July 2012: Ehud Olmert and the other 12 defendants are laughing at the prosecution’s arguments and at state’s witness Shmuel Duchner’s allegations against them.
With so many defendants and double the number of defense lawyers in the room, the deafening laughter for those new to a courtroom could have sent a message that the state’s case was dead on arrival.
They would have been surprised to see the same courtroom on Tuesday, with seven once-proud, tense and despondent defendants all being sentenced to at least three and a half years of jail time, some as many as seven years.
There was not a hint of laughter.
Judge David Rozen read the sentences in an understated tone, making little eye-contact, like a roll-call, along the order of each defendant’s court-designated number.
Before each defendant heard their sentence, you could see their whole body freeze.
Afterwards, some brushed tears from their eyes. Some, like Olmert and Meir Rabin, held their heads, avoiding eye-contact. All look profoundly serious, as if their lives were passing before them.
All were men of incredible power and privilege, used to getting their way.
None were accustomed to such an unflattering defeat and fate.
Also, the once-proud and full benches were half-empty.
Three defendants were acquitted and two are likely to get lesser sentences due to health problems.
The most noticeably missing person was Shula Zaken, whose absence was like a gaping hole in the wall.
For most of the court case, Olmert and Zaken were both present, hugging, joking and looking inseparable.
Zaken, who only in March crossed over to the prosecution’s side, is to be sentenced separately, and the prosecution will try to get her a more lenient 11-month sentence.
Her absence was as unnerving as the general despondence and may be a metaphor for how far this train has traveled, and how much things have changed now, near the end of the road.