Notes from an illegal military court in Israel

Israel/Palestine
on 16 Comments
karajah
Hassan Karajah (Photo: Palestine Monitor)

Standing at well over six feet tall and hunching as he enters the military court room at Kishon prison in Israel, Hassan Karajah’s hands and legs are bound with chains. The fifth Palestinian detainee brought before us on this day, his very presence as a prisoner within the borders of Israel is a war crime, violating the Fourth Geneva conventions’ provision that you may not bring occupied prisoners into your own territory.

Yet compliance with international law and human rights on the part of Israel has never been a part of Hassan’s story. A well-respected and admired Youth Organiser for the Stop the Wall campaign, Hassan is a human rights defender who works to resist Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land through a ‘security barrier’ ruled to be illegal by the International Court of Justice eight years ago.

Hassan’s case has received much international attention, with appeals from Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth demanding his immediate release and respect for his human rights. In South America, Brazil’s largest trade union, the CUT, have called on their government to intervene in Hassan’s case, whilst vigils have been held in front of the Israeli consulate in Argentina. Despite this, mainstream media outlets in the UK and US continue to maintain their silence.

Arrested on the 22nd of January, Hassan’s house was raided in the middle of the night, while soldiers wrecked his home and took his family’s possessions. Taken to the Israeli prison Kishon, near Haifa, Hassan was denied access to a lawyer for over two weeks. Despite his arrest being almost a month ago, Hassan is yet to be charged with any criminal offence. Even if he is, human rights monitor Addameer have stressed that since every political party in Palestine is classed as illegal by Israel, even President Mahmoud Abbas of the PA could be ‘lawfully’ detained at any point and held indefinitely. Additionally, a gathering of ten or more persons is also criminalized by Military Order 101, so the scope of committing a ‘crime’ is great. Such is the rule of law under Israeli occupation.

The court I entered on Thursday, February 14th differs from those in the US and UK in every respect. There is no jury, only military-appointed judges, who like the prosecutor, doubles as an officer for the Israeli occupying forces. We know we are under the auspices of Israel here, with a Star of David flag on the wall and all proceedings in Hebrew, evidence and questions must be translated to Hassan by a third military officer. Soldiers make up the rest of the courtroom, glaring at the defendant as they stroll up and down the lawyers’ desks, picking up papers and reading them as they please.

This court, to be blunt, is not a real court. The prosecutor has few notes with him, and just makes vague obfuscations about ‘security’ as a pretext for denying a man’s liberty for another two weeks, while the activist is investigated for a crime he is yet to be charged with. This has happened several times, each hearing an evitable extension of his interrogation. During the hearing, the prosecutor claims he has ‘secret evidence’ which only he and the military judge can see, where he almost comically whispers into his superior’s ear, the rest of the court left in the dark. The soldiers continue to walk and talk throughout proceedings, making calls on their phones then smoking outside, while we the observers look on with interest.

Speaking with Hassan’s defense team, I am disturbed to hear of his conditions. Although the entrance to the prison facility boasts the sign ‘Kishon Detention Home’ this Israeli facility is more akin to a torture chamber than anything else, with reports of systematic abuse at the prison, including that of children. The prison was equipped, I hasten to add, by British security firm G4S, who have faced trenchant criticism for their involvement with Israel’s occupation, including from some British MPs. Hassan has been held in a windowless cell, two metres by two metres, with just a dirty mattress for sleeping and a hole in the floor as a toilet, which often overflows frequently, dirtying the cell. Hassan is interrogated for up to fourteen hours a day, all of which he spends shackled and cuffed to a chair, causing pain. He has been beaten and threatened, and after appealing his arrest he was dragged in for further interrogations at 3am and told it was a punishment. He has been denied access to a Koran, which is his right, and the prison officials have refused to supply him with an adequate dosage of the medicine he desperately needs to tend to the nerve damage he has in his leg. This is clearly designed to pressure Hassan, and to weaken his resolve both mentally and physically.

Though Israel has formally signed and ratified the UN Convention against Torture they show clear disregard for Article 1:

‘the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession’

Shocked and appalled though I am, it is only a sign of my own naivete in the circumstances. Hassan is one of 4,743 prisoners held by Israel, who have detained 40% of Palestinian men since their occupation, the longest in modern history, began in 1967. Currently, 178 of these are languishing in administrative detention, Israeli-speak for imprisonment without trial. A previous youth coordinator with Stop the Wall, Mohammed Othman, was also arrested in 2009 and held for 113 days without charge or trial.

While Hassan’s hearing and detention is a deplorable scene to bear witness to, the man himself fills us observers with a hope and an inspiration uncommon and unnatural to such grim settings. Time and again Hassan and I shared a thoughtful nod and a half-smile, while friends read messages to him and passed notes from his family, attracting the opprobrium of the prison guards. Hassan’s family were unable to attend the hearing due to it taking place within Israel, where they are banned from travelling. The extraction of prisoners into Israel is not only illegal but creates stress for families who are denied access to their loved ones. Hassan’s indomitable spirit was never more prominent than after the hearing was read out. As he was led out of the court room he made the universal symbol of peace, the two raised fingers, at least to let the world know he would continue his struggle for human rights.

