Friday, February 24, 2017

Scales of Justice

On September 13, 2015, young Palestinians from the neighborhood of Sur Baher in East Jerusalem threw stones at Israeli cars near the neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv, one of the Israeli neighborhoods built after 1967 on confiscated Palestinian land. A stone hit the car of Alexander Levlovitz, causing him to suffer a heart attack. Levlovitz began to convulse, swerved into a ditch and hit a pillar. He was seriously injured and died in hospital the next day.

There is no reason to claim that the Palestinians who threw the stones specifically meant to kill Alexander Levlovitz, of whom they never heard, nor that they at all intended to kill anyone. In fact, the vast majority of stone throwing cases end without casualties. Certainly, however, it can be argued that anyone throwing stones at moving cars is responsible for this act and should have taken into account that the outcome might be fatal.

By an intensive action of the Israeli security forces, the Palestinian stone throwers were apprehended. The 19 years old Abed Rabu Dawiat, described by police as "The stone-throwers’ ringleader" was charged with manslaughter. After lengthy legal proceedings, he signed a plea bargain whereby he got a term of eighteen years' imprisonment only. The Israeli media widely publicized the protests of the Levlovitz Family at the plea bargain and the leniency of punishment. "We had hoped for complete justice against my father's murderers. The judges should have been free to proceed to the full severity of the law, to impose the maximum penalty. I strongly object to the mitigation of punishment," said Nir, Levlovitz’s son.

On March 24, 2016, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a resident of Hebron, approached the Israeli soldiers guarding the settler enclave at Tel Rumeida, in the heart of Hebron. He stabbed one of the soldiers, and was then shot by other soldiers and severely injured. As clearly seen in footage taken by the hidden camera held by a field worker of the B'Tselem Human Rights organization, al-Sharif was lying on the ground, constituting no threat to anyone. A 19-year old soldier, Elior Azaria – a medic, arrived on the spot and deliberately aimed his weapon at the head of al-Sharif, shot and killed him .

Elior Azaria was detained by military police and charged with manslaughter. During the prolonged trial, the defense lawyers argued that Azaria felt subjectively threatened and suspected that al-Sharif was hiding explosives on his body. However, the evidence of Azaria’s commanding officer and of other soldiers who had been there convinced the court to dismiss such contentions out of hand. Rather, the judges ruled that Azaria had shot and killed al-Sherif out of seeking revenge and from the perception that "terrorists" should be killed without trial, whether or not they still pose a threat. This is a perception shared by quite a few people in Israel, some of them much older than the conscript soldier Elior Azaria, among them Knesset Members, cabinet ministers and newspaper columnists.

After the media reported that the prosecution was seeking to have Elior Azaria sentenced to three years in prison, his mother collapsed and had to be taken to hospital, full of fright and pain at the severe and cruel punishment facing her son. The media reported extensively on the difficult situation of the worried mother.

In the end, the judges resolved to impose on Elior Azaria a sentence of 18 months. Opposite the court room, hundreds of Azaria’s supporters demonstrated in protest of the severity of this sentence. Senior politicians from several Israeli political parties joined the protests and demanded an immediate amnesty to Azaria: "He already suffered enough, he should not have to sit in jail. End the story now, just send him home!"

Coincidentally or not, this week also saw the culmination of a long struggle over the appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court. Members of the Jewish Home Party have long asserted that Israel's judicial system is biased in favor of the Arabs and does not give due weight to national and patriotic considerations. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the same party, redressed this negative tendency, making a successful effort to change the composition of the Supreme Court and include more conservative judges, especially some who belong to the Religious-Zionist sector. A particular success was recorded with the appointment of David Mintz – a British-born jurist who came to Israel in 1970 and immediately moved to the West Bank settlement of Dolev. His judicial career has been marked by strict and rigorous treatment meted out to foreign nationals accused of illegal entry to Israel.

David Mintz’s neighbor at the settlement of Dolev is Knesset Member Moti Yogev, also a member of the Jewish Home Party. Yogev became known for his way of objecting to a ruling of Supreme Court: "We just need to go to the the Supreme Court with a D-9 bulldozer and raze it right off the face of the earth."

The new Supreme Court Justice David Mintz will not bulldoze the Supreme Court. He will enter by the main entrance and sit in judgment to consider petitions on human rights violations.