Tell-tale Detail

Israel's courts discriminate between Jews and Arabs.

Two cases dealing with the transportation of illegal workers were discussed last month in Jerusalem District Court. Within the space of five days President of the District Court Zvi Segal and his colleagues, Judges Yoram Noam and Raphael Carmel, handed down verdicts in the cases of two drivers, in which the State had appealed the decisions of the Magistrate's Courts, which were satisfied merely with a suspended prison sentence and a fine. The verdicts in each of these two appeals teaches us a agood deal about the judicial system's reasoning and motives.

The first case, concerning charges against a resident of Jerusalem who drove home an Arab worker after he had worked all day painting the stairwell in his home, was tried before Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Haim Li-Ran. The driver did not know that his passenger was an illegal worker. The prosecution demanded that the driver be given an actual prison sentence on the basis of a long list of verdicts, including a Supreme Court saying that for the sake of protecting the public and considering the involvement of illegal workers in terror attacks, anyone providing them with transportation should be given an actual prison sentence. The prosecution argued that the present case could not be characterized as one with exceptional circumstances, in which case the court might be satisfied with a suspended sentence. Justice Li-Ran did not accept the prosecution's argument: in accordance with the proportionality principle, and the judgment of each case on its own merits, he handed the defendant a suspended sentence of 30 days for two years and a NIS 500 fine to be paid in two installments.

The state appealed the decision before Justices Segal, Noam, and Carmel and demanded an actual prison sentence. In court, the prosecutor announced that the sides had arrived at a plea bargain, which would add three months of public service to the verdict given in the court of first instance. The District Court accepted the plea bargain, because the state's representative announced that the prosecution had recently changed its policy, and that in the case of a single ride, where no business or other relation existed between the driver and the passenger, a prison sentence redeemed with public service would be sufficient.

Five days later, on June 21, the same tribunal of judges was required to decide the case of a man who, for the first time in his life and for the first time while employed as a driver, drove three illegal workers on the Shu'afat road. Magistrate's Court Judge Raphael Strauss gave him a suspended two month sentence for two years, and a fine of NIS 2,000 to be paid in eight installments. Strauss' verdict was given a day before Justice Li-Ran's decision in the case described above.

Justice Strauss justified his decision in terms of the case's unique circumtances. The defendant had worked in the tourist industry but had been fired from his job and was forced to seek alternative employment as a driver. On his first day on the job, because of a lack of experience, he did not check the identities of his passengers, and was caught transporting three illegal workers. "The person in question conducts a regular way of life and has never been involved in violation of the law," Justice Strauss wrote in his verdict. The state, which had demanded an actual prison sentence, appealed to the District Court.

Justices Segal, Noam, and Carmel accepted the appeal and sentenced the defendant to 45 days in prison in addition to the penalties imposed by Justice Strauss. The appellate court based its decision on precedents that had also been presented to Justice Li-Ran and Strauss.

The District Court did not mention in its verdict the change in policy announced by the prosecution, and which it had relied upon to avoid imposing an actual prison sentence in the first case. Justices Segal, Noam, and Carmel determined that the circumstances of the case did not justify deviating from the rule, and that public interest required a severe and harsh penalty.

I forgot to mention a central point: The defendant in the first case is Jewish - Erez Zakai from Shmuel Hanavi Street - and the defendant in the second case is Arab - George Amerzian from Beit Hanina.