Hassan’s story, as I have said, is one of many, in fact one of thousands. Israel’s violation of Hassan Karajah’s fundamental human rights in its system of unjustifiable military courts is one of the many ways the Israeli occupation attempts to break the will of the Palestinian people. The continuing of this despicable occupation only requires our silence; Hassan’s freedom only requires our action.

Please sign this petition calling for the respecting of Hassan Karajah’s human rights, and his immediate release: http://www.stopthewall.org/2013/02/08/e-action-immediate-release-hassan-karajah

About James Elliott

James Elliott is a British student volunteering with the Right to Education campaign at Birzeit University, who advocate for the rights of Palestinian students who are impacted by Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies.

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16 Responses

  1. Citizen
    February 25, 2013, 12:37 pm

    John Bolton was on Stossel’s TV show last evening, defending this sort of thing under the US Constitution as totally legal for America to do t00, similarly killing of terror suspects by drone. He says its within POTUS power as commander in chief in light of the new face of war against the unconventional terrorists, whether the targets are American or not. If congress don’t like it, it just needs to pull the funding for it. He was unmoved when the libertarian students forming the audience asked him how would he like to be so detained by the government and subject to anything including death, without even a shred of due process other than his name appearing on a terrorist list somebody drew up? As to collateral damage re drone strikes, he said the US does all it can to keep that stuff at a minimum.

  2. seafoid
    February 25, 2013, 12:37 pm

    I think Israel has inflicted terrible costs on palestinian society but it is very hard to see the bots “breaking the will of the Palestinian people”.
    They haven’t been ravaged by smallpox or alcoholism. They share a language with 300 million other Arabic speakers. They are supported by 1.3 bn Muslims and around half of Christians globally. They aren’t going to fall for 1948 redux.

    It seems more like the bots are destroying their own society.

  3. Bumblebye
    February 25, 2013, 12:39 pm

    From another article on Hassan Karajah, over at Alternet:

    “Born out of his love for music and culture, he and other Palestinian youth organized in less than a week – and with no money at hand – one of the most inspiring New Year’s eves in Ramallah. In one of the central squares, they brought together Palestinian musicians to sing for free. Popular and resistance songs started a new year rooted in the awareness of the richness of our identity and the hope expressed in our songs. ”

    link to alternet.org

    Obviously the kind of charismatic young man who really could be the ‘Palestinian Gandhi/MLK/Mandela/etc’, thus an incredible danger to the total israel project.

  4. gazacalling
    February 25, 2013, 1:33 pm

    Wow, incredible post, thanks for that.

    The right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for the redress of grievances is one right Americans just take for granted. But we shouldn’t; it does not exist everywhere.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    February 25, 2013, 2:47 pm

    I signed the petition (more like an email) specifying the U.S. consulate. The ‘save’ button is actually to submit. – link to members.stopthewall.org

  6. justicewillprevail
    February 25, 2013, 3:51 pm

    Appalling, but very necessary and crystal clear report. Spread the word.

  7. Annie Robbins
    February 25, 2013, 4:52 pm

    i followed the petition link to an email letter i sent here: link to members.stopthewall.org

    but i did not see a petition at the link provided.

  8. Bumblebye
    February 25, 2013, 9:21 pm

    Another student with the same group as James Elliott writes:

    “The hearing was initially supposed to be at Salim Prison, near Jenin. However, when his family travelled there, leaving at 6am to arrive by 9:30am, they were told that his hearing had been moved back to Jamaleh prison in Israel. They were also informed that the reason Hassan’s hearing had been moved was because they had arrived.”

    link to electronicintifada.net

    Kafka is alive and well.

  9. jimmy
    February 25, 2013, 11:09 pm

    Palestinians Disqualify U.S. as Peace Broker

    The “unbreakable alliance,” which will be confirmed by the upcoming visit of President Barak Obama to Israel , will disqualify the United States as an honest broker of peace in the Arab – Israeli conflict in Palestine , a Palestinian veteran peace negotiator says.

    This “unbreakable alliance” will doom whatever hopes remain during Obama’s visit for the revival of the U.S. – sponsored deadlocked “peace process,” on the resumption of which depends the very survival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership, and explains as well the Palestinian frustration, low expectations, unenthusiastic welcome and the absence of celebrations for their most cherished among world celebrities, in a stark contrast to the euphoria that is sweeping Israel in waiting for what the U.S. and Israeli officials are describing as an “historic” visit.

    link to globalresearch.ca

  10. Avi_G.
    February 26, 2013, 1:54 am

    James Elliot

    Thank you for this great contribution.

