Two Material Witnesses to Testify in the Trial of West Bank Protest Organiser, Bassem Tamimi on Wednesday

By the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee: 30 October, 2011

Mo’atasem Tamimi, a fifteen year-old who was unlawfully interrogated at the police, and as a result incriminated Bassem Tamimi and others, is scheduled to testify before the military court on Wednesday

The trial of Nabi Saleh protest organizer, Bassem Tamimi, is due to resume this Wednesday with the testimonies of two main witnesses. The progress of the trial was hindered last week, for the fourth time since proceedings began, after the main witness in the case, fourteen year-old Islam Dar Ayyoub, was not summoned to the hearing due to the Military Prosecution’s negligence. Tamimi has already spent more than seven months behind lock and key, but only five of the 25 prosecution witnesses have been heard to date.

The two witnesses scheduled to be heard on Wednesday are both youth from Nabi Saleh – fifteen year-old Mo’atasem Tamimi, and nineteen year-old Oudai Tamimi.

Mo’atasem Tamimi, the fifteen year-old, was grabbed from his bed at gunpoint in the middle of the night on January 27th, 2011, and questioned unlawfully the next morning. The official transcript of his interrogation, provided by the police, shows that Mo’atasem incriminated Bassem and Naji Tamimi of instructing youth to throw stones, and confessed to having thrown stones himself. However, a video recording of the interrogation reveals important details, omissions and gross discrepancies between the transcript and the actual interrogation.

  • Despite having been arrested at 2:30 AM, his interrogation at the police station in the Ma’ale Edomim settlement started at 8:47 AM, in the interim, and despite his young age he was not allowed sleep. Such form of interrogation is forbidden under amendment 14 to the Israeli Youth Law.
  • Despite his young age, Mo’atasem was not offered the opportunity to have his parents present in the room during the interrogation, in violation his rights as set forth by amendment 14 to the Israeli Youth Law.
  • Only one of his two interrogators was a qualified youth interrogator.
  • Contrary to the official transcript of his interrogation, Mo’atasem was not informed of his right to remain silent until he has already started incriminating others. Instead, his interrogator told him:  “You can tell us the truth, or you can lie. Everything you say, will be noted down and be used as evidence against you in court. If you won’t speak, it will strengthen the evidence against you. I say, in your own interest, i say this for you, you had better tell the truth.” The interrogator then went on to tell him, “You are a young boy, if you tell the truth, the court will take this into consideration and go easy on you. Now, you are going to tell us everything as it happened.”

Udai Tamimi, the 19 year-old, is employed by the Palestinian security forces and was, according to the police, only present at one demonstration. He denied all charges against him in his first interrogation, then confessed and incriminated others, including Bassem Tamimi, in his second questioning. However, he then recanted his statement in his third interrogation, saying he was beaten before his second questioning.

Tamimi has been behind lock and key for the past seven months, in which only one out of over twenty prosecution witnesses have testified before the court. On September 25th, Major Michelle Dahan, who was commander of the military forces in the area and in charge of suppressing Nabi Saleh demonstrations, admitted to having dispersed demonstrations that were entirely peaceful, and alleged that Tamimi ordered youth to throw stones based on the fact that he saw him on rooftops during demonstrations.

Background
Bassem Tamimi is a veteran Palestinian grassroots activist from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, north of Ramallah. He is married to Nariman Tamimi, with whom he fathers four children – Wa’ed (14), Ahed (10), Mohammed (8) and Salam (5).

As a veteran activist, Tamimi has been arrested by the Israeli army 11 times to date, though he was never convicted of any offense. Tamimi spent roughly three years in administrative detention, with no charges brought against him. Furthermore, his attorney and he were denied access to “secret evidence” brought against him.

In 1993, Tamimi was falsely arrested on suspicion of having murdered an Israeli settler in Beit El – an allegation of which he was cleared of entirely. During his weeks-long interrogation, he was severely tortured by the Israeli Shin Bet in order to draw a coerced confession from him. During his interrogation, and as a result of the torture he underwent, Tamimi collapsed and had to be evacuated to a hospital, where he laid unconscious for seven days. As a result of the wounds caused by torture, Tamimi was partially paralyzed for several months after his release from the hospital.

