For the second time since his official interrogation ended, Az Tamimi, an 18-year-old Palestinian construction worker, was taken from his cell in Megiddo Prison for “supplementary questioning” by the police.
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During his interrogation months ago, Tamimi incriminated 15 residents of Nabi Saleh, a village near Ramallah, accusing them of offenses against the Israel Defense Forces.
Even though his testimony was ruled false in court, the police kept questioning him, hoping his story would eventually match reality.
Every Friday for the past five years, a demonstration begins in Nabi Saleh against the appropriation of village land and a nearby spring by the settlement Neveh Tzuf. The army routinely disperses the demonstrations, which often morph into stone-throwing.
Last September, at the IDF’s behest, the Shin Bet security service arrested two village residents. One was Tamimi, who has a fifth-grade education, barely knows how to read and can barely write his own name. The other, Maher al-Tamimi, is considered by villagers to have a weak personality and to be easily swayed.
During questioning by the Shin Bet, the two admitted to many instances of stone-throwing and an attempt to storm an army pillbox. They also incriminated 19 other village residents – many of the village’s young people.
Many cases by the military prosecution rely on incrimination of this sort. Someone who took part in an act provides names and the police and military prosecution try to match the names with the events. Even if the witness recants his statement to the police in court, it is often accepted as the only evidence for incrimination.
The military prosecution, for its part, says it “conducts itself meticulously and responsibly in all affairs it handles.” On Wednesday a military court was due to hear a motion to dismiss cases based on alleged improper conduct by the military prosecution.
Back in Nabi Saleh, following the statements by Tamimi and al-Tamimi, the army made arrests and charged 19 more residents of the village. But when the trials began, it turned out that, under interrogation, the two simply framed villagers they knew.
For example, al-Tamimi incriminated four people, saying they took part in violence with him at the end of Ramadan – but it turned out some of the four had been in Jordan that month. Al-Tamimi’s testimony was tossed out and the four were released.
The military prosecution, headed by Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch, a resident of the settlement Efrat, did not quit. The prosecution focused on Tamimi, who had incriminated the 15 villagers.
The villagers’ lawyer, Talia Ramati, discovered that one of the people Tamimi framed had been in jail at the time he was accused of throwing rocks. The military court then released all 15 villagers, and the military prosecution reacted.
Tamimi was taken in for “supplementary questioning” by the police and was asked, “How can it be that Sacher threw rocks with you when he was in jail?” Tamimi replied, “I’m sure he threw rocks with me, but I’ve confused the date.”
The military judge accepted such answers and put all 15 back in Ofer Prison. By this point, seven were willing to sign plea bargains putting them in jail for five months to a year.
Such deals are common at Ofer, and the suspects are detained throughout the proceedings, with the trial sometimes taking months.
The other eight pleaded innocent and went on trial. This week the Shin Bet provided paraphrased statements Tamimi made to police moles in his prison cell, claiming he was not even present during the attack on the pillbox.
Ramati, the lawyer, also learned that one of the men Tamimi incriminated had a broken leg in a cast at the time of the event and could not have run toward the pillbox.
Still, Hirsch pursued the case; the following are some of the paraphrased statements.
Investigator: You’re sure Sharaf was with you during that terror attack?
Tamimi: Yes, I’m sure Sharaf was with us.
Investigator: You’re lying, because he had a broken leg.
Tamimi: He may have had a broken leg. I don’t remember.
Investigator: Maybe he was with you only in planning to attack the military outpost, but not during the execution?
Tamimi: I’m sure he took part in the planning but by God I don’t remember if he was there at the execution, because you say he had a broken leg.
“The military prosecution conducts itself meticulously and responsibly in all affairs that it handles, and the [West Bank] prosecution in particular operates in a professional, objective manner. It receives the full backing of its commanders,” the IDF spokesman said in a statement.
“We stress that some of the defendants who were incriminated in the investigations mentioned in the article confessed in court to the crimes of which they were suspected.”