Border cop gets 7.5 years for West Bank checkpoint bribes

Atta Marai allowed Palestinian trucks to pass through crossings without security examinations.

October 26, 2011 02:38
2 minute read.
Border policemen near Ramallah

Border policemen near Ramallah_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

The Jerusalem District Court sentenced border policeman Atta Marai to seven-and-a-half years of imprisonment on Tuesday, following his conviction on 49 counts of bribery and breach of trust and one count of carrying out an act that could spread disease.

Marai was also fined NIS 50,000.

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According to the indictment, 32-year-old Marai had been a border guard for 14 years and at the time of his arrest served as commander of the al-Jib, or Givat Ze’ev, checkpoint.

Al-Jib is part of the “Jerusalem envelope” series of checkpoints at various entrances from the West Bank into the capital.

Marai, who was convicted under a plea bargain, admitted that, together with two guards and a civilian accomplice, he took bribes from truck drivers to allow them to pass through the checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel without a security check.

The civilian accomplice paid Marai and the two guards NIS 5,000 in cash for each vehicle.

Most of the vehicles that Marai allowed to pass in this way were carrying cargo from the Palestinian Authority, including eggs. Transferring agricultural produce, including meat, eggs and dairy products, from the Palestinian Authoritycontrolled territories into Israel is strictly forbidden because of disease risks.

However, the court learned that border police have been unable to determine the cargo of some of the vehicles Marai allowed to pass unchecked.

State prosecutor Ronen Yitzhak had emphasized the security threat of trucks passing unchecked from the Palestinian Authority, particularly since in many cases the contents of those trucks is unknown.

In light of this, the prosecution had requested a prison term of eight years.

The defense, in contrast, had asked for a community service sentence and a minimum fine.

However, Judge Amnon Cohen said that the harsh sentence and fine imposed on Marai reflects the serious nature of his offenses and their large number.

Both the legislature and the Supreme Court have sought to aggravate the punishment for bribery, the judge noted.

“Compassion toward criminals such as the defendant only serves to damage public trust and public service,” Cohen said.

The judge also took into consideration testimony from Yehuda Yehoshua, the border guard commander in charge of the “Jerusalem envelope” area.

Yehoshua told the court that the system of checkpoints had been established after increased terror attacks in Jerusalem.

The border guard commander testified that the state had invested considerable resources into the “Jerusalem envelope,” including in the training of border guards such as Marai.

However, according to Yehoshua, corruption among border guards is high, because of the financial incentives of accepting bribes and because the prison sentences handed down to officers convicted of bribery are too light to be a deterrent to others.

“There is no deterrence because an officer who breaks his trust does so even if his colleagues were caught and go to jail for two years,” Yehoshua said. “It’s not enough because we’re talking about money.”

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