Israeli Court Orders State to Provide Written Version of Indictment in Arabic

The court usually provides a simultaneous oral translation for Arab defendants, but in the case of three East Jerusalem residents accused of working with Hamas, the judge orders a written indictment

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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The Jerusalem District Court, in March.
The Jerusalem District Court, in March.Credit: Reuven Castro
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

For the first time ever, the Jerusalem District Court has ordered the Israeli government to arrange a written translation into Arabic of an indictment of an Arab defendant, rather than sufficing with simultaneous oral translation.

The order was issued over the objection of the prosecutor’s office and the Courts Administration, which argued that it would be sufficient to orally translate the indictment in the courtroom and that requiring a written translation would create a precedent that could turn into an immense bureaucratic burden.

But Jerusalem District Court Judge Tamar Bar-Asher refused to accept a simultaneous oral translation, which has been the practice up to now. She admonished the opposing parties for seeking to block the petition while acknowledging that there was no specific regulation requiring a written translation.

The case involves three Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who had a lengthy indictment filed against them last month alleging that they had raised funds for Hamas and conducted activity on its behalf. The three, a father and his two sons, are accused of running a nonprofit organization whose declared purpose was raising funds for the needy but that was actually raising money for the Islamic organization.

Under court regulations, a defendant or victim who does not speak Hebrew should inform the judge, who will then arrange for an interpreter to be present during hearings.

But in the case in question, prior to the first hearing, Lea Tsemel, the lawyer representing the director of the nonprofit, filed an unusual petition asking that the state provide a written translation of the indictment. She argued that it was necessary because the indictment was “complex, complicated, extensive and dense with information and details, it would be appropriate that it be translated … into Arabic.”

The Courts Administration and prosecution adamantly opposed the request, making reference to the large number of indictments filed against defendants who speak Arabic and other languages and noting that there was no basis in law for such a request. If the court granted it, “there would be no end to this,” the prosecutors said.

The Courts Administration, in a response by its legal adviser, Barak Lazer, essentially made the same argument that “the legal provisions do not recognize the defendant’s purported right” to such a written translation.

In granting the request, Judge Bar-Asher acknowledged that there was no explicit provision but said that since both sides in the case agree that an interpreter could orally translate the proceedings, there was no reason not to have the indictment translated in writing. Simultaneous oral translation would consume the court’s time due to the complicated and detailed nature of the indictment, she explained. She ordered the written translation “only because of its scope and its complicated, complex and densely detailed content.”

“I regret that the [prosecution] or the Courts Administration didn’t express readiness to accede to the modest request of the defendants’ lawyers and instead turned the petition into a matter of ‘principle,” she wrote.

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