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Barakei: Trial against me a political crusade
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
24/12/2012
Hadash MK testifies in trial over his alleged altercations during demonstrations.
 
Hadash MK Muhammad Barakei testified on Sunday for the first time in the trial against him over two separate alleged altercations, one during a 2005 demonstration in Bil’in and another in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in 2006.

The day marked the beginning of the defense’s presentation of the case.

“This is a political crusade, [and] we will overcome it,” Barakei said prior to the start of the proceedings, adding that it is “incumbent on all of us to actualize our rights to protest and speak out against the destructive policies of the government.”

The two charges relate to allegations that Barakei tried to help break out of custody a Palestinian who had been arrested during a 2005 Bil’in protest and that he struck a counter-protester who was verbally accosting another demonstrator at Kikar Rabin in 2006.

Originally, Barakei was accused of four separate charges, but the other two charges – which involved forms of expression, including alleged verbal sparring with police – were dropped in October 2011 based on his immunity for voicing dissent as a Knesset member.

Following that decision, the court ruled in November that Barakei would be brought to trial on the other two charges as they did not fall under the immunities granted to a Knesset member.

In previous hearings, the prosecution already presented its case and its witnesses were already cross-examined.

The Bil’in protest was part of a series of regular protests against the West Bank security barrier. The Kikar Rabin demonstration was an anti-war protest during the Second Lebanon War.

Challenging the allegations against him regarding the Bil’in incident, Barakei said that he was injured by a stun grenade and evacuated by an ambulance.

According to the Hadash MK, it made no sense to assert that he was involved in any kind of offensive to release arrested Palestinians when he himself had been injured and removed from the scene.

He also said that one of the earlier witnesses against him in the case had misidentified him as short, an characterization his appearance openly contradicted. In cross-examination, the state tried to get Barakei to admit that a number of the soldiers had correctly identified him, despite a mix-up by the witness who called him short.

Yael Berda, who was protesting with Barakei and is another witness for the defense, said that his injury from the stun grenade precluded him from having been involved in the alleged altercation with the soldiers arresting Palestinians.

In cross-examination, the state tried to show that Barakei might have been involved in the alleged altercation before he was hit by the stun grenade.

Responding to the allegations against him in the Kikar Rabin incident, Barakei said that the incident never occurred.

The Hadash MK claimed that at the time his elbows were locked with other demonstrators on both sides and that he would not have physically been able to hit anyone.

On the prosecution’s side, the witness accusing Barakei of striking him said that he elbowed him even though he had locked his elbows with other demonstrators.

The witness said that Barakei attacked him because of the witness’s verbal assault on peace activist Shlomo Avineri.

Barakei said that the “claims are absolutely false” and were collected against a “public personality because of his ideas.... There is a limit to cynicism.”

Explaining his involvement in the protests, he said his role as a parliamentarian was not to sit in an “ivory tower,” but to be involved in the country’s ideological debates.

During the cross-examination, the prosecution tried to highlight alleged incidents in which Barakei’s statements or actions were meant to provoke segments of Israeli society. The state also tried to undermine Barakei’s accusations against others of provocations, claiming instead that he was a provocateur.

Pressed to explain some allegedly disrespectful conduct to the police while he was being questioned, Barakei said that he related “to the investigation as a provocation to mar [his] good name.”

“I think that this indictment, based on what I say and what the other witnesses say, is an indictment that would not have been filed against other Knesset members,” the Hadash MK continued.

He suggested that some right-wing MKs had done far worse during protests against the disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

Barakei alleged that there was bias in this regard, in that those MKs had been specially forgiven by a unique law pardoning conduct during disengagement demonstrations that otherwise could have led to criminal prosecution.

He also accused the prosecution of negligence in filing the action against him.

The trial will continue on January 20. Barakeh has been an MK since 1999.
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