Sham trial at Ofer Military Court

“Military justice is to justice as military music is to music”
Title of one of Robert Sherrill’s books

Palestinian entering military court (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Palestinian entering military court (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Lead by curiosity, I went last Thursday to attend several trials at Ofer Military Court, next to the Ofer prison, both situated very close to Ramallah. Even if I knew that the trials would be in Hebrew and Arabic, I thought that it would be interesting to see the justice process and how the different actors of the trial behave and are treated. And I definitely was astonished by what I saw. Although I could not get the content of what was being said, to observe the unfolding of a trial was already enough to understand and question the whole justice procedure in this Court.
First of all, it is real challenge to reach the actual Court and assist to a trial. The whole security process made me feel that I was more visiting a prison, rather than a court. The entrance to the complex is closed by a first checkpoint. There I had to explain to the skeptical soldiers that I was not mistaking this checkpoint with the Qalandia one, that I was not lost but I actually wanted to watch the trial and that I had an Israeli authorization for it.
Once they had overcome this first step, all the people wanting to attend a trial have to get registered a second time, and then wait in an outdoor courtyard until their name is called by the soldiers. There is no precise time for the different trials, and the relatives of the Palestinian detainees have to wait an indefinite amount of time before they can enter into the courtrooms. The waiting seems unbearable for some families, who have come to hear the sentence for their child or their fathers. After insisting towards the military soldiers, I finally entered an hour and a half after the beginning of the trials, although they had told me that they would call me five minutes after my registration. And some Palestinians families were still anxiously waiting outside after I got in.

Outdoor courtyard where the public has to wait before entering the courts (C. Loyer)

Outdoor courtyard where the public has to wait before entering the courts (C. Loyer)

After checking that the visitor has not brought anything else than a pen and a notebook, he can finally access the courtrooms. But “courtroom” is not a really adequate word to qualify the seven prefabricated buildings in which the sentences are decided. Next to one of the portable buildings, a Palestinian is waiting outside, because he has been refused the right to attend the trial. But as I am an “international”, I unfairly have the right to attend it. The size of the room is incredibly small: there are only ten seats for the audience at the back, and the detainees come by four at a time, handcuffed in a small corner. All the members of the court are wearing the military uniform, and some of them are doing their military service. This collusion between military and judicial realms has been underlined by Addameer (the Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association): “Judges in the military courts are military officers in regular or reserve service. Most of the judges do not have long term judicial training, and many served previously as military prosecutors.”

It was really hard to distinguish the beginning from the end of the trial, not only because of the barrier of the language, but also because of the total anarchy of the trial. The proceedings really reminded some Kafka or Ionesco’s plays: the audience is contemplating the actors on stage, pretending to be judge or attorney, and acting absurdly, in a total chaos. As one of the young Israeli soldier did the approximate translation of the Hebrew sentences of the judge, without even watching his interlocutors, drinking Coke and chewing a gum at the same time, a lot of different people kept coming in and out the small building, which was very disturbing in order to follow the trial. The Palestinian attorneys started to joke with the detainees, showing how non serious and ridiculous those trials are for the Palestinians, whereas the military clerk was sleeping on her chair. Two of the detainees were moved because they have been brought to the wrong courtroom.

The role of the attorneys is also surprising. They do not really have a time dedicated to their plea; they only can say few words and bargain the sentence, more or less already decided, with the judge. The charges are even very vague: some young men were accused of stone throwing, but it was not explained against whom or which the consequences were, and no proof was advanced to this statement. In this case, it is not surprising that Addameer has reported that “of those who are charged, approximately 99.74 percent are convicted[1], and of these convictions, the vast majority is the result of plea bargains[2].”

Moreover, the detainees are almost lucky when they receive their sentence, given that most of the trials I assisted to consisted in postponing the judgment to another day, without any real reason. One young nineteen years old Palestinian saw his trial reported for one week, because he had to take daily medicine for his Familial Mediterranean Fever, as every day. Another young detainee saw, after five minutes of trial, his judgment reported to three days later, without any reason evoked. And his parents, who made the travel and waited three hours to know what would happen to him, just had time to shake his hand with a lot of emotion before the policeman took him back to jail. All those hindrances, delays, and weariness lead to the point when I was the only one in the audience to still attend the process of four other detainees.

