By Popular Struggle Coordination Committee: 28 November 2011
Bassem Tamimi (centre of photo)
Today’s hearing, which was attended by diplomats from eight different countries, saw the main witness in the case, 15 year old Islam Dar Ayyoub, put on the stand. The trial will resume tomorrow, 10 AM at the Ofer Military Court.
The hearing in the case of Nabi Saleh protest organizer, Basem Tamimi, which took place today at the Ofer Military Court, saw the main witness put on the stand and interrogated by the prosecution for nearly five hours. Islam Dar Ayuoub, who was 14 at the time of his arrest confessed to having given false testimony at the police due to the immense pressure he was placed under before and during his interrogation.
The courtroom was packed by over a dozen diplomats led by the Consul Generals of Spain, England, Malta, France and the EU who came to monitor the proceedings in Tamimi’s case, who was recently declared a human rights defender by the European Union.
In his examination Dar Ayyoub was asked about his arrest which took place last January in a pre-dawn military raid on his house. During his arrest he was beaten up and kept in blindfold and handcuffs for several hours until the interrogatory. Dar Ayyoub said to the court that he has been advised by one of his interrogators before the official questioning began to point out Basem and Naji Tamimi as main organizers, and made to believe by another that he would be released if he does.
A video of the examination shows a very tired Islam, completely dominated by three officers who at times make violent, threatening gestures, shout and ridicule him. The boy is seen constantly yawning and asking when he will be released. At some point he breaks down in tears for several minutes.
The boy was not read his rights, nor offered the opportunity to have his father present or speak to his lawyer, who was present at the police station during the interrogation, all of which in violation of his legal rights.
Later in the day, in clear violation of due process, the Military Prosecutor chose to confront Islam with the protocol from his own trial, despite having neglected to present the Defense with the material beforehand. The judge allowed the line of questioning to continue despite objections from Basem’s lawyer. The outraged Defense Attorney asked that judge, Major Eti Adar, disqualify herself on the grounds that “the Defense’s rights have been forfeited”, the judge however claimed to be impartial and refused to comply.
The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow, with the testimonies of six witnesses, including another main witness, 15 year old Mo’atasem tamimi. The audio-visual recording of 15 year-old Mo’atasem Tamimi’s interrogation proves he was questioned in an unlawful manner, which amounts to systematic violation of minors’ rights in order to coerce them into incriminating themselves and others. During his interrogation, the boy was led to believe that if he will implicate others, he may receive a more lenient treatment.
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.
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:
- Despite being a minor, he was questioned in the morning following his arrest, having been denied sleep.
- He was denied legal counsel, although his lawyer appeared at the police station requesting to see him.
- He was denied his right to have a parent present during his questioning.
- 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”.
- 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 more than 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.