Russian Compound, Jerusalem - Stone Throwing, Danger to Regional Security
Translation: Marganit W.
4 hearings, 4 detainees, 4 remand extensions.
Justice Shalom Dahan (on reserve duty; the last few months he officiated at the military court in Ashkelon).
Defense: Attorney Marwan Abulafia (representing the first detainee as a private attorney, and the other three as replacement for Attorney Awiwi of the “Detainees Club.” Investigator: Itzik. 2 SHABAK (GSS) representatives.
We arrived at ten and waited an hour in the waiting room. [Note to other observers: it later transpired that due to renovations, this and the following trials were set for 11o’clock].
Attorney Abulafia informed us that “Ofer” attorneys are on strike today, protesting an increase in severity of sentences, especially when the charges are “membership,” and “holding positions” [in “hostile organizations] etc. The Chief Prosecutor, Erez Hasson, has proclaimed his intention to hand down stiffer sentences. Abulafia claims that the customary 6 months will now be augmented to 14 months to two years and more.
On the way to the courtroom we passed the prisoners’ cells, which were mostly empty due to the remodeling. Three detainees were standing by the entrance, with handcuffs, shackles and huge opaque glasses, accompanied by guards. One of the detainees was squeezed behind a door, his face to the wall. Whenever the door was used, the guard pushed it further to the wall, squeezing the constrained detainee even more. The other detainees were standing with their blindfolded faces to the wall.
Against these scenes, the demonstrably polite behavior of the judge throughout the trial stood out: he went out of his way to apologize for the delay, and told us that he too had to wait, and that he thought about us and worried that we might get impatient and leave. Since he was so considerate, we asked him why the detainees had to be held under such uncomfortable and humiliating conditions. He replied, “I don’t know what goes on behind the door.” He said that everyone has a duty, and he is not responsible for the detention procedures, which are dictated by the Prison Services. Before the trial, he greeted the young new interpreter and wished him luck. He told him that the translation is entrusted to his hands and nobody else is allowed to translate the proceedings. Later on it turned out that the young man – who seemed quite helpless – was unable to translate accurately, and everybody present tried to intervene, displaying various degrees of proficiency in Arabic: the lawyer, naturally, the prosecutor – who was also fluent in Arabic – and even the judge, who was proud of his ability to recognize some expressions and numbers etc. However, we heard the interpreter asking the investigator how to translate SHABAK (GSS) into Arabic. “Muhabarat,” the latter replied, and his normally dour and expressionless face brightened for a brief moment.
The first detainee was let in. He was Haled Abu Bahaa, 34, from Bityunia. He was arrested on Jan. 13, following his summons to Ofer. This is his first remand extension. The blindfolding glasses were taken off and he put on his own round metal prescription glasses, which gave him the look of an intellectual. It later turned out that he is in fact at the last stages of his academic studies and is a member of various human rights and prisoner rights associations. The investigator claimed that the latter is an illegal Hamas organization. He had already been subjected to investigations due to his activity in those organizations and had twice been put under administrative detention.
The prosecution demands 30 days remand extension. The entire material is confidential and is put in front of the judge, who leafs through it from time to time [ it was later claimed that he had perused it thoroughly].
Here is a partial transcript of the trial:
Attorney: Has he cooperated with the investigators? Did he answer their questions?
Investigator: Cooperation is a relative term.
Attorney: Is it true that two and a half years ago he was detained and investigated on charges of endangering security in the region?
Investigator: He is being investigated for specific charges not about his past.
Attorney: My client says he is being questioned now about the same charges that were brought against him in the past. What is your response?
Investigator: He is investigated only about new charges. The evidence is in the report.
Attorney: What is the difference between this investigation and the previous one?
Investigator: There are new charges. They are written in the report.
The defense insists on learning what the new allegations are, and the investigator repeats his reply, refusing to talk about the past and disclaiming any knowledge of previous charges. The judge sides with the prosecutor saying he has an updated report in front of him with no reference to the past. He tells the defense: if you have any other material, present it. The defense says his client has been an administrative detainee, and the material pertaining to such detentions is confidential and is not shared with the defense.