The question that kept running into my mind was: what kind of trial is this? How could the judgment be fair when a trial lasts five minutes, the detainees barely have the right to talk, the proceedings are continuously interrupted by people going in and out ? Even if military courts are established in exceptional moments, to deal with a period of conflict, but can the security argument justify any violation of human rights ? And even this security argument, at the core of the military rhetoric, was partly discredited in the documentary The law in these parts, directed in 2011 by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, and filming the interviews of the judges who created the legal system to govern the occupied territories. But even if the military judges and prosecutors interviewed confess that legitimacy and democracy are not always what define the military trials, they also stress that the actors has to keep playing their role, to preserve order in Israel.

The show must absolutely go on, at all costs.

Claire Bargelès


[1] Addameer, Israeli Military Court report 2010

[2] Ibid

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Reflexions on Baladna: My Message of HOPE

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I have personally experienced a whole week of engagement with Palestinians in the West Bank and internal refugees in Israeli cities.

Having also spoken to Israeli citizens, it has become apparent to me that a lack of engagement with the Palestinian side leads them to fear the unknown that resides beyond the wall. Besides the clear lack of communication between the two sides, there is also an effort by the Israeli Government to erase the Palestinian Identity (history, culture, engagement with other Palestinians).

Baladna, alongside other civil society organisations, creates the space and the infrastructure that allows young Palestinians to develop their identity and find their place in Israeli society. Their programs include workshops in developing leadership skills, youth meetings and activities. At a more formal level, Baladna develops reports that give account of the local developments in the Arab community: from education status to employment rates for the Israeli Arab population. Organisations such as Baladna are an important step for the reaffirmation of the Palestinian identity.

A second stage would be to provide a platform where Israelis and Palestinians are able to communicate and demystify the problem that is to deal with the other side. This would be a suggestion to Baladna and other organisations that want to make a difference in the future of all the Young Palestinians and Israelis.

For the reason that they are the future and they constitute the next generation that will deal with the conflict, we ought to inspire them with cooperation and tolerance towards one another. This is my message of hope.

Catarina Santos

Ghada Karmi

The Educational Bookshop, Thursday 13th of June

Last Thursday, The Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem was the proud host of Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi. She was promoting her new book, Return, which is still in the process of being written. She explained that her new book is set to be a kind of sequel to her widely acclaimed book, In Search of Fatima. In Search of Fatima, Karmi’s political autobiography was first published in 2002 and rapidly established Karmi as a leading voice in the plight of Palestinian refugees. In search of Fatima essentially explored Karmi’s personal relation to her own identity. Torn from her native Palestine and beloved Jerusalem at a young age in 1948, Karmi was soon forced to confront her double heritage: from her family and her past she inherited her ‘Arabness’ and from her education and her new home, she grew to become an English woman. Openly stating that she has never really known where she really belongs she has explored the theme of Palestinian refugee identity with great sensitivity and acuteness. In her autobiographical writings she has shown how she constantly wavers between longing to return to the Arab world and wishing to erase that part of her life completely. Thursday evening at the bookshop, Karmi pointed out that the double identity that she had previously seen as contributing to her schismatic identity slowly appeared to her as an advantage. She explained how she could easily slip into both societies (the English one and the Palestinian one) unnoticed. She jokingly added though that on one occasion when she had been on the verge of deciding to come and live definitely in Palestine, one of her Palestinian friends had deterred her from doing so. “It’s because I am strange” she laughed, “I am definitely strange, for both sides”. Karmi speaks flawless Arabic, as she does English.

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Before uncovering the few extracts she had chosen to read out, Karmi explained that Return would largely cover her stay in Ramallah in 2005 when she was appointed by the UNPD to work as a consultant for the Ministry of Media and Communication. With humor, she read out passages depicting her first meetings with the PA. “What do you think about it?” she asked the public after having read a few excerpts, “am I being too lenient towards the PA?”. Karmi was very outspoken about her negative opinion regarding the Palestinian Authority. She claimed that getting rid of it was the first step in revealing to the world Palestine’s real situation. “You see”, she explained, “the PA acts as a façade for the rest of the world. When they hear “Palestinian Authority”, their first thought is that Palestine has a government. The PA needs to fall in order for the world to see that Palestine really has no sovereign power”. Karmi is a strong partisan of the one state solution. She went on to explain how she viewed this solution as the only way in which Israel would be forced to take responsibility for the population it is currently controlling. “This is the last thing Israel wants” she said “imagine! If all 5 million Palestinians, including those living in Israel were to stand up and demand an Israeli passport, this would be Israel’s worse nightmare. If it were to accept, there would be a parity of population: Palestinians would have a vote. They would be able to shift things…”.

