An unusual event took place in the Ofer military court in the West Bank last Wednesday. Immediately after military judge Maj. Haim Balilty read out his decision – ruling that 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi must remain in detention until the end of court proceedings against her – someone started distributing leaflets in English in support of the decision.
That someone was none other than Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch, who until November 2016 headed the military prosecution in Judea and Samaria, and prepared its indictments against thousands of Palestinians. The leaflet mostly contained Hirsch’s statement about Tamimi, which was written in the context of his role as a consultant to the right-wing organization NGO Monitor. Tamimi’s trial is attracting a great deal of attention from overseas diplomats and international human rights organizations, to whom the text was directed.
Hirsch stated: “Tamimi’s repeated attacks on security forces, other violent crimes, and incitement to terrorism would in most, if not all, Western legal systems warrant her arrest pending trial. NGOs cannot have it both ways: arguing that she is treated too harshly for a 16-year old, but also lauding her for engaging in an intentional provocation against soldiers.”
Speaking to Haaretz by phone last Friday, Hirsch explained: “It’s not a leaflet. A leaflet is something that terror organizations distribute. I distributed a statement.”
How did you know the decision would be to keep her in detention?
“I prepared in advance for both possibilities, as I have learned to do. I came with two different statements. I have a bit of experience in law enforcement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. As the reading of the decision progressed, I realized that the moment the judge said the soldier had behaved with restraint and the defendant acted violently and incited to suicide attacks, it was clear the decision would be detention. However, I waited until he read out the final decision.”
(Defense lawyer Gaby Lasky rejects the argument that Tamimi supports suicide attacks, saying, “The translation in the indictment is manipulative and conceals the fact that Ahed is referring to suicide attacks and stabbings as negative consequences of [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which will harm the Palestinians.”)
Back now to Hirsch: “The second statement, which we were not required to present, says the court operates independently and makes correct decisions in accordance with the law and rulings, and that its decisions must be respected and it can’t be claimed that the court is tainted by discrimination. Had it released Tamimi, would her father, Bassem Tamimi, have been able to say he has no confidence in the court?”
Is it acceptable to go in and distribute leaflets inside a courtroom?
“As I said, I waited until the end of proceedings. I distributed the statement, just as attorney Gaby Lasky was interviewed in the courtroom.” (Lasky responded by pointing out that she is the defense attorney and was being interviewed in this capacity.)
Did you get permission for your actions from the Israeli army?
“I’m not sure you need to get permission for that. A private citizen who enters while the court is in session and wants to express an opinion on the matter – where’s the requirement to receive permission? From whom should he receive permission? Although I’m the former commander of the military prosecution, I didn’t take advantage of my connections to the prosecution. I didn’t enter the army base. I entered the courthouse as an ordinary citizen, just like anyone else. I didn’t come on behalf of an official institution. I came as a person who has a lot of experience in this area and I thought my opinion could be of interest. I came as part of my job as a military affairs adviser to NGO Monitor.”
Haaretz asked the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson how long the military court has permitted the distribution of press releases and political propaganda, and whether all political organizations are allowed to do so or only right-wing organizations. Or, alternatively, if the military court permits only the former head of the military prosecution to do so.
The IDF spokesperson responded: “An investigation conducted by the IDF shows that at a certain stage between the hearings in the case of Ahed and [Ahed’s mother] Nariman Tamimi, or after them, a member of the public distributed a number of pages whose contents are not known to the court. This was done without the knowledge of anyone in the military court, and contrary to the accepted rules. The court does not permit the distribution of any material in courtrooms by the public or anyone else, during or after the hearings. In light of this exceptional incident, which as mentioned did not take place with the knowledge of the court, the regulations have been tightened to prevent a repetition of a similar incident.”
Hirsch, who took time out from his Friday supermarket shopping in order to respond to Haaretz, said many things beyond the subject of Tamimi – and one newspaper column cannot possibly include them all. I suggested that we meet for a formal interview, and he agreed.
And here’s a spoiler: Hirsch says he studied law in England, to where his family “had fled in 1981 from South Africa, when I was 8 years old, after my parents were arrested for illegal ties with dark-skinned people. My mother worked for Nelson Mandela.”
Did your parents support the black struggle?
Hirsch: “Of course.”
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