For Olmert, the witness box is a soapbox
During trial, former PM Ehud Olmert remained standing, almost leaning over the judges, wagging a finger, emphasizing his words with sweeping gestures, his back to the lawyers, journalists and members of public.
When Ehud Olmert entered the witness box stand, the President of the Jerusalem District Court, Judge Moussia Arad, asked if he wanted to sit. The former prime minister declined, saying he preferred to stand.
He remained standing for the next six hours, almost leaning over the judges, wagging a finger, emphasizing his words with sweeping gestures, his back to the lawyers, journalists and members of the public who filled the courtroom.
On his first day of testimony Olmert evidently sought to improve his standing in the eyes of the three judges, and launched into a monologue that, while irrelevant to the charges against him, shed fascinating light on his character and highlights of his political career.
The judges often raised their eyebrows and voiced displeasure with the distant realms to which his testimony sailed, as in his opening statement:
"I was born in 1945, in a rather special place: Metzudat Shuni, a Crusader fortress on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Many years later the Jewish National Fund decided to restore the site, after which a wonderful Roman theater was discovered there, one of the most beautiful in Israel. It was determined that in fact this was not a Crusader fortress, but rather a fortress from the Roman era."
He then described the start of his political career: As a young activist in Herut, one of the forerunners of Likud, he demanded that the party's adored leader, Menachem Begin, resign. "It's not that you didn't make a slight error, but I'm a forgiving person," he mimicked Begin's response.
He recalled the meetings that Ariel Sharon held before the 2005 disengagement from Gaza: "We would sit in the Prime Minister's residence, around a table laden with all manners of food. The prime minister and his sons would eat everything and not leave anything for anyone else."
He waxed enthusiastic over projects he worked on during his public career, from reforming the health system to building a sewage treatment plant in Jerusalem.
"When I entered the Jerusalem municipality [as mayor], Jerusalem's sewage flowed through the Soreq Valley, above-ground," he said. "Israel's capital didn't have a sewage treatment plant. You ask what we did? We built one.
"[Jerusalem's] Begin Highway. Today, it's longer than [Tel Aviv's] Ayalon Freeway. You know how long years it took to build the Ayalon? Eighteen years. We built three lanes, plus another lane that wasn't for use, in three and a half years."
Again and again, the judges prodded him to get to the point. "Follow [attorney Eli] Zohar's plan," urged Judge Jacob Zaban.
"I've been following attorney Zohar's plan for five years already, had there not been people leading me to other places," Olmert retorted.