Opinion

West Bank Rape Case Shows How Israeli Military Prosecutors Railroad Palestinians

Mahmoud Qatusa reunites with his family after his release, June 25, 2019.
Emil Salman

The rape charges against Mahmoud Qatusa were dropped because of flaws in the evidence, the chief military prosecutor says. The prosecutor has ordered an investigation into why the case wasn’t property handled, why inexperienced prosecutors were assigned to it, and why the necessary evidence wasn’t gathered either to prove or disprove the charges.

The prosecutor’s remarks sound like this was a rare technical failure in the military court system, but the facts show the opposite. Every year inexperienced military prosecutors hand down hundreds of false indictments based on partial evidence gathered by negligent and disinterested police.

>> Read more: Israel using any means possible to frame Palestinian accused of rape, locals say ■ West Bank rape case: Destined for scandal, but no one sounded the alarm | Analysis  

Most indictments for security offenses are based on the confessions of young Palestinians, exacted under conditions including torture by the Shin Bet security service. If I ever had to be interrogated at one of these places, I would immediately confess to the 1933 assassination of Chaim Arlosoroff and reenact whatever the investigators wanted to see.

Anyway, these Palestinians incriminate dozens, sometimes hundreds in crimes such as stone-throwing, taking part in demonstrations or membership in a terror group. On these lists you'll rarely see a specific place or time for when the alleged crime was committed, or information on how the participants were identified and what they exactly did. And the interrogations in which these confessions are made are never recorded, so you can never know what exactly was said, who said it or why.

Other groundless indictments are based on the problematic testimonies of soldiers who say they can identity people hours after seeing them from a distance at a mass protest or stone-throwing incident, after no clear identifying details were submitted at the time of the event. Police certainly won’t investigate at their own initiative any alibi that detainees provide, and they won’t, heaven forbid, try to distinguish between the incriminator and the person they incriminate.

In this way, military prosecutors successfully try thousands of young Palestinians a year, hundreds of them minors. Along with the negligent police and inexperienced lawyers, the judges at military courts convict suspects based on poor evidence they see in frightful amounts, which certainly should merit the admiration of every dark regime on earth.

So why Qatusa? He should send flowers to the right-wing group Honenu and to politicians Avigdor Lieberman, Gilad Erdan and Benjamin Netanyahu. If it hadn’t been for them spotting a moment to reap nauseating political profit at Qatusa’s expense, and at the expense of the poor 7-year-old girl and her family, senior legal officials wouldn’t be examining the case and uncovering its obvious objective weaknesses. If it weren’t for those politicians, we probably would have seen Qatusa convicted by a military court and locked away for many years with thousands of his imprisoned brothers.

So here’s my recommendation to the military and state prosecutors as part of the investigation they should launch into the Qatusa case. Choose at random 10 cases involving ordinary Palestinians that the military prosecutors have put before a military tribunal. What you see won’t be different from what came out in the Qatusa affair.

Nery Ramati, an attorney, has represented many Palestinians, including minors, in military court.