Kiri Sinensis

Also an article published here : http://www.pij.org/details.php?blog=1&id=218

Khallaz


“Not only is this group of people [Palestinians] being oppressed more
than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa,
their very identity and history are being denied and obfuscated”

Desmond Tutu

Christa

I live in a beautiful place. Every morning at 7 o’clock, I leave my dreaminess behind in my cave while I ascend the brick stairs into the open air so to allow the sun to welcome me warmly to reality. And what a splendid reality it is. Standing on a hilltop south of Bethlehem, I look over the valley of the small Palestinian town of Nahalin, followed by a range of mountains of the Northern Judean Hills and if I jump and squeeze my eyes in concentration, my glance can go beyond the mountains so to peek quickly at the Mediterranean Sea. In all, it takes me six steps on the stairs, one minute of gazing into beauty, and one jump to be fully energized for the rest of the day. Not bad, compared to the one and a half hours of snoozing I do at home. 

Tent of Nations, the place I live and work, is a fairly big Palestinian farm owned by the Nassar family. The atmosphere at the farm conforms to the serenity of our landscape: our daily work of watering the olive trees and weeding the fields follows the motto shwi shwi (slowly, slowly) and the paralyzing power of the sun allows for quite some breaks in our working schedule, giving us time to eat watermelon, practice our handstands and cuddle the animals. No later than 5 p.m. Daher – my “boss” – says Khallaz (enough) and we come together in our open-air kitchen where we usher the evening in. The sun says Khallaz and dives into the Mediterranean Sea. Not much later, I also say Khallaz and descend the stairs to my cave.

Unfortunately, as with practically every image of Palestinian life and landscapes, there is much more to see when you don’t let yourself be blinded by the sun. At the right of the picture above, you see the illegal Israeli settlement Betar Illit. If I stand on the place this picture is made and I turn 360⁰ degrees, I can see the other three settlements that surround our farm. Starting from Betar Illit turning clock-wise, there is Ne’ve Daniel; Gush Etzion; and Elazar. Tent of Nations is situated in the West Bank, which is since the six day war in 1967 referred to as the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). Through illegal expansion of Israeli settlements, infrastructure, outposts, and military zones in this Palestinian land, Israel has by now annexed 70% of the West Bank[1]. Of course, this occupation has significant humanitarian consequences for Palestinian communities living here. To name a few: Palestinians are being replaced from their homes (since the Al Nakba in 1948, approximately 7 million Palestinian who lived in Israel and Palestine are now refugees and 450.000 are internally displaced persons (IDP’s) together representing 70% of the entire Palestinian population worldwide[2]); administrative and physical obstacles have restricted the movement of Palestinians fiercely; and access to several resources (especially water and land) is limited to Palestinians in order to supply the Israeli settlers.

Though this sounds daunting, there are places in the West Bank where Israel failed to complete their occupation. Tent of Nations, owned by the Nassar family since 1916, still stands in the midst of the Israeli occupation, though its land is under threat of confiscation by the Israeli military since 1991.  The Nassar family has all the original land registration papers and contributed plenty of work to the land from the time of Ottoman, British, Jordanian, and Israeli governance, which shows that the Israeli government has no right to declare it theirs. Since 1991, the Nassar family challenged their first demolition order by the Israeli government and until now, 20 years later, they are still in a legal struggle to hold on to the land. Unfortunately, the combat over this land is not only legally fought: the Israeli attempt to expel the family from their land is a fact the Nassar family faces daily on the ground. The first attempt came from the Israeli settlers from the surrounding settlements in 2002. With the help of the army, they blocked the lane leading to the farm with grand boulders. For this reason, we cannot reach the nearby highway by car. When I travel to Bethlehem or Jerusalem in the weekends, I first walk fifteen minutes to the highway, pass the boulders by foot and take the bus at the highway. It takes me 10 minutes from there to reach Bethlehem and 20 minutes to Jerusalem. When I go with Daher in his car, we have to make a grand detour, making it take 25 minutes to go to Bethlehem and two hours to Jerusalem. This last destination is not possible for Daher anymore though, as Palestinians in the West Bank cannot reach Jerusalem or any other place in Israel without a permit (and these are rarely given).  I asked Daher why he did not hire a team that would remove the boulders on his lane. I realized how naïve this thought was when Daher answered: ‘no, this roadblock is for “security reasons”. If I’d remove it, I’ll be put in jail’.

