Hamas terror operatives in Gaza tunnel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Supreme Court voted 2-1 to reject the appeal of a Gaza man who sought to overturn his conviction for arms smuggling by arguing that his confession was obtained improperly either by abuse or when he was physically unhealthy.
The majority vote on the appeal of Fawzi Ramilat was carried by Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and Justice Noam Sohlberg against a dissenting vote by Justice Yoram Danziger. It was handed down recently but only announced officially on Sunday.
Ramilat was convicted of involvement in illegally smuggling hundreds of Kalashnikov rifles, handguns, explosives and persons around and across the Gaza, Sinai and Israel borders between 2004 and 2009.
He was sentenced to nine years in prison as a key player, though not the central one, in the smuggling.
All three justices disregarded Ramilat’s claims of being abused, while expressing concern with aspects of his health and state of mind during the interrogation.
Naor and Sohlberg showed some concern that Ramilat was interrogated “intensively” despite having medical problems following his arrest and against a doctor’s recommendation that Ramilat be given 14 days of rest without interrogation.
Ramilat was shot and wounded in his left knee and in one of his hands and arrested on December 12, 2009, and was subsequently hospitalized.
A doctor approved the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) carrying out an initial round of questioning while he was still hospitalized.
The doctor recommended 14 days of rest following the questioning, but the Shin Bet instead took him to an interrogation facility where he was intensively interrogated for long hours.
Ramilat didn’t claim outright torture, but said he was deprived of sleep, spat at and yelled at. The interrogators, he said, threatened his family, and sometimes cuffed him in uncomfortable positions that indirectly aggravated the pain from his wounds.
All of the justices dismissed most of these claims, finding that Ramilat lied about his identity for an extended period, and this fact, along with the Shin Bet agents’ testimony denying the abuse allegations, were enough to contradict the claims.
But the justices differed on the significance of the Shin Bet ignoring the doctor’s recommendation and whether there was other evidence to support some of the smuggling convictions besides Ramilat’s disputed confession.
Naor and Sohlberg found that Ramilat had also identified other key partners in the smuggling when shown photos and that this was significant evidence that supported their belief that Ramilat’s confession was freely given.
They said that the doctor’s recommendation was not binding on the Shin Bet as it was only a recommendation, and only took into account ideal conditions for Ramilat’s medical recovery.
The recommendation did not prohibit interrogation or indicate that Ramilat was too incompetent to give accurate answers under questioning.
Naor and Sohlberg noted the Shin Bet’s statement that when it first started questioning Ramilat there were indications it could not ignore that he might have known about pending terrorist attacks.
In contrast, Danziger said that Ramilat identified other key partners when shown photos directly after an interrogation in which it was clear that interrogators wanted him to incriminate those particular persons.
Danziger stated that he would not completely disqualify Ramilat’s confession from being considered.
He said he would not give the confession full weight and would view it as somewhat devalued because of the medical report that expressed doubt about Ramilat’s health and state of mind when he confessed.
There was insufficient supporting evidence to go with Ramilat’s confession to arrive at some of the convictions, Danziger said, adding that he would have reduced Ramilat’s prison sentence from nine years to under five years.