Israeli Army to Form Committee to Review Palestinian Sentence Reduction Requests

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File photo: Palestinian men perform the Friday prayer in front of the "300 check point" along Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem during a demonstration in a solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, June 6, 2014.
File photo: Palestinian men perform the Friday prayer during a demonstration in a solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, June 6, 2014.Credit: AFP

The Israeli army will set up a committee to review Palestinians' requests to consider a reduction in sentences for those sentenced to life in prison. The requests will include those from Palestinians convicted of acts of terrorism and other anti-Israeli, politically-motivated crimes.

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The Israeli civil legal system already has such a mechanism, but Palestinians who are tried in military courts are not eligible to appeal to them. Plans for the new committee were disclosed by the government in response to a petition filed with the High Court of Justice by a Palestinian prisoner. The decision to set up the committee was initially reported by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

The petition to the High Court of Justice was filed by Shani Khaled, a Palestinian from Ramallah. Khaled was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, not for a politically-motivated crime. He began serving the sentence in 1988,and filed the request with the army in 2006 to have his sentence reduced, but it was denied.

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In the ruling on Khaled’s case two weeks ago, retired High Court Justice Uri Shoham wrote that the army and the Military Advocate General's Legal Advisor in Judea and Samaria had informed the court that after the subject was examined, it was decided to set up an advisory committee to consider requests from Palestinians for the reduction of life sentences and that regulations on the subject had been drafted and referred to “the relevant officials” for  review.

The state urged the court to reject Khaled's petition, which it did, but the three-justice High Court panel also welcomed the plan to establish the new committee and urged that it be set up quickly.

Following the report in Yedioth Ahronoth, Defense Minister Avidgor Lieberman tweeted: “As long as I am defense minister, no terrorist will have his sentence shortened by even one hour.” Other defense officials said the convening of the panel would not result in a change in the policy that terrorists sentenced to life imprisonment would not have their sentences reduced.

In recent years, a very small number of security prisoners sentenced to life in prison have filed requests for a reduction in their sentences. Up to now, procedure called for any such requests by West Bank Palestinians to be filed with the commander of the army’s Central Command, who would then regularly deny the requests as a matter of course, in accordance with government policy.

The creation of the new review committee is a response in part to criticism by the High Court of Justice, which noted that the Israeli civilian legal system has a parole board that explains cases in which it denies requests for a reduction in sentence, unlike what had been the army’s practice.

As a result, the military prosecutor’s office has decided to establish a comparable committee for the military judicial system, which will be composed of a sociologist, a judge and a military prosecutor who will review such requests. Defense sources said, however, that the panels will only provide a change in procedure but not in the final result.

Although there had not been an organized system for consideration of such requests in the military system, it has been possible to shorten life sentences based on a decision on the political level. Most of those decisions, however, have come in connection with prisoner exchanges involving the return of Israeli prisoners in return for Palestinians in Israeli prison.

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