Palestinian Says He Was Convicted of Throwing Rocks at a Time When He Was in Prison

Israeli army says indictment was worded incorrectly – and that the man confessed as part of a plea bargain. Attorney: Justice demands his release

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Hasharon Prison, where the Palestinian is serving his sentence.
Hasharon Prison, where the Palestinian is serving his sentence.Credit: Rami Shllush

A Palestinian prisoner claims he was convicted for an act he could never have committed, because he was in prison at the time of the incident.

Saltan Jumat Hassan Hamidat, 21, admitted – as part of plea deal – to arson in 2018 and to throwing rocks at security forces around June 2019. However, Hamidat, a resident of the Jalazun refugee camp in the northern West Bank, was in an Israeli prison from March 13 through July 28, 2019.

The army said the indictment was incorrectly phrased, and that “the crime was committed in June or July.”

The Judea Military Court convicted Hamidat in May on two counts of attacking Israeli forces, arson for throwing firebombs at an army guard tower near Beit El, north of Jerusalem in May 2018 and throwing objects at security forces “in or nearby Jalazun” in “June 2019 or in a period close to it.” Military court judge Sebastian Ossovsky sentenced Hamidat to 25 months in prison.

“During the night, the defendant heard about clashes between rioters and security forces,” states the indictment, “and decided to throw rocks at the forces. Then, the defendant went to the scene of the clashes and threw two rocks at the forces’ vehicles from a distance of about 50 meters and hit the roof of one of them, while other rioters were also throwing rocks at the forces. The defendent’s actions constitute throwing rocks with the intention of harming a person or property.”

Hamidat, who is serving his sentence in Hasharon Prison, recently submitted a request for early release, on the grounds that he had been caused a serious injustice. His lawyer, Michal Pomerantz, said Hamidat confessed to the crime under pressure from his own attorney, and justice demands his release. “A young man is serving a sentence for an act he technically could not have committed, because he was inside prison walls,” she said. “This should worry us all. The defense attorney didn’t notice, the judge didn’t notice.”

Pomerantz said Hamidat confessed to the crimes after he was incriminated by others, just so they could reach a plea bargain. “This case demonstrates the insufferable ease with which Palestinians are convicted of actions they did not commit, and the plea-bargain factory in military courts, which are based often on false confessions and false incriminations,” she said.

The state representative at the hearing, attorney Kerry Cassa, said the parole board is not an appeals panel reviewing the prosecution’s work and the circumstances of the conviction, so the request is irrelevant. Cassa said Pomerantz’s statements were “subversive” against the state. “This is not at all the place or time. I can’t sit and listen to these crude insinuations,” she said. “This is a complaint that the (proceedings) are neither fair nor proper.” Cassa said Hamidat’s claim stemmed just from a mistake in the wording: “How the military prosecution phrases indictments is a matter for them.”

The parole board ordered the military prosecution to respond to Hamidat’s claim before the next hearing on his case next Thursday. “The matter requires factual clarification and examination of the sequence of events, primarily regarding the acts for which the prisoner was convicted, based on his confession as part of the plea bargain,” stated the decision.

The army said the investigative material showed the crime was committed in June or July 2019 and the indictment mistakenly did not state the exact date of the crime, only a time range. “The defendant was convicted in military court based on his confession as part of a plea bargain, and no appeal was filed against the verdict,” the army commented.

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