Christa2

The second incident of settler violence was shortly after the Second Intifada. The Israeli neighbors, armed with guns and dogs, had arranged bulldozers themselves and were planning on destroying the house on the farm. For two weeks, Daher, his sister Amal, and other family members stood in front of the bulldozers so to literally shield their property. It is there that the Nassar family realized they needed the support of internationals and human right organizations in order to maintain their property. With the pressure of human rights organizations, the Israeli police demanded the settlers to leave. They did in the end, but not before they uprooted 250 olive trees on the farm, smashed the water tanks, and bashed up several properties with the tools they found on the land.

Besides their restriction of movement and violent incidents with settlers, we are discouraged from staying via other impediments. At the Tent of Nations, we don’t have running water. The surrounding settlers have swimming pools in their perfectly maintained, green and flowery yards. Though the water used to supply for these settlers comes from Palestinian grounds, we are the only ones not connected to the national water system. With the help of international volunteers, Tent of Nations has dug several cisterns, at which rain water is collected and stored. This water we use for cooking, washing and irrigation. Obviously, we are neither connected to the national electricity supply; international donations have realized solar panels on our roof in 2005. Both the cisterns and the solar panels received a demolition order by the Israeli military court, as it is illegal for Palestinians to build or reconstruct anything without a permit (same story: rarely given). Everything, from our toilet blocks to the bed in my cave, has received a demolition order. In fact, when I am eating breakfast in the open-air kitchen, I am actually involved in “illegal activities”.

So what’s the point of me being involved in this illegal activity and how does me eating breakfast in the kitchen contribute to the situation of the Tent of Nations? Here comes in the ideology of the Nassar family. While the Israeli occupation tries to perpetuate discord between people, Tent of Nations is simultaneously working hard on building the bridges that go far over the walls and the separation blocks the Israeli build. Its mission is to work towards understanding, reconciliation and peace, not only between Israeli and Palestinians, but between everyone who wants to hear one another’s story. Since my stay here, I have seen many international, Palestinian and Israeli groups coming here to visit and all of them receive an equally warm welcome by an overenthusiastic and positive Daher. It is inspiring to see how this family always tries to respond nonviolently to the antagonism it receives from outside. When I asked Amal what they did when the settlers uprooted their 250 trees, she simple said: ‘we planted 500 new ones’. Resistance, as Tent of Nations sees it, is converting hatred into something constructive and this message they disseminate to as many as possible.

While Tent of Nations is in a mixed up way a peaceful place where people can let themselves be inspired by the stories and visions of this land, I will not let myself be blinded by the sun. It is clear that the occupation is too strong for the Tent of Nations to handle alone. It would be a nice ending if I would state here what would then be a counterforce powerful enough for the Israeli occupation to stop, but I won’t. Simply because I wouldn’t know. So I asked Daher who, as an insider, I thought would have a thorough and well defined idea of what a solution should look like. This is what he said: ‘I don’t know, these settlements, they keep growing and growing! Most importantly is that they stop: KHALLAZ!’ And he’s right. It’s been way over 5 p.m. Let’s say Khallaz.

Christa von Reth


[1] Report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA): ‘the Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies’  (December 2012)

[2] Report from Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights: ‘Brief History of the Palestinian Refugee & IDP case’ (2013)

Hope or delusion ?

Joy, delight and euphoria seemed to characterized the West Bank and Gaza, after the victory, last Saturday night, of the 23 years old Palestinian Mohammad Assaf, in Arab Idol (the Arab version of American Idol and La Nouvelle Star). It was the international recognition of a wonderful voice, a young man full of charisma and talent, but most of all the new face of a united Palestine, fighting the occupation not by violence but by the affirmation of its specific culture and music.

I went to work on Monday, and all the people in the office were talking about that, how amazing his voice is, how big is the symbol of this result, how Ramallah inhabitants celebrated it. The main tube was played in a loop and I even surprised myself watching several videos of him on Youtube, notably his moving “Ali Keffiyeh” song during the one he performed a bit of Dabke.

