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Occupation magazine - Features & Translations
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The guilt of the judges
The guilt of the judges
Ofra Ben Artzi
Haaretz 11 January 2012
Translated from Hebrew by George Malent
It has recently been reported that the IDF Military Advocate General opposes the Prime Minister’s initiative to put violent Jewish settlers on trial in military courts (Haim Levinson and Tomer Zarhin, Haaretz 27 December 2011). Indeed, those courts have quite a different role. For years my comrades and I have been monitoring the military courts at Ofer and the Russian Compound, which hear the cases of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories. From the hundreds of trials that we have reported on we have learned that the role of the military judges in the Israeli system to control the Palestinian population goes beyond a mere rubber-stamp. They give a judicial seal of approval, without which the Occupation would have ended long ago.
In order to understand the scene in court you have to know the scenes that go along with it. It all starts with the scene of the arrest, where soldiers act with overt brute force. They seize Palestinians and put them into detention in operations that look like kidnappings to the Palestinians. The next scene takes place in concealed interrogation rooms, where Israel Security Agency (ISA – Shin Bet) agents interrogate the Palestinians using “special” methods. The interrogations produce “confidential reports” that are shown to the judge for the purpose of repeated extensions of detention, until the Palestinian is “ripe” to move on to the next scene – the court. Nearly 100% of Palestinian suspects (according to the report of the military courts for 2010) proceed from there to the last scene – prison. About a million Palestinians have made this journey since June 1967.
The military judges who have deprived an entire nation of its freedom and criminalized the majority of its members for nearly half a century now are no less violent than the soldiers and the interrogators. On the contrary; the judges exploit their positions of honour, their educations and the intellectual authority they get from being perceived as principled people to wreak havoc in violation of international law. Those judges, who diligently and knowingly strive to dress the Occupation in a cloak of law and justice, are worse than the other actors, who at least not do not pretend to be what they are not. The soldier and the interrogator do what they have been taught to do, whereas the military judge pretends to “promote justice and the integration of the rule of law.” (Quote from the website of the IDF Military Advocate General)
In the Russian Compound in Jerusalem the role of the judges is to authorize the prolongation of detention for interrogation purposes at the request of the ISA. In Israel a suspect can be interrogated for 24 hours without seeing a judge – in the Russian Compound a Palestinian can undergo eight days of interrogation before seeing a judge, and 21 days before meeting with a lawyer.
We have been present at the trials of dozens of Hamas members who were put on trial after the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006. We saw them brought for trial in their masses – from someone who just waved a flag at an electoral rally all the way up to members of parliament and ministers. They were accused of purely political crimes, defined as “membership”, “activity”, or “holding a position” in an “unauthorized association”. It happened ex post facto, after legal elections the legitimacy of which was recognized by the whole world including Israel. Was there even one judge who did not go along with it?
If Fatah and Hamas reconcile, then Fatah is liable to go back to being an illegitimate hostile entity. Will there then be one judge who will refuse to give that a stamp of approval? Based on what I have read on the website of the Military Advocate General (MAG), it must be assumed that the answer is no: “At the end of the day, our objective is to contribute to the security of the State and in our unique way to gather the terror activists of the various factions in prison.” Thus a military prosecutor describes the “procedures in the military courts in Judea and Samaria” (from a blog on the MAG website). This young prosecutor is likely to become a military judge one day. In the face of such a coalition the inferior status of the Palestinians and their defence counsels is clear, and it is no wonder that the outcome is a 99.76% rate of conviction.
The author is a member of Mahsom Watch.
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