    This court, to be blunt, is not a real court. The prosecutor has few notes with him, and just makes vague obfuscations about ‘security’ as a pretext for denying a man’s liberty for another two weeks, while the activist is investigated for a crime he is yet to be charged with. This has happened several times, each hearing an evitable extension of his interrogation. During the hearing, the prosecutor claims he has ‘secret evidence’ which only he and the military judge can see, where he almost comically whispers into his superior’s ear, the rest of the court left in the dark. The soldiers continue to walk and talk throughout proceedings, making calls on their phones then smoking outside, while we the observers look on with interest.

    “Kangaroo Court”, would be too kind a description for the above. The whole bureaucratic military court system that Israel has set up in the occupied West Bank was meant to give Israel the air of legitimacy. But that’s what Kangaroo courts are for.

    Currently, 178 of these are languishing in administrative detention, Israeli-speak for imprisonment without trial.

    Administrative Detention traces back to the Mandate era. So we can all thank the British Empire for its ‘contribution’ to humanity and for creating decades-long crises and conflicts in almost every corner of the world while leaving in its wake millions of dead civilians, whether directly or indirectly.

    And as anyone who’s been paying attention to the last half century knows, European colonialism gave us the Lebanon civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the India-Pakistan conflict, the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf emirates, the Israeli-Arab conflict (See the Suez Canal), etc..

    Hassan is one of 4,743 prisoners held by Israel, who have detained 40% of Palestinian men since their occupation, the longest in modern history, began in 1967.

    Detractors sometimes look at these prisoners and say, “They must have done something to deserve this.” But the truth is that the treatment one Palestinian is receiving at the hands of Israeli authorities isn’t meant to be rational or just, or fair, or fitting in any logical, reasonable or legal way.

    Sometimes, evil is just banal. Things are the way they are because they serve a long-term purpose, not because one Palestinian or another did something wrong to undermine Israel’s security, but simply because that Palestinian is a member of a group the poses a demographic threat to the Zionist Enterprise in Palestine. As a result, guilt is assigned based on genes. If you’re Palestinian, you’re guilty by default, no matter whether you were sitting in your home minding your own business or marching in the street or throwing stones at military occupation forces.

    So if a state that has been controlling a few million Palestinians for 45 years, lording it over them, wants to get rid of them, what better way than to engage in a long drawn war of attrition, a silent war that goes undetected and unnoticed by the proverbial international community?

    There is no peace. Israel is simply not designed to aspire for or want peace. The sooner everyone understands that, the sooner Israel will be held to account.

    Why?

    Because you don’t institutionalize this massive persecution apparatus from the Beit-She’an Valley (Bee-San in Arabic) all the way down to the Negev (Naqab) in order to reach a just and permanent solution. It would be as rational, honest and well-meaning as burning your neighbor’s home to the ground, killing his dog, destroying his cars, beating his children to a pulp, raping his wife and then saying, “You know what? How about we just shake hands and make up?”

    You simply do NOT do that. Humanity does NOT work that way.

    So why does Israel ‘work’ that way? Because the town sheriff, the man with all the power and money, isn’t holding it to account. In fact, the sheriff and his superiors in city hall are enabling it. Can anyone guess who the sheriff is in this analogy? The name starts with a U and ends with an A. City Hall, just in case you were wondering, is AIPAC.

    • NickJOCW
      February 26, 2013, 9:49 am

      @Avi_G. You are quite right about the British and their empire but that was a different era and civilised folk are supposed to learn from the past and progress. What we have in Israel is a regression back thousands of years to the brutality of the first Hebrew invasion of Palestine.

      …thou shall utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites

      These presumably being the indigenous ‘Palestinians’ of an earlier age. Whatever motivated them then appears to motivate them now.

      How does one hold Israel to account? Israel has to be threatened and punished. It isn’t practical to attack it but is has to be hurt, it could be isolated, its assets frozen, no visas issued its citizens, no aid, no trade, no permission to enter others’ airspace, until it retreats to the borders first apportioned by the UN, dismantles its nuclear capability, reduces its arsenal and army to something more appropriate for a small ME country, and joins the UN in spirit as well as in practice.

      • Avi_G.
        February 26, 2013, 6:45 pm

        How does one hold Israel to account? Israel has to be threatened and punished. It isn’t practical to attack it but is has to be hurt, it could be isolated, its assets frozen, no visas issued its citizens, no aid, no trade, no permission to enter others’ airspace, until it retreats to the borders first apportioned by the UN, dismantles its nuclear capability, reduces its arsenal and army to something more appropriate for a small ME country, and joins the UN in spirit as well as in practice.

        Those are my sentiments exactly.

        I do not believe in violence. Violence is immoral. Violence is primitive. Violence is destructive to those who inflict it and to those who receive it.

        Violence destroys everything that which separates us from animals (And I have seen some animals that behave more humanely than many human beings).

        Violence goes counter to natural law, despite many countries using violence as a default means of dealing with others. That does not make violence right nor just.

        Therefore, I believe that the only moral and just way forward is for Israel to be diplomatically isolated (Re: Visas, trade agreements, diplomatic visits etc.). It must be held to account in an international court of law. It must be boycotted economically.

      • Citizen
        February 28, 2013, 4:46 am

        “Those are my sentiments exactly.”
        Mine too.

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