Video Evidence Proves They're Innocent, but Israeli Courts Are in No Rush

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One of the suspects at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, on Monday.

The most outrageous thing in this story is the pace. Members of the law enforcement system acted as if they have all the time in the world. Back in July, the defense attorney told the prosecution: I have a video clip that will result in acquittal. Fine, we’ll wait for the hearing in court. On July 19, at a hearing on the continued detention of those charged with attacking soldier Leon Shranin in Jaffa during the riots in May, the video was shown in court and proved that four of the defendants did not commit the crime they were accused of.

Two confessed to the Shin Bet security service to parts of the crimes, and incriminated others. The video proved they were false confessions. But the court took its time, and the prosecutors were in no hurry. The defense attorney said he wanted to set a date with the prosecution for handing over the video. A time was set, it was canceled, and the video was not handed over. After all, it’s only people being held under arrest – what’s the big deal?

On August 8, the video was given to the prosecution and they ran out of excuses. They started examining it. Once again, not with any urgency. Calmly, comfortably. The video shows clearly that the people arrive at the scene a minute and 40 seconds after the incident ended. Okay, a few hours are needed to make sure the video hasn’t been doctored. A few more hours to check that they weren’t at the scene, beat the soldier, then ran off and returned to the scene. A generous estimate is that within a day it was possible to reach this conclusion, but the prosecution did not announce the change in its position to the court and continued to demand that all the defendants remain in detention until the end of legal proceedings – including the four innocent men.

But what is really insane is that Jerusalem District Court Judge Shmuel Melamed acceded to the request, ordering that everyone be detained until the end of proceedings. What’s more, in a decision that seems as if it came out of showcase trial in the Soviet Union, he ruled that the video clip strengthens the prosecution’s case. How? It’s not clear. The defense attorney, Shadi Kabaha, appealed the ruling at the Supreme Court, and only then did the prosecution come to its senses and agree to release the innocent men. That happened on September 2, but the prosecution did not withdraw the false indictments for two months. Why continue to cast doubt on those who have already gone through the trauma of their lives? That’s not clear either.

The case of the false confession is also a small indictment of the media. The defendants were released on September 2, but not a single media outlet picked up the story. The defense lawyer tried to interest journalists – but to no avail. Scary.

Before the footage that exonerated them popped up, the defendants were told they were looking at a double-digit number of years in prison. Their lives would have been ruined. Didn’t anyone at the top of the law enforcement system get the shivers from this thought? This is even before we talk about the dismal investigation. The most important eyewitness to the incident released a post on the day it happened, but the police and Shin Bet didn’t know about it. The defense attorney located him, and only then did he give – very important – testimony. The camera that filmed the key video was located directly across from the scene of the attack. No one involved in the investigation bothered to check that footage.

The Shin Bet, by the way, is not shocked. They are actually quite proud of their willingness to retreat from the indictment: “We sanctify the value of reasonable doubt.” Okay, after it turned out that you almost accidentally put people into prison for many years, I too would have developed a bit of healthy skepticism. The Shin Bet says that they are still not certain the four suspects are innocent. One can also assume that nothing will happen to the investigators.

A body to oversee Shin Bet investigations was established in 2001. Over the past 20 years, it handled 1,300 complaints about Shin Bet investigators. How many indictments were filed? Zero, according to data collected by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. In this case, to my knowledge, no examination was even opened. They are waiting for the suspects to file a complaint. Based on their level of trust in the system, it is unlikely that will ever happen.

The Shin Bet thinks the defense attorney intentionally handed over the video late, only after the indictments had already been filed. They are probably right. The defense attorney feared that if the video surfaced earlier, the Shin Bet would interrogate the defendants, making sure that their confessions matched what could be seen in the video. According to the facts in this case, it would appear that he was right.

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