How Do You Translate 'Innocent' Into Arabic?

Ahmed Nafe’a, a 29-year-old teacher, was jailed for nine months. The military prosecution submitted a severe indictment against him that was not based on proof, except for the testimony of a mentally challenged person

Some two years ago, attorney Gabi Lasky of Tel Aviv made me miss a good scoop. She simply did not think of calling journalists and the story reached me in a roundabout way when it was already too late for a news item. A military judge had decided to acquit one of the Palestinians defendants that Lasky was representing. The translator in the courtroom was confused. He looked around him, wondering out loud how one translates “innocent” into Arabic.

The translator in Ahmed Nafe’a’s trial, however, was not confused when on September 28, the judge, Amir Dahan, announced his decision to acquit a 29-year-old teacher from Na’alin. The judge, as Haaretz reported, did not spare his criticism of the military prosecution and the police, who did not bring proof of the accusations except for the dubious testimony of a person who is mentally challenged.

innocent - Moti Milrod - November 1 2010
Moti Milrod

Nafe’a sat in the Ofer prison, southeast of Ramallah, for nine months. In February, some two weeks after his arrest, attorney Limor Goldstein, a partner in Lasky’s office, asked Nafe’a if he was interested in a “safqa” a deal that is to say, a confession and an agreement with the prosecution over the imprisonment term to be demanded. In this manner, the court saves the trouble and the expense involved in summoning witnesses, including soldiers the Shin Bet security service interrogators. The defendant saves a detention period until the end of the proceedings, which may last more than two years and can be longer than the imprisonment sentence itself (whether the offense was committed or not).

The following is a routine indictment for which it is worthwhile having a deal: “The above-mentioned defendant, in the area (of Judea and Samaria) starting from the year 2007 or close to then, and until his detention (Januaray 25, 2010) in Na’alin or a place close to there, during mass disturbances of the public order, on a large number of occasions, together with others, threw stones at Israel Defense Forces soldiers and policemen from the Israel Police.”

That was the first item of four in the indictment submitted against Nafe’a on May 6, 2010. Those who write up the military indictments do not have to mention the day or days on which the offense was committed, or the hour or the exact location. The rule is that a Palestinian must prove his or her innocence.

Nafe’a was arrested in the midst of military and Shin Bet raids in Na’alin village in an attempt to put an end to the demonstrations against the fence. The indictments were submitted against Nafe’a and 28 other residents of Na’alin on the basis of testimony from only one person. The remaining defendants and their lawyers preferred to sign a deal. It is simpler and it is not their job to encourage Israeli military judges to act according to the standards of proper legal proceedings.

Nafe’a was “lucky.” Mustafa Amira, the sole witness, invented two other “more serious” offenses. These included carrying on what was almost tantamount to a battle with a foot patrol of the IDF, rolling rocks onto Israeli cars and causing one to crash into a canal, then throwing stones at the trapped vehicle and military jeeps that came to its assistance, as well as throwing Molotov cocktails and gas canisters. All of this with the participation of the witness himself.

The details of the indictment that led to these fantastic stories would have entailed “intention to cause death or serious injury.” The prosecution did not bother to substantiate the words of the witness with other proof a situation report (carried out routinely by the army for every event), testimony from the driver who had been “hurt” or the soldiers who were “attacked with gas canisters.”

Attorney Neri Ramati, another partner of Lasky and Goldstein, then set on a long legal journey of criss-crossing and demanding evidence. The court held a relatively large number of sessions at frequent intervals. On September 15, the defendant was given the right to speak. He is a teacher of Arabic language and literature and prepares students from the village of Shukba, north of Na’alin, for matriculation examinations. Every Friday and Saturday he works in a supermarket that he and his brothers opened, to add to the family income. (Officially a teacher is not allowed to have a second job, but who can abide by that when a teacher with six years’ experience, like Nafe’a, earns a mere NIS 2,400?).

He hears on the news that demonstrations are held at Na’alin, but says, “but when it comes to personal participation, I have not been there and my family doesn’t have land in Na’alin. I don’t have time to go and participate in demonstrations of this or any other kind.” He told Haaretz that he had met the witness who incriminated him face-to-face while in jail. “He asked for our forgiveness and said he had lied because he was afraid. In the court, they had to repeat the questions several times so that he would understand. Poor boy.”

While in jail, Nafe’a used the time to teach prisoners both adults and youth who do not know how to read or write. He worried about his pupils at school. “The students are like my children. When we start a study program with them, and then it is interrupted, of course it makes it difficult for them and they make fewer efforts.”

During his detention, he was twice called to the Shin Bet. The interrogators did not beat him, he told Haaretz. They merely put psychological pressure on him by telling him they would like to free him so that he could see his son, who was six months old when he was arrested. His wife was permitted to visit him in jail only three times during the nine months he was there. He missed the moment his son learned to walk. When he returned home at the end of September, his son did not know who he was.

But who cares, when the military legal system, including the appeals courts, had all the facts and figures even before the indictment was submitted, those same facts that led to his acquittal?