At the opening of his trial on June 5th, Tamimi pleaded “not guilty” to all charges against him, but proudly owned up to organizing protest in the village. In a defiant speech before the court he said, “I organized these peaceful demonstrations to defend our land and our people.” Tamimi also challenged the legitimacy of the very system which trys him, saying that “Despite claiming to be the only democracy in the Middle East you are trying me under military laws […] that are enacted by authorities which I haven’t elected and do not represent me.” (See here for Tamimi’s full statement).

The indictment against Tamimi is based on questionable and coerced confessions of youth from the village. He is charged with’ incitement’, ‘organizing and participating in unauthorized processions’,’ solicitation to stone-throwing’, ‘failure to attend legal summons’, and a scandalous charge of ‘disruption of legal proceedings’, for allegedly giving youth advice on how to act during police interrogation in the event that they are arrested.

The transcript of Tamimi’s police interrogation further demonstrates the police and Military Prosecution’s political motivation and disregard for suspects’ rights. During his questioning, Tamimi was accused by his interrogator of “consulting lawyers and foreigners to prepare for his interrogation”, an act that is clearly protected under the right to seek legal counsel.

As one of the organizers of the Nabi Saleh protests and coordinator of the village’s popular committee, Tamimi has been the target of harsh treatment by the Israeli army. Since demonstrations began in the village, his house has been raided and ransacked numerous times, his wife was twice arrested and two of his sons were injured; Wa’ed, 14, was hospitalized for five days when a rubber-coated bullet penetrated his leg and Mohammed, 8, was injured by a tear-gas projectile that was shot directly at him and hit him in the shoulder. Shortly after demonstrations in the village began, the Israeli Civil Administration served ten demolition orders to structures located in Area C, Tamimi’s house was one of them, despite the fact that part of the house was built in 1965 and the rest in 2005.

Legal background
On March 24th, 2011, a massive contingent of Israeli Soldiers raided the Tamimi home at around noon, only minutes after he entered the house to prepare for a meeting with a European diplomat. He was arrested and subsequently charged.

The main evidence in Tamimi’s case is the testimony of 14 year-old Islam Dar Ayyoub, also from Nabi Saleh, who was taken from his bed at gunpoint on the night of January 23rd. In his interrogation the morning after his arrest, Islam alleged that Bassem and Naji Tamimi organized groups of youth into “brigades”, charged with different responsibilities during the demonstrations: some were allegedly in charge of stone-throwing, others of blocking roads, etc.

During a trial-within-a-trial procedure in Islam’s trial, motioning for his testimony to be ruled inadmissible, it was proven that his interrogation was fundamentally flawed and violated the rights set forth in the Israeli Youth Law in the following ways:

  1. Despite being a minor, he was questioned in the morning following his arrest, having been denied sleep.
  2. He was denied legal counsel, although his lawyer appeared at the police station requesting to see him.
  3. He was denied his right to have a parent present during his questioning.
  4. He was not informed of his right to remain silent, and was even told by his interrogators that he is “expected to tell the truth”.
  5. Only one of four interrogators present was a qualified youth interrogator.

The audio-visual recording of another central witness against Tamimi, 15 year-old Mo’atasem Tamimi, proves that he too was questioned in a similarly unlawful manner.

Since the beginning of the village’s struggle against settler takeover of their lands in December of 2009, the army has conducted 80 protest related arrests. As the entire village numbers just over 500 residents, the number constitutes approximately 10% of its population.

Tamimi’s arrest corresponds to the systematic arrest of civil protest leaders all around the West Bank, as in the case of the villages Bil’in and Ni’ilin.

Only recently the Military Court of Appeals has aggravated the sentence of Abdallah Abu Rahmah from the village of Bilin, sending him to 16 months imprisonment on charges of incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations. Abu Rahmah was released on March 2011.

The arrest and trial of Abu Rahmah has been widely condemned by the international community, most notably by Britain and EU foreign minister, Catherin Ashton. Harsh criticism of the arrest has also been offered by leading human rights organizations in Israel and around the world, among them B’tselem, ACRI, as well as Human Rights Watch, which declared Abu Rahmah’s trial unfair, and Amnesty International, which declared Abu Rahmah a prisoner of conscience

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