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When the Rapist Is Also the Judge

The entire Israeli military legal system that operates in the West Bank is corrupt

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A military tribunal at the Camp Ofer prison near Ramallah
A military Tribunal at the Camp Ofer prison near Ramallah.Credit: JINI
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Agents nicknamed Niso, Herzl and Arye signed an almost identical document, on different dates. Its heading reads: State of Israel, General Security Service [Shin Bet], unclassified. Under that it says: to the Israel Police’s crime investigations unit in Judea and Samaria. The subject: denial of a detainee’s request to meet a lawyer. The name of the detainee comes next. In this case it’s Kifah Quzmar, with his identity number included. (The word “nicknamed” the quotation marks around the names appear in the original document.)

The one nicknamed Niso was in charge of the investigation. He heads the Ramallah team of investigators, and was the one who signed the first three orders prohibiting the 28 year-old Quzmar from meeting his lawyer. The first one was signed on March 8, a day after Quzmar was arrested at the Allenby border crossing, and was valid until March 13, at 11:59 p.m. The second and third orders were signed on March 13 and 16, respectively. The one nicknamed Herzl, who heads another investigations unit, signed an identical order on March 21 while Arye, who heads yet another unit, signed such an order on March 23, valid until 11:59 p.m. on March 26.

This is what the order says: “By my authority having examined the circumstances I hereby order that the detainee not be allowed to meet a lawyer for a further period since I believe this is necessary for the following reasons ” In the first two documents signed by Niso the reason given is “for the area’s security” and that’s all. The third document bearing his signature and the other two documents give the same reason, as well as one stating “for the benefit of the investigation.”

In other words, from March 16 the investigators admit the investigation ran into serious trouble. It did not yield what was expected. Advancing the investigation required the continued violation of basic principles of jurisprudence and detainee rights. A bit more pressure, somewhat less moderate, a few more painful positions and sleep deprivation, threats and insults and who knows, maybe a shred of evidence would pop up.

On March 16 the detainee was brought before the president of the military court, Lt. Col. Menachem Lieberman. His lawyer, Anan Odeh, waited outside while the investigator told the judge that “Quzmar was suspected of activity that would endanger the security of the area.” How original. Quzmar, who is studying business administration at Bir Zeit University, said (according to the minutes of this hearing) that “the investigators are trying to find something to pin on me and destroy my future. They have no proof and I constitute no danger.”

Quzmar was led out of the courtroom trailer and his attorney went in. He asked questions and the investigator said he couldn’t answer them. He was asked if Quzmar was cooperating with the investigation and replied that he wasn’t. When asked if there were any criminal charges against Quzmar he referred to a “secret report.” Was police testimony taken from the detainee? “No.” How many times has he been questioned since his arrest? “Nine times.” For how many hours? “Yesterday (March 15) he was questioned for four hours, with breaks.” Is he subjected to pressure? The investigator replied that “the report would refer to that issue if that was the case.”

Lt. Col. Lieberman did a copy and paste from innumerable previous rulings and wrote that “there are grave suspicions against the detainee, which require detention and interrogation. I’ve taken into account the fact that the suspect is not allowed to see his attorney, but due to the severity of the transgressions and the need to reach the truth there is justification in extending his remand for the entire requested period, in order to give investigators a continuous detention period.” Lieberman extended detention until March 27.

On March 24 attorney Odeh submitted an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice, asking that his client be allowed to meet with a lawyer. Without waiting for a ruling the investigators removed their objection to such a meeting.

Up to then Quzmar had been questioned by the Shin Bet in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem and at Hashikma Prison in Ashkelon. He was also put in a cell with collaborators disguised as prisoners, which was meant to induce him to talk. He was later transferred to the Ofer Prison in the West Bank. He went on a hunger strike for a few days as a protest against being denied a lawyer’s visit. On April 3, a final hearing regarding the last extension of his detention was scheduled, to decide whether he would be charged or sent home.

On that sunny morning, Quzmar’s brother and cousin walked along the fenced path linking the Bitunya commercial checkpoint to the military courtroom. The 800 meters separating the two were lined with spring’s greenery and chirping birds. They crossed rotating iron gates that open and shut at the press of a button. They sat in the waiting yard, smoking many cigarettes and waiting. Who didn’t arrive? Kifah. Their guess was that he’d been sent to administrative detention.

Indeed, the administrative order for a six-month detention is signed by Col. Yossi Sariel, Central Command’s intelligence officer. The Shin Bet failed to extract some hint of an offense, so the simple solution is unlimited administrative detention, based on no evidence, no charges, defense or trial. What else is new?

The entire Israeli military legal system that operates in the West Bank is corrupt. The serial rapist arrests the victim simply due to her principled or active resistance to the rape. He charges her, tries her and then sentences her. That is it in a nutshell. Denying the right to meet an attorney and administrative detention are but two of the more common practices in the foreordained process of punishing Palestinians for being Palestinians who object to our foreign rule.

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