Israel’s military appeals court ruled on Monday against an appeal by 17-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi and her defense team to hold the teenager’s trial proceedings in open court, citing historical “benefit” of closed-door trials for minors.
After she was indicted for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier, a military court decided to close the hearings to the public, citing her rights as a minor to privacy — a claim Tamimi’s family and defense team claim were never afforded to her in the first place.
Despite the prosecution announcing last week that it did not object to an open trial, the court decided on Monday against Tamimi’s appeal.
According to Fadi Quran, senior campaigner at U.S. based civic organization Avaaz and coordinator of the Free The Tamimis campaign, Tamimi’s legal team has already begun working on an appeal to Monday’s decision.
“The military court has realized that their policy of detaining children is causing international embarrassment,” Quran told Mondoweiss, adding that the “goal of the prosecutor and military judge is to shut down Ahed Tamimi and to avoid having her voice reach the millions of people who are pushing for her release.”
A widely publicized case from the start
The trial of the teenage activist, who was widely known locally and internationally prior to her arrest in December — which was filmed and published by the Israeli army — has generated a media and political frenzy in Israel.
Israeli politicians have called for her to be imprisoned for life for slapping and kicking a soldier, while media outlets, who have played to the Israeli public’s obsession with the teen’s long blonde hair, have assigned her a number of demeaning nicknames, the most widely used being “Shirley Temper.”
Following weeks of media frenzy, at the opening of Tamimi’s trial on February 13, Judge Lt General Menahem Liberman of the Ofer Military Court ruled that her trial would be held behind closed doors.
Liberman based the ruling on the argument that open proceedings would violate her right to privacy as a minor. And while most Palestinian minors being tried in Israeli military court are tried behind closed doors, Tamimi’s legal team has argued that since her initial hearings post-arrest were open, the trial should remain open as well.
“Although the Israeli military and judge claim they want it to be a closed trial for Ahed’s privacy, Ahed has been threatened with sexual assault and murder, the army televised her arrest, and attacked her family,” Quran told Mondoweiss.
“Israel has made an immense effort to endanger her by putting her in the public spotlight for the past four months and by and targeting her family for the last 10 years. It is hypocritical now to claim they want to protect her privacy when they have already violated it hundreds of times.”
Activists fear court will act with impunity behind closed doors
After Liberman’s ruling, Tamimi’s lawyer Gaby Lasky told journalists that “they understand that people outside Ofer military court are interested in Tamimi’s case, they understand that her rights are being infringed and her trial is something that shouldn’t be happening.”
“So the way to keep it out of everybody’s eyes is to close doors and not allow people inside the court for her hearing,” she added.
Quran reiterated to Mondoweiss the importance of holding Tamimi’s trial in front of the public, saying “an open trial will ensure Ahed’s safety and ensure accountability of the court system, which is all run by Israeli soldiers.”
“By having diplomats and media witness this kangaroo trial, it would help ensure that they wouldn’t punish Ahed too severely,” he said. “But by maintaining a closed court, they can act with more impunity and it will be more difficult for the world to see what an unjust and unfair trial process this is.”
With a self-reported conviction rate of 99.74%, Israeli military courts have been termed by rights groups as “kangaroo courts.”
Palestinian groups, such as prisoners rights organization Addameer, have argued that while the courts were established in order to work in tandem with local institutions, they are instead used as a tool of domination and the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the permanently occupied territory.
In a 2012 report, Addameer outlined the importance of holding open trials for Palestinians, saying “the continuing presence of international and Israeli human rights activists at any court hearing for Palestinian political prisoners has been vital as a way of publicly exposing the extreme inadequacies and injustice of the military court.”
“The greater and more regular presence of these diplomats and activists, the more hope there is among the detainees that their voices are being heard and amplified beyond the confines of the military courtroom,” Addameer said.
For Quran and others campaigning for Tamimi’s release, the teenager’s case extends far beyond her and her mother, who is also being tried for assault and “incitement” for publishing a video of her daughter’s encounter with the soldiers.
“This is not just about Ahed, but about the more than 12,000 Palestinian children who have been detained by Israel since the year 2000,” Quran told Mondoweiss.
“Ahed’s trial has put a spotlight on Israel’s widespread and systematic detention of Palestinian children in the way that no other case has.”
“The continued growth of awareness over Ahed’s case has introduced millions of people around the world to this dark corner of Israel’s occupation,” he said, “if we win Ahed’s case, we can create pressure so that Palestinian children are no longer detained and abused by Israeli soldiers.”
Quran implored the international community to continue to watch Tamimi’s trial, even if held behind closed doors. “The military can close the courtroom doors but it cannot close people’s’ eyes to the injustices that are happening.”