A Palestinian boy’s Kafkaesque trial in Israel’s military court

by Joseph Dana      15 February, 2011

On a sunny day people usually stand outside or sit in the direct sun in the waiting area at the Ofer military court. To observe a trail at Ofer, one must enter the facilities and, in a way, become a prisoner. Visiting diplomats and human rights officials alike, are allowed to bring only money and cigarettes into the court area. Trials are given times in two vague categories –  before the lunch break and after. Often a trial is listed for ‘before the lunch break’ and so observers will arrive at the court around 9 a.m., only to find that it has been postponed until after the break, leaving the unlucky observers with five to six hours to kill in what is basically a large prison yard – buckled asphalt surrounded by watchtowers shaped like World War Two-era pillboxes, and chain link fences topped with rolls of barbed wire.

Islam Tamimi, a 14 year old child from Nabi Saleh who was pulled out of his bed by invading soldiers at 3 a.m.three weeks ago, had a hearing yesterday regarding the details of his upcoming trial. In a crowded room full of human rights observers from Palestinian legal organizations and woman from the Israeli organizationMachsomWatch , Islam was brought before a judge. A child swimming in an adult prison uniform, Islam fidgeted as children often do when a lot of attention is focused on them.

The hearing was short and focused on a request by Islam’s defense for a separate trial about the conditions under which Islam was arrested and interrogated. Islam was arrested at 3 a.m., held in an undisclosed location and then brought to Shin Bet (Israeli internal security) agents at roughly 9 o’clock the following morning. His lawyers were present when he was brought into the station but denied access to their client for over five hours. The procedure by which information was taken from Islam Tamimi likely involved coecrcion and psychological if not physical torture. The defense argued that a trial would show that his testimony was obtained false and obtained by force.

This motion was granted by the military court with a serious caveat. The trial about how the testimony was obtained would begin only after the trial for stone throwing began. A clear insult to justice, the court could find him guilty of stone throwing and then find out that he had been convicted on testimony that was inadmissible because it had been obtained by force. This likely scenario will result in Islam remaining in jail for months for no reason whatsoever. Two requests to have the child moved to house arrest have been turned down by the court in the last three weeks. His trial will begin next week at the Ofer military court.

Before Islam was taken back to jail, he told his father, who was sitting in the courtroom among the human rights observers, that he had recently been moved to a different jail. Omer Tamimi, Islam’s 24 year-old brother, is also in jail waiting for a trial on stone throwing charges. An act of rare benevolence, Israeli authorities had kept the brothers together in the same cell for the past two weeks. However, a couple of nights ago, Islam was again woken in the middle of the night and taken to an entirely different prison and away from his brother. The child pleaded with his father to ask the lawyer to be returned to his brother. Palestinian children above the age of 12 are kept in adult prisons in Israel in which they receive little special treatment. Gaby Lasky, Islam’s lawyer, is filing an appeal to have the brothers reunited in the same cell.

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