But some hours later, when I was buying some top up for my phone, a man was reading a newspaper in the shop, and got quite upset we he read an article with the picture of Mohammad Assaf. I curiously asked him why all this “Arab Idol” passion did not rejoice him, and he explained me that it was not a TV show and a nice boy with a beautiful voice that would change anything to the situation which is lasting since 1948. Quite at the contrary, he thought that it was distracting people from what was really happening, and it was a façade for the PA (Palestinian Authority) to make a diversion. And the news that I’ve heard some minutes after gave him reason: today it is no longer fireworks but rockets and bombs exploding above Gaza.

Manipulation of a beautiful young voice to give some hope and relief and forgive the gloomy reality of the conflict ? Or real symbol of a unified Palestine, supported by the other Arab countries ?  In my opinion, even if a TV show cannot change everything, the cultural affirmation of Palestine is a first step towards the full affirmation of the Palestinian people. But it must be continued and associated with other cultural actions and should not become an empty symbol used by the PA to hide its vacuity.

Claire Bargelès

Salīm

Salīm (whose name in Arabic means “undamaged” and it’s also the name of a star) is 7 years old, has blond hair, a clear look in his blue eyes, and a broken future. He, as many other Palestinian children, lives under the brutalization of Israeli military occupation on a day to day basis. Nabi Saleh, the small village with roughly 570 inhabitants where Salīm lives and climbs the almond trees, has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance.
One day, when our little protagonist was only 3 years old, the people from the neighboring village decided to appropriate the spring, the life source for Nabi Saleh and his inhabitants. As nature doesn´t understand of human distinctions, the settlers built walls. Since then, every Friday (the holy day for Muslims) the people from Nabi Saleh march for their right to freely drink what the land offers them. As the walls can`t stop the thirst of justice of a nation, the settlers take the help of colonizers, dressed in green and with guns that spread tears. And suddenly, the whole village is a tear smoke of mothers that cry for their children, children that cry for their fathers, and broken affections. And the children…the children throw stones.

The first time I saw Salīm I found him in his yard with a stone in his hand. In the shade of the almond tree, he was breaking the shell of the almonds with each stroke. In a language that I don´t understand, he offered me with his open hand an almond. And so I spent the evening with Salīm climbing trees, laughing and eating almonds. However, next Friday the Israeli military will return with their guns, will make his mother cry, hit his father, demolish his neighbor’s house, and detain his 12 years old brother.

The military occupation in Palestine commits unnatural crimes, like stealing the rain from the children and forbid them to have a future where they can keep climbing trees and where the only stone they have in hand it’s the one they use to stroke almonds.

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Salīm (cuyo nombre en árabe significa seguro, íntegro, y da nombre a una estrella) tiene 7 años, el pelo rubio, los ojos azules, la mirada clara y un futuro roto. Él, como tantos otros niños en Palestina, vive día a día la brutalización de la ocupación militar. Nabi Saleh, el pequeño pueblo de apenas 570 habitantes donde Salīm vive y trepa los almendros, se ha convertido en un emblema de la resistencia palestina.
Un día, cuando nuestro pequeño protagonista tenía apenas 3 años, los habitantes de la aldea vecina decidieron apropiarse del manantial, fuente de vida para Nabi Saleh y sus habitantes. Como la naturaleza no entiende de distinciones, los colonos construyeron murallas y desde entonces, cada viernes (día santo para los musulmanes), los habitantes de Nabi Saleh marchan por su derecho a beber aquello que la tierra les brinda. Como las murallas no pueden detener la sed de justicia de un pueblo, los colonos se brindan de colonizadores, vestidos de verde, con armas que esparcen lágrimas. Y de pronto el pueblo entero es una humareda de lágrimas, de madres que lloran por sus hijos, de hijos que lloran por sus padres, y de cariños que se rompen. Y los niños… los niños lanzan piedras.

La primera vez que vi a Salīm lo encontré en el patio de su casa, tenía una piedra en su mano. A la sombra del almendro, rompía la cascara de las almendras a cada golpe. En un idioma que no entiendo, me ofreció con su mano una almendra. Y así me pasé la tarde con Salīm, trepándo árboles, riendo  y comiendo almendras. Sin embargo el próximo viernes los militares volverán con sus armas, harán llorar a su madre, golpearán a su padre, destruirán la casa de su vecino y detendrán por días a su hermano que solo tiene 12 años.

La ocupación militar de Palestina comete horrores antinaturales como robar la lluvia a los niños y prohibirles de un futuro en el que puedan seguir trepando árboles y que la única piedra que tengan en mano sea la que utilicen para romper almendras.

Jaime Vidal