Michael Sfard and Yaron Kostelitz
In 2003, Michael Sfard (left) represented Yoni Ben-Artzi ‏(Benjamin Netanyahu’s nephew‏) in a military tribunal while Yaron Kostelitz served as the military prosecutor. Photo by Motti Kimche
Text size

How is it that the name Yaron Kostelitz is so familiar? Last Wednesday it appeared in connection with the unauthorized outpost of Amona. His name had also been mentioned last month, after he rejected allegations that his client Yaakov Efrati, who headed the Israel Lands Administration from 2001 to 2008, received a bribe from Danny Dankner, former chairman of Bank Hapoalim.

Kostelitz, who holds both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree magna cum laude from Bar-Ilan University, has also been named as the lawyer for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his friend, the Russian-Israeli oligarch Mikhail Chernoy. "His diligence, casuistry and integrity will soon place him in a top spot in the phone books of suspected white-collar criminals," TheMarker wrote about the 34-year-old Kostelitz two years ago.

Last Wednesday, Kostelitz represented the settlers of Amona as the High Court of Justice once again heard a petition from eight Palestinians and the human rights organization Yesh Din. The group, represented by attorney Michael Sfard, asked that the buildings at the outpost be evacuated as the state already admitted they were built illegally and on private Palestinian land. But Kostelitz had important news to break - just one day before the hearings he received documents proving that his clients had bought the land in the 1990s. He said that the state was examining the documents. "It is simply a medical miracle how these documents reached you a day before the hearings," Justice Elyakim Rubinstein replied, as Chaim Levinson reported in Haaretz.

This was not the first time Sfard and Kostelitz have met on opposite sides of the legal fence. In 2003, Sfard represented the pacifist Yoni Ben-Artzi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nephew ) in a military tribunal while Kostelitz served as the military prosecutor. During his cross-examination, Kostelitz tried to prove that Ben-Artzi's refusal to serve did not stem from pacifism but from purely political motives. "You are a refusenik of the occupation - yes or no?" Kostelitz asked. Ben-Artzi replied: "Just as you, as a religious person, keep the Sabbath in particular, so do I refuse to serve in the territories in particular, and refuse to serve in any other place."

The Khalil al-Mughrabi report

Ben-Artzi tried to explain what differentiated him from five other refuseniks whose trials were simultaneously taking place at the military tribunal. One of the five was Shimri Tzameret, who kept a diary. On August 5, 2003, he wrote about his testimony in which, among other things, he described a report he had read by the human rights group B'Tselem.

"This is the story of 30 children who were playing football one Saturday in July 2001, in the Yibneh refugee camp in Rafah, close to the border with Egypt. The game started after the afternoon prayers, at approximately five. A short while later, a tank passed close by - 'quietly, without firing at us,' as one of the children related. After the game, the children rested and at about seven in the evening, they started to go home. 'I was two meters away from Khalil al-Mughrabi,' one of the children told a B'Tselem field worker, 'when I suddenly heard a slight noise and I saw Khalil's brains flying out of his head and [landing] on my face and clothes.'"

The single shot had come from the Israel Defense Forces' observation tower. "The children began fleeing and as they did so, very strong fire opened from the observation tower," the boy added. Another two children were hit, one in his abdomen "and his bowels spilled out." The other was hit in the knee.

The IDF spokesman said at the time that "dozens of Palestinians were rioting next to Rafah and endangering the lives of the soldiers... The soldiers acted with restraint and moderation and dispersed the rioters by using means for dispersing demonstrations, and by means of live gunfire into an open area distant from the rioters."

The chief military prosecutor at that time, Col. Einat Ron, said in her response to B'Tselem that the IDF soldiers involved were not suspected of any criminal behavior. Apparently her letter included, by mistake, the operative file on the event which included her personal opinion, where she wrote frankly. "A reasonable possibility is that the fire did not hit the children who were identified as rioters" but rather "the children at the football game, at a distance of 1,000 meters from the location of the event. If these were warning shots," she wrote, "they were fired in contravention of the orders which instruct that shooting be done from light weapons, not from heavy machine guns, and not in the direction of children."

Ron proposed to the army three possible reactions to the incident: an investigation by the military police; disciplinary steps because the shooting was unjustified; or determining that the firing was justified, that the entire region is dangerous, and that the IDF regrets that innocent people were hit - and that a letter to this effect be written to B'Tselem. "A Chronicle of Covering Up" is how B'Tselem entitled its report. Tzameret testified in the military court about how shocked he had been by the whitewash.

In the middle of his testimony, a man and woman in uniform entered the courtroom and sat down next to Kostelitz. Tzameret did not know who they were, but when he mentioned the name Einat Ron, "the look that the military judge and Kostelitz gave the woman made it clear to me that none other than the chief military prosecutor had just entered the courtroom... Out of the 16 hours that I testified, she arrived for precisely the 15 minutes when I was speaking about her."

Ron has retired from the army and since 2007 she has been a judge in the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court. In this capacity, in January she extended the gag order on the case against Anat Kamm, who has been accused of aggravated espionage.

Kostelitz, who served under Ron in the military system, told the newspaper Makor Rishon in 2003: "From the state's point of view, obeying the law is an existential condition, and anyone who crosses that line can expect to be punished, even if he did so for conscientious reasons. It is difficult to exaggerate when describing the danger embodied in ideological refusal, which could bring about a disaster on the state [because of] those who wish, on the face of it, to bring it redemption."