IDF Officer Gave Court False Info to Keep Right-wing Activists in Custody

Senior officer claims activists 'caused considerable financial damage,' when seizing abandoned churches near the Qasr al-Yahud holy site in the West Bank, in mid-December.

A senior Israeli officer exaggerated information in court to convince it to reverse a lower court's decision to release right-wing activists who broke through the fence on the Jordanian border last month, according to written testimony obtained by Haaretz.

On December 12, some 15 right-wing activists seized abandoned churches near the Qasr al-Yahud holy site in the West Bank. The activists, who were escorted to the site by a television crew, reportedly cut their way through a fence that once protected a minefield and planned to put up an outpost. They were arrested after midnight.

Benny Gantz - IDF Spokesman - 04012012
IDF Spokesman

The next day the police requested permission to extend the detention of the activists. Judge Oded Shaham of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled that the acts were grave but did not require further detention.

The police appealed to the district court, and added a letter written by the deputy brigade commander on behalf of the brigade commander, Col. Nochi Mendel, asking the court to treat the transgressors severely.

The letter claimed that "the demonstrators caused considerable financial damage by harming the fence and the electronic system. A severe punishment would send an important message to them and to everyone else waiting to see how we deal with those who damage the international security system. As the commanders in the area we view the incident as very severe, and believe that red lines have been crossed .... A lenient approach could be interpreted by terrorist or criminal elements as a loophole in our security system."

District Court Judge Aryeh Romanoff then reversed the magistrate court decision, ordering that all the activists remain in custody. Still, the written testimony indicates that the officers did not believe that the damage was significant; in this way they exaggerated information in court.

Mendel told the police the financial damage was "a few hundred shekels, a few hours of work and a minuscule piece of iron. Only the barbed wire was cut. The electric cable was damaged but not cut. The damage was fixed this afternoon." Mendel's deputy also testified that the "financial damage was a few hundred shekels".

Mendel wrote that "the immediate operative damage was that a hole in the fence has been broadcast throughout the world." The activists were eventually charged with damaging IDF property.

Yitzhak Bam, who represented several of the activists, told Haaretz: "It seems that the officer exaggerated the damage to affect the judge .... All the activists, including minors, were kept in custody for two more days. It's a shame that officers in the IDF don't balk at telling untruths, and it's a shame that judges treat those untruths as gospel."

Meanwhile, Haaretz has learned that the state prosecutor will charge several right-wing activists with espionage after they followed the movements of IDF vehicles and passed the information on to other activists.

Five activists were brought on Tuesday to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court and said that SMS messages such as "three police cars moving on Route 60" could not be treated as state secrets.