Notes from an illegal military court in Israel

12:00 Feb 14 2013 Kishon Prison, Israel

Notes from an illegal military court in Israel
Hassan Karajah (Photo: Palestine Monitor)

by James Elliott on February 25, 2013, for Mondoweiss

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:
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