Twenty-three Palestinians pardoned and swapped for captive soldier Gilad Schalit in 2011 were rearrested in the wake of the recent kidnapping of three yeshiva students, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, on the night of June 12. Proceedings against them began Thursday at Camp Ofer, north of Jerusalem.
The special judicial panel includes three IDF West Bank judges with the rank of lieutenant- colonel. The prosecution is represented by the IDF’s lead West Bank prosecutor, Lt.- Col. Maurice Hirsch.
The defendants are among the 1,027 prisoners freed to obtain the release of Schalit, who had been held captive in the Gaza Strip for five years.
They were affiliated with groups ranging from Fatah to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The IDF has accused each defendant of violating one or more provisions of his pardon.
Hirsch said they had been given a chance to turn over a new leaf but squandered it by returning to terror or otherwise violating the terms of their release.
Defense attorney Merav Khoury, representing most of the defendants, disputed the allegations and argued that the IDF had not carefully analyzed their cases. She also accused the prosecution of withholding evidence from the defense. She said it is not in Israel’s interest to imprison all of the Palestinians automatically, as the international community and international courts might view that negatively.
Hirsch pushed for quick proceedings and justice for men he views as convicted criminals who abused their pardons.
Khoury requested as much time as possible to get acquainted with the evidence, and she went back and forth with the court about whether it was wise for her to represent so many clients. She asked the court to instruct the Prisons Service to allow her to meet with more than five prisoners at a time to speed up her preparation.
The next key hearing is scheduled for July 14.
Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post has learned that the IDF requested an initial period of administrative detention for over 140 of the more than 350 Palestinians arrested during Operation Brother’s Keeper.
Ziad Awawde, another prisoner released in the Schalit deal, will not be part of the special proceedings at this point since he was indicted Monday for the murder of Baruch Mizrahi, killed in an ambush on Passover eve.
Awawde’s hearing, scheduled for August 3, will decide if he will be remanded to police custody for the remainder of his trial.
The West Bank prosecution has been given a virtual blank check for any resources it needs to handle cases in the special proceedings against those freed for Schalit, both because the cases are considered a top priority and to ensure that there is no need to extend detention periods beyond the standard length.
While the mass arrests mean a spike in case work, the prosecution unit got used to an increased workload because terror-related indictments rose 40 percent last year.