IDF May Reinstitute Arabic Translations in West Bank Military Courts

Palestinian attorneys say lack of Arabic translation harms their clients' right to due process; since Oslo Accords, IDF has phased out translation of court documents into Arabic.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The IDF is willing to resume its one-time habit of translating into Arabic the indictments it submits to military courts in the West Bank, but insists there is no need or duty to translate other documents, such as verdicts or court transcripts.

The IDF's position was included in the state's response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by four Palestinian attorneys, who claimed that the fact that all documents in military courts are exclusively in Hebrew damages defendants' rights to due process.

During the first 25 years of military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, all indictments were translated by the military courts to Arabic. Since the Oslo Accords were signed, however, translations of indictments became extremely rare, until they ceased altogether.

At present, all documents handed to the prosecution and defense are in Hebrew. Simultaneous translators are still present at the courts, but their duties include other tasks such as maintaining silence and order in the courts, making sure there are security guards, preventing people from entering or leaving the court during trials and helping the judge control the proceedings.

Moreover, for various reasons, the translations, when they were supplied, were often unclear to the accused, the families and their attorneys.

The Palestinian attorneys, Haled Ala'arj, Mahmoud Rashid Alhalabi, Ihab Aljalid and Tawhid Shaaban, are represented by attorneys Smadar Ben-Natan and Avigdor Feldman.

The petition was submitted after two years of correspondence between the attorneys and the IDF and Defense Ministry. The petition notes that most of the petitioners are Palestinians residing in the occupied territories, who did not study law in Hebrew, and even if they learned Hebrew, their fluency is incomplete and their ability to fully understand the legal documents is limited.

The petitioners believe that this linguistic disadvantage causes lawyers not to fully exploit the legal process, and that it explains the huge amounts of plea agreements in the military courts.

In its response, the state claimed that all four petitioners speak Hebrew. Attorney Aner Helman of the State Prosecutor's Office, who signed the response, wrote that the petitioners failed to establish their claim that the right to due process was damaged by the fact that the documents were not translated, and that international law does not necessitate translating all documents. He also said that the fact that the documents were not translated for years "did not harm the fairness of the legal processes that took place."

The response added that the IDF is now searching for means to fund the translations. The High Court will hear the petition next week.

The IDF court in Ofer Prison in West Bank.Credit: JINI

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