With Israel's policy of arrests escalating, Stop the Wall publishes an account by two witneses of an 'ordinary' court hearing in the extraordinary repressive and racist system of injustice of the Israeli military courts. Last week the Palestinian Prisoner's Society has released data that Israeli forces have detained 174 Palestinians across the West Bank during the second week of September alone.On September 18th, addameer denounced that in the early hours of the morning Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) re-arrested Ayman Nasser (44) from his home in the West Bank village of Saffa. Nasser is the legal unit coordinator at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
Just on the other side of the border we could see the destination for today, the court of Salem. It is situated almost as far north you can go here on the West Bank. The bus could not take us all the way so we had to walk the last bit, past the warning sign that said: BARRIER AHEAD. It took some time before I realized that they meant the wall, I had forgotten that the Israelis call it a security barrier. At this point, far out in the country side the wall is not exactly a wall, but more a high metal fence. But even here it is crowned with meters upon meters of barbed wire.
Before we came to the “barrier” we stopped by a small van with a metal shed that served as kiosk, information’s desk and storage of valuables. In to the court area we could bring nothing else but food, water, cigarettes, empty papers, a pen and our passports.
We were a little late so we hurried to the entrance in the barrier, a corridor of fences divided into security checks and turnstiles. There we met a Israeli soldier, but we could just as well have run into a wall. The arrogant young man first addressed our coordinator in Arabic but constantly switched to Hebrew even though we repeatedly said that we only knew Arabic and English. After he had asked us maybe twenty times about our names, not to check our identity just to.. well, just for the fun of it, he told us there would be no court today. A statement he stood by until a superior came half an hour later and started to let everyone through. I don’t know if it was because we were not Palestinians or because our coordinator and I were the only women there, but we were let to the front of the line.
Through a turnstile, into a room with a metal detector and a soldier in a booth, in to another room with yet another turnstile and another soldier in a booth. Then a passport control where the round sergeant yelled to us: “Welcome to Israel!” with a wide smile. What else could we do than smile back and say thank you? Even though all of my body wanted to turn and leave, why would I be grateful to be here? Later on we were told that they had been so nice to us, we for one did not have to get through a body search, because “international presence” makes them nervous. If we had not been there it had been much tougher and more unpleasant to get through.
It was hard to imagine something much more unpleasant than the time we had to wait and the place, we had to wait in, before the court started. Between the security checks and the barracks that served as courtrooms we had to wait on a hot courtyard with a tin roofed waiting area. Where we sat there was not much more to look at than the fence that surrounded us on all sides, and the relatives that waited together with us. Not much was there to do for the children that were waiting together with the grown ups either, they quickly grew bored and impatient in the warm sun. Our coordinator told us that sometimes they have to sit here all day waiting for the cases of their loved ones to be taken to court. And even though it is close to insufferable to sit here, with so little to do, and no more access to food and water than what they bring themselves, nasty toilettes and no opportunity to pray with dignity, it is worth it. For some it is the only chance they have to see their father, brother, son, relative or friend. Israeli prisons only allow visitors every three months, and it is not easy to get permission to travel there, inside Israel. In addition only two people can come at a time, and only people from the closest family. They have a better chance of seeing them here at the court, even if it is only to see them, they rarely get to talk to them and never get to give them a long longed for embrace.
When we finally get to the court hearing for M.A., who a year ago got arrested for supposedly throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at a demonstration for prisoners rights, I do not understand a thing. It takes me a while to sort out who everyone is, but after a while I get it. There is one judge, two policemen who serve as prosecutors, two secretaries, a translator, M.A’s lawyer, M.A himself, a witness and three security guards. It is a mix of Hebrew and Arabic and it seems more informal than what I had expected a court to be. The policemen/prosecutors walk back and forth and sometimes several people talk at the same time. I guess it is more confusing to me, who does not understand what they are saying, but I have a feeling that this is not a typical example of a regular court procedure.
It is revealed that the witness, who they have brought in to testify against M.A, has signed a statement against his will under the threat of violence. It is also revealed that those who were arrested together with M.A almost a year ago, and who have been arrested since, were abused by the policemen who arrested them. To my surprise one of the said policemen is actually taken in for a hearing when the court gathers again after lunch. Evidence is brought forth and by comparing different samples of handwriting they prove that the policeman’s statement was false, the arrested men had not themselves written the statements they were forced to sign.
Even though this was maybe the 10th time the court gathered on the case of four young men who were arrested for something they claim to be innocent of, the judge ends the court by slamming the hammer and summoning everyone to continue with a next hearing. By then M.A and his friends have been in Israeli custody for over a year.