Accused Israelis face charges in civil courts. Military tribunals try Palestinians. Virtually everyone is guilty by accusation. A new study says so. More on that below.
In April 2008, the Addamer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association published a report titled "Defending Palestinian Prisoners: A Report on the Status of Defense Lawyers in Israeli Courts."
It explained obstacles lawyers representing Palestinians face in court. They're hampered by military orders, Israeli laws, and prison procedures that prevent them from adequately helping clients. They're hamstrung from time of arrests through detentions, interrogations, trials, imprisonments, appeals, and other constraints against justice.
Yet international law is clear and unequivocal. Article 2, section 3(b)(c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states:
....(P)ersons "shall have (the) right (to effective remedy through a) competent judicial, administrative or legislative (authority), or by any other competent authority provided for the legal system of the State (to) ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce (judicial) remed(ies)."
Article 14, section 1 states:
"All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals (and) shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law." They shall "be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law."
They're also entitled to competent counsel, private lawyer-client sessions, and confidentiality of oral and written communications between them.
Addameer explained what, in fact, occurs. Palestinians are entirely denied justice. Those accused are judged guilty. Attorneys get to see clients for the first time on hearing days moments ahead of when they begin. No preparation is possible.
After arrest, Palestinians go first to interrogation centers. They may be held without judicial order for eight days and thereafter indefinitely. Lawyers have no access for up to 90 days, and prisoners have virtually no other outside contact during detention.
Children young as 10 are treated like adults. Interrogations usually involve torture, intimidation and/or other types of abuse. Rule of law principles don't apply.
Those charged are imprisoned or detained. Bail virtually never is allowed. Administrative detainees are taken to Israeli prisons for six months after which they're subject to indefinite extensions.
Even learning where clients are held is daunting. One attorney said:
"I feel like they're using these procedures to pressure lawyers like me to quit."
Jewish lawyers are less obstructed than Arab ones, but obstacles impeding judicial fairness hamper prisoners and counsel throughout the process.
Lawyers require permission any time to visit clients. They must have proof of power of attorney from prisoners' families even though requiring it has no legal basis. Moreover, getting it is burdensome given travel restrictions.
Meeting prisoners requires knowing where they're held; learning when they're moved and where; dealing with orders barring meetings with clients; enduing daunting travel through checkpoints; long waits inside prisons; limited time with clients; speaking to them by phone through thick plastic windows; constant monitoring by authorities; and restricted access to documents.
Some attorneys call these obstacles "a way of making the lawyer think a thousand times before deciding to visit the prison."
In military courts, scheduling is another problem. Lawyers must arrive by 9:30 AM, then endure unreliable timetables for hearings. An entire day may be consumed for a 15-minute one, and some attorneys say that they waited until 7PM for it to begin.
They also explain that they're treated like prisoners themselves because their clients have virtually no hope for justice. Nonetheless, they do their best under a system rigged to convict.
Entering facilities is nerve-wracking and intimidating. West Bank lawyers can't drive to military courts on the grounds that they pose security threats. Once there, they endure long waits to be admitted.
Soldiers must unlock gates. Some are cooperative, others aren't, and then they must clear security. Those in Islamic dress are especially pressed to prove they're lawyers, not terrorists seeking entry.
One attorney described his Gaza experience, saying:
"As a lawyer, you are a cow. They treat us like they are trying to milk us. They squeeze everything from us: our dignity, our time - everything."
Language is another problem. Court proceedings are in Hebrew. Lawyers must be proficient to understand them. Palestinians may require Arabic translations. The process is "uneven" at best.
Moreover, translators speak quietly. Detainees may not understand them. As a result, they can't follow proceedings properly. Nor can their families consigned to the back of courtrooms when they're allow in at all.
In addition, all confessions, statements, police reports, military codes and judicial rulings are in Hebrew without translation, even though Arabic is an official language in Israel.
Under West Bank military orders, unauthorized political activities are crimes, including putting up posters, writing slogans on walls, being members of certain political parties or organizations, displaying Palestinian flags or symbols, attending demonstrations, and socializing with persons called security threats.
Lawyers also may face months of delay to learn charges against clients. They're often vague without details, including about alleged offenses, dates, time and where occurred plus evidence that wouldn't hold up in legitimate proceedings.
Worse still, secret evidence is used, unavailable to counsel. One lawyer said it's "like entering a dark room and not knowing where to go or what to do." As a result, defending clients properly is impossible. With little to go on, lawyers make educated guesses based on previous cases, hoping they apply this time.
They also can't call witnesses in detention hearings. When allowed, they may only testify on matters of family life, moral character, and other factors unrelated to charges.