During this persistent bickering, the investigator keeps referring to the report lying in front of the judge and undisclosed to the attorney. The judge, having grown impatient, finally instructs the investigator to respond with “Irrelevant” to the defense’s claims. At one point, the judge declares a break so the defense can confer with the client. The investigator objects, and the judge urges him, in a friendly fashion, to give in, because “this is not adding anything and is not helpful.” The two leave for a few minutes. We are under the impression that during this break the judge has already dictated his decision to the typist, and he later reads it from the monitor (while the typist makes some corrections). Thus, whatever transpired afterwards indeed did not add anything.
After the break, the defense attorney tried to present his client’s claims – things he had said at his investigation – relating to the present allegations: the association he worked for is registered both in Israel and in Ramallah. Since it was declared illegal, he resigned and started working at the Palestinian Employment Office. The attorney requests the prosecution’s response to each claim. The investigator invariably replied: I refer you to the confidential report. The attorney insists he needs this information and the response in order to defend his client. At this point the judge intervenes, siding with the prosecution and telling the attorney – genially, pleasantly – that the investigator has no choice: he cannot refer to any detail in the confidential report. The attorney repeats his claim that his client has already been detained and investigated about the same allegations, and that he has paid dearly – 18 months of administrative detention. The investigator, who has taken the judge’s advice, now keeps responding with “irrelevant.” At the conclusion, the attorney asks to release the defendant on bail until the trial. He proposes his client move to Area C, and he himself guarantees that he will appear in court when summoned, as happened in the past.
The detainee gets the floor: his speech is restrained, but it is evident that he is in distress. He describes his detentions and concludes that the SHABAK has decided to deprive him of a normal life. Since his last release, he was able to go back to school and has one semester to graduation. He asks to be released so he can complete his studies and undergo a medical treatment. He assures the court he will report to his trial when summoned.
The Judge’s Decision: Enable the SHABAK to continue the investigation, so that it “bears fruit,” since the ”allegations are serious” and there is “reasonable doubt” that he participated in “some of the alleged activities.” [These are all stock phrases that appear in all decisions]. Remand extension for 12 days.
Next hearing set for 28.1.08.
In this session, Abu Bahaa’s hearing was the longest and most significant. Later, 3 more detainees were admitted, all suspected of being a “threat to the security in the region.” In all three cases, prosecution and defense agree to a certain remand extension. All three detainees are young:
Nadi Suleiman – 24, from Beit Ur-Tahta, detained on Dec. 31, 07. This is his second remand. Until yesterday (Jan. 16) , he was barred from seeing his attorney. Apparently at midnight he signed a confession and the ban was lifted. However, as far as we could see, the attorney did not confer with him, but came to an agreement on an 11 day extension that was ratified by the judge. Nadi requested visits by family members and a transfer to Ofer prison.
Muhammad Dahj, 19 from Beit Sira, arrested on Dec. 31, 07. This is his second remand. In his investigation he confessed to throwing stones on Rd. 443. The judge beamed at him kindly and said, “You guys are OK, you don’t cause trouble.” Later he told us that he himself was hurt from a stone on that road, “which we all use,” and he suffered a damage of ten thousand shekels. Still, he said proudly, we could see that he did not inject any personal feelings into the trial…
Remand extension for 11 days.
The next hearing at Ofer on Sunday, 27.1.08.
Zamed Abdel Fatah, 17. Arrested on 30.12.07. This is his second remand. He looked very poorly. Even the judge noticed and asked how he was doing. The boy said he had been beaten by a prison guard the day before and thrown forcefully into a cell. This, he claimed, happened when he asked the guard for bread. The judge said he would personally take it up with the prison commander. We never found out the results of this enquiry. Based on the suspect’s admission to throwing stones, the judge said, he decided to show leniency – and also due to his young age – and agree to… 11 days remand.