High Court of Justice - Danger to Regional Security, Membership/activity in unauthorized association

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Hava Halevi and Hagit Shlonsky

Translation: Marganit W.

Justices: A. Procaccia (Chief Justice), A. Hayout, Y. Danziger

Defense: Attys. Elias Khoury and Ilan Katz

We attended the hearing of an appeal filed on behalf of Ghazi Kasem Issa, a moneychanger from Ramallah, who petitions to reclaim five million shekels that the army confiscated in September 2006 during a raid on the offices of the Ajuli Company owned by him.

Like many other Ramallah merchants who had money and property seized during that raid, Ghazi Issa has been negotiating for the return of the seized money. But unlike others, he refused to forfeit part of the sum. He appealed to the High Court of Justice against the commander of the region, demanding the return of all the money taken by the army during the raid. On 9.3.07, almost 6 months after his money was seized, and one day before the date set for the state to respond to the appeal, he was arrested on charges of providing services to a terror organization. The allegations were based on working relations the appellant had with the Charity Committee in Ramallah. His trial at Ofer Military Court lasted a year. He was incarcerated for that entire period and all motions to release him on bail were denied.

In March 2008 he was acquitted of all charges and released. The Military Prosecution appealed the decision and the court retracted the acquittal and convicted him. His defense filed an appeal with the High Court of Justice and this was the hearing we attended.

Together with the above procedure, the hearing included an appeal of the administrative procedure regarding the forfeiture of Mr. Issa's money, which is only allegedly

unrelated to the charges that led to his conviction in the military court.

The appellant himself was not present in court, nor had he attended earlier hearings of his HCJ appeals. The defense described the means by which the prosecution prevented him from attending the hearing: in essence, they deliberately heaped hardships and trumped-up requirements, citing "endangerment" (on one occasion they demanded escort of a security company; today they mandated that his attorney obtain an exit permit for his client from the civil administrationinfo-icon to leave Zone A and that he drive the appellant in his own car to the High Court in Jerusalem). Even the Chief Justice acknowledged that those restrictions amounted to harassment of the appellant and his attorney.

The defense based its appeal on the claim that it was Mr. Issa's refusal to forfeit his money - which he called extortion by the authority - that led to his arrest in the first place and to his lengthy incarceration ‘until the conclusion of the proceedings'. It was his adamant stand that prompted the Military Court of Appeals to annul his acquittal and convict him. The defense cited an agreement between the prosecution and the defense reached during the trial two years ago, an agreement later ignored by the prosecution. The attorney further questioned the section of the "Defense (Emergency) Regulations" that was the base of the forfeiture. According to the defense, following the acquittal - which the prosecution objected to - the authorities confiscated the appellant's money, in addition to the funds of the Charity Committee. The defense explained the status of the Charity Committee in Ramallah - whose members are appointed by the Palestinian Authority - vehemently rejecting the allegation that it is a terror organization, adding that a proclamation declaring the Committee illegal had never been published in "Rashumot" [official journal of legislative and administrative actions] nor given to the members of the committee or to the many donors who contribute to the charitable organization.

Atty. Segal, arguing for the State, stated that the war against terror was at the background of this case. Again and again he reiterated that the appellant is a senior officer of Hamas (even though there was absolutely no reference to such a claim during Mr. Issa's trial). He pointed out that in the confidential material supplied by the GSS, the justices would find the explanation that would enable them to decide whether the money was, or was not, forfeited according to regulations.

Justice Hayout insisted on establishing a time line: what preceded what: the seizure of the money, its forfeiture, the acquittal etc. She upbraided the defense whose statements, she claimed, did not correspond to the dates of the events in question.  Atty. Segal, the respondent, was also censured for not presenting the relevant documents properly.

The respondent asserted that the confidential material contained the answers both to the present appeal regarding Mr. Issa's forfeited money, and to the other appeal (not discussed today) regarding prohibiting Mr. Issa from leaving the country. The confidential material indicates, he insisted, that the appellant is a security risk.

At the end of the session the audience was ordered to vacate the court so that the esteemed judges could examine the confidential material. An hour later they announced that they would continue to study the case and would hand down their decision in a few days.

We will follow up.