Israeli Arabs are as vulnerable as Palestinians. They may be tried in military courts, and according to Israeli law "test of most connection," Jerusalem Arabs come under military courts if accused of acts constituting security threats in the eyes of authorities.
Around 98% of the time, plea bargains, not trials, settle charges. Lawyers prefer them because:
• most often they serve clients best under a system rigged to convict;
• civil cases (when held) must be completed in nine months, but military ones may take two years without bail for charges bringing shorter sentences;
• the ordeal of trial and detention, family separation, and other systemic inequities means clients are better served by ending proceedings faster;
• going to trial and losing may bring harsher sentences; and
• lawyers hope leniency will result by cooperating with prosecutors.
Appealing decisions in Military Courts of Appeals is daunting. In cases involving security threats, appellate reviews don't help. Nearly always, this court has final say. Rarely does Israel's High Court review their decisions.
Lawyers vent their frustration, saying:
"The whole process is oppressive."
"I learned how to help people, but it's just not possible in the military courts. They exist to administer the occupation, not the law. I feel helpless."
"The most frustrating thing is that you have to work within the occupation. You oppose the system, but you have to work within it."
"I am surprised that anyone can work as a lawyer for administrative detainees without dying of a stroke."
"There is the prosecution, a judge, a lawyer, a prisoner. It looks legitimate but it is not. These tribunals should be boycotted."
The Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual discussed "Israeli Case-Law under Scrutiny," saying:
"For over forty years, Israel has systematically violated the rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and its obligations under international law."
Justice Israeli-style completely abandoned its role. Justices side with prosecutors. Decisions are based on "confidential security material" with no chance to review or challenge. Due process and judicial fairness are entirely absent.
"The Israeli courts, whether directly or indirectly, provide a legal seal of approval for the acts of the occupation." They're complicit with state crimes against humanity.
On November 29, Haaretz writer Chaim Levinson headlined, "Nearly 100% of military court cases in West Bank end in conviction," saying:
"Virtually all - 99.74 percent, to be exact - of cases heard by the military courts in the territories end in a conviction, according to data in the military courts' annual report...."
Haaretz got a copy. It also showed appeals courts also side with lower ones. Moreover, they accept two-thirds or prosecutorial appeals, compared to one-third for Palestinians.
Civil courts rarely get involved.
In 2010, 25 of 9,542 cases ended in acquittal. Another 4% achieve partial success on one or more charges. Once in Israeli courts, Palestinians are guilty by accusation. At best, cooperating may achieve some degree of leniency.
It's unsurprising that virtually all Palestinian families have, or have had, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and/or other relatives detained or imprisoned longer-term. Justice in Occupied Palestine doesn't exist.
A Final Comment
On November 24, Al-Haq headlined, "Israeli Soldiers Harass Released Prisoners," saying:
Palestinians freed by Israel's October prisoner swap learned "their freedom comes at a price. In recent weeks, large financial rewards are being offered by certain settler groups for the killing of at least four" of them.
Israeli officials are also involved. Moreover, former prisoner homes have been raided late at night. "Witnesses reported that the Israeli soldiers threatened the released prisoners" with rearrest, "and vowed not to leave them in peace."
Four examples followed, including:
Akram `Abd-al-`Aziz Mansour
On November 14 at 12:30AM, about 20 soldiers surrounded his home and tried to enter. Told they came unofficially, Mansour refused to let them.
Nonetheless, he was confronted at gunpoint and questioned about his plans. He was then ordered to report to Israeli Intelligence for interrogation on December 11.
Wa'el Kamel Jalboush
On November 18 at 11:30PM, Israeli soldiers raided his home. He was warned against participating in political events organized by Hamas, Fateh or Islamic Jihad. Doing so will subject him to rearrest.
`Imad Yaser Mousa
On November 19 at midnight, six Israeli soldiers raided him home and searched it. An Israeli officer threatened him, saying:
"We know that you are not allowed to leave Jenin and that if you go even one meter outside the area, you will be arrested once more, and I will not be satisfied with just imprisoning you. I will also tear down your house on top of you."
Sumoud Yaser Karaja
On November 19 at 1:30AM, about 10 Israeli soldiers forcefully entered her home. She was ordered to report to Ofer Prison the next morning for questioning.
Kept waiting there on arrival for nine hours, she explained what happened, saying:
"The officer threatened me. He told me that the Israeli intelligence is watching my every move and that they will keep watching me until they can put me back in prison. And that when I do get imprisoned again, I will spend my whole life inside and will never be able to leave."
Palestinians have endured Israeli state terror for over 44 years. They still await long denied justice.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
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