Ofer - Plea Bargain, Stone Throwing

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Ofra Ben-Artzi, Judith Sternberg (reporting)

Translation: Marganit W.  

There were 40-50 juvenile detaineesinfo-icon in Justice Sharon Rivlin-Ahai’s court today. Monday and Thursday are the children’s days. Indeed, the defendants’ benches looked like an elementary school class, except that here the women in charge were not mothers or teachers, but prosecutors and judges.

We attended a session where Atty. Ahmad Safiya was the defense: 6 children were sitting in pairs: a pair from Harbata, a pair from Beit Ur and a pair from some other village. After the hearing the parents told us about the method of hunting minors (of which we are painfully aware) employed by the security forces in the area: they come to villages in Zones B and C with their vehicles, weapons and gear, park near the school, wait for classes to be over and provoke the children into throwing rocks. The parents don’t deny the allegation, saying only that “kids will be kids”. Then, in the dead of night (at 2:30 AM) the children are abducted from their homes by the same troops and detained until the proceedings are completed. Most cases end up with a plea bargain, and, as in the case of the 15 year old before us, with the same penalty: 4 months in custody, 8 months suspended sentence and a 1'500 shekels fine. This show is repeated again and again, and had it not been a matter of criminal law and young lives, you might say the routine is crushingly boring.

You cannot remain indifferent to the scene in Justice Rivlin-Ahai’s courtroom: both the judge and the prosecutors are women, young, Jewish, good-looking, energetic Israeli women. Facing them are the minors and their attorneys – all of them Arab boys and men. It is hard to watch the prosecutors’ persistent struggle against Palestinian children.

In Courtroom 1 three judges preside over cases where the penalty exceeds ten years. Here we find Salah Ahmad Omar Jahlin, accused of holding and trading in weapons – a charge going back to 2008. The case intrigued us because he has been detained for two years and is not represented by an attorney but defends himself. He looks about 50. No relatives were present in court. We were strictly forbidden to talk to him or get his phone number so we could obtain details from his relatives. The case is in ‘arguments for penalty’ stage, and earlier this morning the judges instructed the prosecutor to obtain more information about the defendant’s accomplices. The session resumes at noon. It turns out that Salah Jahlin had two accomplices who have already been indicted. One accomplice was sentenced to 28 months in jail, while in Salah’s case, the prosecution argues for 15 years. The judges query the prosecution’s request, stressing the “enormous gap” between the two penalties for the same violation. They invoke the “equal punishment principle” which is valid even in cases of repeated violation for which the accused has paid both in jail time and in fine. Eventually, the defendant was given a chance to address the court. He asked to receive the same punishment as his accomplice [file 3264/08, ID 990670150]

Once again, it was hard to watch a young, good-looking prosecutor fighting like a lioness protecting her young to impose such a harsh punishment on a defendant who does not even have an attorney to plead for him.

In the yard outside the court we witness the dilemma of Atty. Neri Ramati to reach a plea bargain for a detainee, Jamal Rimawi, from Beit Rima, charged with throwing rocks. Under consideration was a five-month detention (additional 3 weeks for the detainee) versus evidentiary trial. The prosecution had summoned a witness for today’s hearing, but it turned out that it was the wrong witness. We later found out that the detainee rejected the plea bargain, which included a 4000 shekels fine – a sum he could not afford.

We encountered a similar reality in Justice Zvi Heilbrun’s court: The defendant, Muhammad Abd Al Majeed Abd Alsalam Za’ul was convicted (in a revised charge sheet) of being a member of a unit of the Popular Front from August 2008 until his arrest on January 2009; he is charged with collaboration in the production of fire bombs, using the devices and throwing rocks. Through his attorney, Haled Alaraj, a plea bargain was reached whereby he would serve 24 months in jail and pay a fine. Since he has no prior convictions, and he has accepted the charges, and since the penalty is commensurate with that of the other members of the unit, the court accepted the plea bargain: 24 months in jail, 12 month suspended sentence for 5 years and a fine of 2000 shekels.