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Occupation magazine - Life under occupation
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The Military "Justice" System
The military justice system is an arm of the Occupation. It includes (among other things) detainment facilities, prisons, interrogation centers and courts. These places are all hidden away from the public`s eye, at least to a certain extent. Some of them operate under complete secrecy. Even the military courts, which according to the principle of open legal debate should enable public access for anyone wishing to follow the hearings, are located inside military or police complexes, where entry is possible only with a special permit.
Palestinians living in the West Bank are governed by military laws and by numerous decrees issued by military commanders in the region. This system controls each and every aspect of daily Palestinian life. The Occupier determines the laws, and is also the one punishing those who break them. Moreover, successive Israeli governments have retained the emergency `defense decrees` issued by the British Mandate in 1945; they have done so specifically in order to enhance their ability to oppress minorities.
Article number 84 of these decrees states that `membership in a hostile organization` is a felony punishable by law. But defining a `hostile organization` is a very flexible affair. In Israel`s case it is totally up to the Shin Bet - an organization having at its disposal a state, a military and a court system, all of them anxious to ensure that everyone, everyone loves Israel. In case someone does not - every day, usually at night, soldiers break into Occupied residents` homes and arrest dozens of people, according to `wanted` lists prepared by the Shin Bet. Most of these lists are generated via snitches and confessions. Thousands of Palestinians have been arrested for `membership in a hostile organization`, an act which in the Shin Bet`s sanitized terminology is known as `a danger to the area`s security`. Dozens of office holders in the democratically elected Palestinian government - ministers, officials and even community center managers - have been arrested and are on trial in Israel. They will eventually be sentenced to prison, for the crime of `membership in a hostile organization`. Taking part in a student group, participating in prayers, organizing rallies and demonstrations - all these are illegal according to Occupation law, and `violators` end up in prison.
Despite the farcical pretense that Israel is ruled by just laws, Palestinian detainees have no protection from the tyranny of interrogation. The interrogator can hold them under his thumb for three months without access to a lawyer. Even when they can finally meet their lawyer when the court discusses detainment extension, usually the lawyer has little idea about the actual indictment. The entire body of evidence is `classified material` or `secret file`. The judge browses the material, confirms that the allegations are indeed very grave, and extends the arrest. The lawyer can of course object, within the rules of the game, and is usually being heard by the court; however, upon the extension`s end, the interrogator can easily ask for more and more extensions, which will be granted.
Even the trials themselves are revolting. Very seldom does a genuine trial take place, with witnesses and evidence. Most cases are closed in a plea bargain. A lawyer representing Palestinian prisoners explains: `Of course I can run a trial with evidence, demand that witnesses be brought for counter-examination and so forth; but this will take 2-3 years [during which the defendant remains in prison]. It`s better to close a plea bargain. The inmate will sit an extra half-year to a year, and will return home. Even the families press to close a deal as soon as possible.`
Another aspect that appears painful to knowledgeable Israelis: fines and bails. Even defendants determined by the court to be safe enough to be released before trial, get a bail set at many thousands, sometimes even tens of thousands of shekels. For most Palestinian families, these are staggering sums. Obtaining the bail money back, sometimes only 2-3 years after the trial is over, is a long and tortuous process, involving endless hassles, futile waits at checkpoints and lost workdays. Additionally, in many prison sentences the judge also imposes a fine of several thousand shekels - an extra shock to a family that has usually just lost its main provider for long years.
And what did Aharon Barak , Israel`s former Chief Supreme Court Justice, have to say about all this Shin Bet - Police - IDF -Prison Service - Military Counsels - Military Justice farce? `Even at times of war, it is important to safeguard human rights.`
By Hava HaLevi (Translation: Assaf Oron)
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