Sabti Khawaja (Left)
Date of birth: 10 September 1989
Place of residence: Ni’lin
Date of arrest: 2 February 2010
Detained at Ofer: 80 days
Released on bail: 8,500 NIS (USD $2,270)
Mahmoud Nafa’ (Right)
Date of birth: 20 May 1991
Place of residence: Ni’lin
Date of arrest: 2 February 2010
Detained at Ofer: 77 days
Released on bail: 5,000 NIS (USD $1,340)
INTIMIDATION, ARREST AND DETENTION
Mahmoud Nafa’ and Sabti Khawaja were arrested by Israeli security authorities on 2 February 2010 at Ofer Military Base after appearing for interrogation as ordered in Israeli summonses delivered to both.
For both Sabti and Mahmoud, their arrests followed weeks of sustained intimidation and harassment by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) against their families. Soldiers from the IOF had been to the Khawaja family home on four or five occasions to threaten Sabti and his family. The third time the IOF went to the home, in January 2010, soldiers ransacked the house, damaging furniture, walls and cupboards (see photo below).
The IOF also came to the Nafa’ family home several times, searching it on one occasion and repeatedly threatening family members with violence.
After appearing at Ofer on the afternoon of 2 February, Mahmoud and Sabti were immediately arrested and detained. On 9 February 2010, a military court judge extended their detention for interrogation until 14 February 2010.
Sabti was subjected to three separate interrogation sessions during the month following his arrest, his hands and feet shackled for the duration of each session. Although the interrogation sessions ran to as long as eleven hours and involved multiple interrogators on rotating shifts, Sabti reports that the vast majority of the time was devoted to “psychological games”. On one occasion, for example, Sabti was left alone for more than six hours in a very cold room as 'incentive’ to talk. During these sessions, he was principally asked about his participation in the weekly demonstrations against the Wall in Ni’lin and his “interruption of the army’s work”. Interrogators also tried to elicit information about other activists in the village.
Mahmoud, meanwhile, was subjected to two interrogation sessions, during which he was threatened with transfer to Moskobiyyeh, a detention and interrogation center in Jerusalem notorious for its harsh interrogation techniques and torture against Palestinian detainees, if he didn’t confess. In a recent interview with Addameer, Mahmoud described the interrogation style of his questioners at Ofer as deliberately calculated to induce fear.
On 14 February 2010, Israeli military prosecutors issued charges against both Sabti and Mahmoud. Sabti was charged with throwing stones, taking part in illegal demonstrations from 2007 until his arrest, and hanging posters supporting Hamas in his village during the last Palestinian national elections in 2006. Mahmoud is also charged with throwing stones and taking part in illegal demonstrations from 2007 until his arrest. In addition, he was charged with taking part in an illegal demonstration on 28 November 2009 in which prosecutors allege his friends threw a Molotov cocktail at Israeli military forces, hitting one of their Jeeps and setting it on fire.
Both Mahmoud and Sabti have entered pleas of not guilty. Their lawyer, Addameer attorney Mahmoud Hassan, anticipates that their trial could take a year or more.
At the first hearing in their case, held on 16 February 2010, the military court judge determined that there was no evidence against Mahmoud and that he should be released on bail of 10,000 NIS (about $2,650 USD). However, the prosecution requested more time to produce evidence to support the charges against Mahmoud, and the judge agreed, remanding Mahmoud to detention pending the prosecution’s new showing. Two days later, on 18 February 2010, prosecutors submitted a written statement from the military officer who was in charge of Israeli forces in the area in question on 28 November 2009, the day prosecutors allege Mahmoud’s friends threw a Molotov cocktail during an 'illegal’ protest. In the statement, the officer claimed that his Jeep was hit by a Molotov cocktail during the demonstration and set on fire as a result.
However, in the same military officer’s logbook for the day in question, obtained by Addameer, he explicitly states that there were no Molotov cocktails thrown at the soldiers during the demonstration that day. Advocate Hassan presented this evidence to the court and showed that the military officer’s written statement to the court was therefore clearly fabricated in an effort to orchestrate charges against Mahmoud. Nonetheless, the judge then determined that Mahmoud should remain in detention pending the resolution of the charges against him.
After remaining in detention for 77 days, Mahmoud was released on 19 April 2010 on bail of 5,000 NIS (about $1,340 USD). Sabti was released three days later, after an appeal hearing which reduced his bail from 12,000 NIS to 8,500 NIS (about $2,270 USD).
The trial for both Sabti and Mahmoud is currently underway.
Israeli repression and persecution of Palestinian human rights activists and the criminalization of the popular struggle against the Wall
Addameer contends that both Sabti and Mahmoud have been arrested and charged as part of Israel’s recently escalated campaign of harassment and repression against Palestinian human rights defenders.
Every village that has been active in mobilizing protests against the Annexation Wall’s construction by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) through grassroots action and popular land defense committees has experienced various forms of intimidation and coercion through raids, harassment and targeted arrests by the IOF. Sixteen deaths and hundreds of severe injuries caused by live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets and gun-fired tear gas canisters shot at close range by the IOF have also been documented. Arrests appear to be carried out against protesters regardless of their methods of protest, and are particularly targeted at leaders of the popular movements, young people and children.(1)
Evidence collected by Addameer indicates that these arrests are used as a means of stifling any form of individual or collective resistance from these communities. It also appears to be a means of dismantling the Palestinian social fabric by targeting the movement’s leaders, social activists, unionists, community representatives and children.
