Ofer - Traffic

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Hagit Shlonsky, Hava Halevi (reporting)

Translation: Marganit W.

About thirty people were waiting in the outer court for the guard to issue entry permits. They were heading for the Traffic Court. Our colleague Haya Ofek has written about the shenanigans taking place in that court in her report entitled "Guide to the Perplexed". We, too, were heading that way.

 We found the usual collection of traffic violations: driving without a license, failure to stop at a stop sign, ignoring a dividing line etc. If you know nothing about the social and political background of the violators and the violations, everything may look routine. Only later do things get clearer.

Two police officers pleaded for the prosecution: the veteran Gaby Romy and a
young lawyer who told me she is a rooky and still learning the ropes.

This is how it went:
A trial was in progress before a judge (f.) whose name we don't know. The prosecutor read from a list the name of one of the traffic violators who was in court. He approached her, and right there, before he had a chance to talk to the judge, or to plead his case, the prosecutor offered him a prepared plea bargain, explaining the risks, i.e., the severe sentence he would get if he did not accept the bargain. Most defendants accept; it turned out that most have already paid a large part of the fine included in the plea bargain, when they received the citation.

One defendant, a contractor who often works in Israel, was coming home
from a funeral with his wife and 5 children at 11 PM, driving on a dark road from Ephrat to Rt. 60. An officer stopped him claiming he had crossed a white dividing line. The man denied the allegation, claiming it was not his vehicle; the place was totally dark so the officer could not possibly identify his car from many other similar vehicles. His wife also testified. We were convinced. The judge, however had to decide between the word of a policeman and the word of a Palestinian civilian. No surprises. She believed the policeman. The contractor was fined 1500 shekels (a 1000 of which he had already paid when detained) and his license was suspended for a month.

During the policeman's testimony we discovered something interesting: he said he knew that road very well because he and other policemen had taken part in building that road. It turns out that Israeli police officers receive special permits to work in road construction and other projects of the Civil Administrationinfo-icon, while they are o vacation, as a way of generating some extra income. Can anyone of our educated readers check the legality of this practice?

We wrote down the penalties and fines received by traffic violators during the hour and a half we sat in the court:
-For driving without a license and without insurance - 3000 shekels and suspended sentence of 4 months for 3 years.
-For driving without a license - 3000 shekels [the defendant asked to prorate the fine].
-Ignoring a stop sign - 1500 shekels.
-In addition: one fine of 3000 shekels, 5 fines of 1500 each and one 1000 shekel fine.

In order to verify our impression that this procedure is a cash cow for the benefit of the Israeli police, we went to the Traffic Court at Giva-Shaul to watch the trials that take place there. For unrelated reasons, we were able to watch very little, but we gained a couple of insights:
A. All the defendants there were Arabs, so we could not determine if there was bias based on nationality.
B. There was nothing resembling a plea bargain, which is common in the military courts.
C. The judge seemed pleasant and fair.