ghosh, appalled by the exorbitant sum of the bail, rose to her feet again, and the judge allowed her to speak. Again, she offered to be detained in place of her son, and complained that she did not have that kind of money. The attorney confirmed that the family has no money. The judge countered by lowering the sum to 8000 shekels. To his question about her work, she replied that she takes care of her home and her son. Asked about her husband's work, she said he was a mason, a day worker, at present unemployed. Only then did the judge deign to reduce the bail for the release of a 14-year old deemed danger to security in the area.
The reduced sum may not advance Salah's release. The prosecution requested, and was granted, a stay of 72 hours, apparently in order to appeal the decision. Until the appeal hearing, Salah will remain in jail.

Next hearing is set for 31.12.09. Two more cases will be heard during that session, whereupon indictment will be brought. The attorney is Ihab Jalid (?).
Detainees represented by Mahmud Hassan (sitting for Atty. Firas from Addameer) will hear their indictments on Monday, 28.12.09.