Under current military orders that govern the OPT, putting up political posters, writing political slogans, participating in demonstrations, being in possession of a Palestinian flag, and belonging to any political party, amongst many other activities, are all defined as threats to the security of Israel.(2)
Addameer submits that Sabti and Mahmoud’s ongoing trial is an institutionalized attempt to repress anti-Wall activism in Ni’lin within the now well-established strategy of targeting young activists. The charge of 'throwing stones’ is the most common charge levied against Palestinian protesters, and its proof entails an evidentiary threshold so low that it is in practice impossible to defend. Although the offense requires the prosecutors to prove intent to injure or cause property damage by the defendant, the military courts simply presume such intent rather than demanding that the prosecution provide evidence to substantiate the allegation.
Such presumptions are part of the military court system’s 'presumed guilty’ paradigm.(3) Fundamental provisions of international law and Israeli domestic law provide that the onus of proving the actual occurrence or 'truth’ of any allegations against a criminal defendant lies with the prosecution. In practice before the military courts, however, evidence gathered by Addameer and other advocates and court observers indicates that the Israeli military judicial system operates on a 'presumed guilty’ rather than 'presumed innocent’ assumption. In any other 'developed’ jurisdiction - including in Israel’s civilian courts(4) - a genuine presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the very legitimacy of the court, a cornerstone that is widely considered to be a peremptory, or non-derogable norm of international law.(5)
Mahmoud and Sabti each shared very cramped cells with nine other detainees while detained in Ofer. Mahmoud describes missing his family intensely and feeling desperately alone while he was in detention. During his 77 days in detention only his 27-year-old sister was granted a permit to visit him. Since it typically takes three months to obtain a permit, none of Sabti’s family members were able to obtain a permit in time to visit Sabti during his 80 days in detention.
Sabti was arrested once before on 12 December 2008 at an anti-Wall demonstration in Ni’lin. He was held for eight days and released without charge.
This is Mahmoud’s first arrest.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER WORK
Mahmoud, Sabti and their families have all been involved in community anti-Wall activism in Ni’lin since the weekly demonstrations there began in 2008. Although the whole community suffers from the movement restrictions and other control measures implemented as a result of the Wall’s path through their village, Mahmoud’s family has been particularly affected as they own approximately one dunum of land containing olive trees that is encroached on by the Wall.
Both Sabti and Mahmoud have suffered physical injuries as a result of the IOF’s violent measures against demonstrators. In May 2009, during his final year of high school, Mahmoud was shot in the knee by IOF soldiers at a demonstration in Ni’lin. As a result, he spent three months in the hospital undergoing and recovering from surgery. Despite suffering from long-term pain and impeded movement because of this injury, Mahmoud remains determined to exercise his right to defend his land against Israel’s illegal annexation, and managed to attain a high mark in his Tawijhi (high school matriculation examination).
Sabti has also sustained injuries at several demonstrations, including being shot in the back with a rubber-coated steel bullet. However, since Ni’lin was under military curfew at the time he was wounded, Sabti was unable to leave the village to obtain medical treatment.
Mahmoud has three brothers and three sisters. Mahmoud’s parents are divorced, so paying his 5,000 NIS bail represented an economic burden on his family. Eventually the money was collected through assistance by family and friends.
Mahmoud is in his first year of a management degree at Al Quds Open University and as pires to work in a bank or a company after graduating. However, his arrest and detention has meant that he missed an entire semester of university. If he is convicted and imprisoned, he will not be able to continue his degree because Israeli prison regulations prohibit tertiary education by distance through any Palestinian university.
Sabti is a psychology student at Abu Dis University. His arrest and detention have caused him to miss two semesters of university.
Sabti is the oldest of four children. Because a permit typically takes three months to process, none of Sabti’s family members were able to visit him during his 80 days in detention. This prolonged separation was emotionally difficult for his young siblings, especially because a number of his hearings were repeatedly postponed. Since his release, Sabti reports feeling emotionally lost.
- Write to the Israeli government, military and legal authorities and demand that-
o The charges against Sabti and Mahmoud be dropped immediately;
o Israeli forces in the OPT immediately cease their unlawful arrest and detention policies of Palestinian human rights defenders, and put an immediate end to the illegal measures of collective harassment and abuse levied against whole communities in the path of the Annexation Wall; and,
o The military law governing the OPT, drafted to control every aspect of Palestinian civic life, well beyond the jurisdictional parameters granted to occupying authorities under international law, be abolished and instead Palestinians’ freedoms to assembly and expression and right to self-determination be respected, including the right to devise and enforce their own legal system.
- Write to your own elected representatives urging them to pressure Israel to drop the charges against Sabti and Mahmoud and to put an end to the military court system based on Israel’s prolonged ’state of emergency’ discourse used to legitimate illegal laws and procedures in the OPT.
For more information about Israeli arrest and detention of Palestinian human rights defenders, please visit our website www.addameer.info, or contact us directly:
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
P. O. Box: 17338, Jerusalem
Tel: +972 (0)2 296 0446 / 297 0136
Fax: +972 (0)2 296 0447
1 Addameer and Stop the Wall, Repression Allowed, Resistance Denied: Israel’s Suppression of the Popular Movement against the Apartheid Annexation Wall, July 2009 (available at: Click Here
2 See, Addameer, Defending Palestinian Prisoners: A Report on the Status of Defense Lawyers in Israeli Military Courts, April 2008 (available at: Click Here
3 See Addameer, Presumed Guilty: Failures of the Israeli Military Court System, November 2009 (available at: Click Here
4 However, it should be noted that even cases in the Israeli civil court system, when they concern so-called “security” offenses, bear many of the same rights-violating characteristics of Israeli military courts.
5 Articles 10 and 11(a) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulate that every person is entitled to a “fair hearing” by an “independent and impartial tribunal” and to be “presumed innocent until proved guilty in a public trial at which he[/she] has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense” respectively. Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ensures “the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”.