Israel’s Military Court Sentences Palestinian Protest Leader to 13 Months in Jail

Palestinian activist Bassam Tamimi was released after he was already arrested for 13 months during his trial, but was given a 17-month suspended sentence for next five years.

Israel’s military court on Tuesday sentenced Palestinian protest leader Bassam Tamimi to 13 months in jail, after he was convicted last week of organizing and participating in an unauthorized demonstration and urging youths to throw stones at soldiers.

Tamimi was acquitted of three other counts.

Tamimi was held in custody for the past 13 months, and a month ago he was released on bail after his 85-year-old mother suffered a stroke. Tamimi’s sentence coincides with the time he was held during the trial.

In addition, Tamimi was given a 17-month suspended sentence for the next five years for any violations of the public order. The Palestinian activist was also given a two-month suspended sentence for the next two years, should he participate in a public protest, and was fined NIS 7,000 for his actions.

Military prosecutor Captain Michael Avitan argued that Tamimi’s punishment should send a deterring message both to Tamimi and others.

During the trial, Tamimi refused a plea deal and denied his guilt. Tamimi’s lawyer Laviv Habib claimed the arrest was illegal since it was based on testimonies and incriminations of two minors whose rights were violated during their investigation. Attorneys Gaby Lasky and Neri Ramati, representing one of the minors, showed in a trial within a trial that his arrest and interrogation were flawed and that the Youth Law was violated.

The two minors were arrested at gunpoint in the dead of the night during an army raid. The minors were interrogated while being deprived of sleep, their parents were not present and the two were not made aware of their right to keep silent. 

Therefore, the judge disqualified their testimonies, as well as the testimony of a Palestinian policeman, stating that parts of his testimony were made up by the interrogating officer, while other parts were taken out.

In his trial, Tamimi also tried to challenge the court’s legitimacy, telling the court that while Israel pretends it is the only democracy in the Middle East, he is being tried by military law.

"These laws were legislated by authorities I did not choose and that do not represent me,” Tamimi said.

Since December in 2009, residents of the village Nabi Saleh have held weekly protests, demanding that a spring, now declared as an archaeological site and was taken over by settlers from Halamish, would be returned to them and to the neighboring village.

Tamimi’s trial drew international attention. Diplomats and activists from Israel and the world attended the trial, particularly during the reading of the verdict. Following Tamimi’s conviction, European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton stated that the EU “is concerned at the use of evidence based on the testimony of a minor who was interrogated in violation of his rights.

Ashton also added that “the EU considers Bassam Tamimi to be a ‘human rights defender’ committed to non-violent protest against the expansion of an Israeli settlement on lands belonging to his West Bank village.”

After his release, Tamimi told Haaretz that while imprisoned, he gave lectures and talked about the importance of the non-violent struggle, saying that it should be a part of the Palestinian resistance strategy and not only used in case the armed resistance fails. Non-violent resistance, Tamimi said, are “all actions that reject the occupation in all its aspects, and are not aimed at killing or hurting human life.”