The trial of well-known human rights activist Ayman Nasser, accused of
involvement with the PFLP, got off to an explosive start on Monday in the IDF
Military Court of Yehuda, as the IDF prosecution’s first witness took a
180-degree U-turn from his police testimony against Nasser.
the political impact of the case – a human rights activist being accused of
terrorism – it has drawn the attention of both the Israeli and international
Nasser says he is a human rights activist for Palestinian
prisoners’ rights at an organization called Addameer – which was also recently
raided, although no charges have as yet been filed – and has committed no
The IDF indictment against him recognizes that he works as a
human rights activist, but says that he doubles as a member of the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, charging him with five counts of
being present at PFLP events or actively recruiting for the PFLP.
and Addameer say the IDF is persecuting him for political reasons, trying to
intimidate human rights organizations which publicly criticize the IDF and fight
for prisoner rights.
The indictment does not accuse Nasser of involvement
in actual terror operations.
It focuses on his alleged presence at PFLP
gatherings, including one specific incident in which he is accused of
distributing PFLP recruiting materials and paying Is’an Karaja NIS 200 for
transportation costs to go recruit new PFLP members.
Nasser says he was
present at most of the events mentioned, but that he was there in his capacity
as an activist for prisoner rights, that the events were widely attended by
Palestinians from the general public, and that whether PFLP agents were there or
not, they would have been a small number of the attendees and he had nothing to
do with them.
Monday’s drama was apparent from the start.
statements to police, the first witness, Mahmoud Zeitoun, himself in detention
for alleged crimes, had accused a man named Ayman Karaja of being present and
involved in various PFLP events.
In one particular event that stood out,
it was claimed that Ayman Karaja helped organize an event commemorating deceased
PFLP general-secretary Abu Ali Mustafa.
Piecing together different
Zeitoun statements, including Zeitoun’s identifying a photograph of Ayman Nasser
as the Ayman Karaja he had discussed, the prosecution was offering Zeitoun as a
key witness for placing Nasser at the PFLP events.
But when Zeitoun
entered the courtroom, there was clear camaraderie between him and Nasser,
whereas when the prosecutor began to question him, Zeitoun responded with curt
Eventually, Zeitoun renounced his testimony against Nasser. He
admitted that he had said what the transcript of his police interrogation
indicated. He admitted that he had signed his name at the end of the transcript,
where it read that a signature would confirm the accuracy of the
But he claimed that he had only named Nasser because the
interrogators had essentially questioned him for 40 straight hours without
sleep, and promised him he could finally go to sleep if he named
Zeitoun said that he only identified the photograph as pertaining
to Nasser for the same reason – to finally get to sleep.
was not happy with the curveball thrown at her, but she did appear ready,
setting up Zeitoun in order to question him as a “hostile witness.”
hostile witness is a witness who supposedly was going to testify on behalf of
one party, which carries certain limits against aggressive or leading
questioning, who once on the stand gives a story that is “hostile” or against
the narrative he was expected to testify to.
Once a prosecution’s witness
is declared hostile, the prosecutor can question the witness aggressively and
with leading questions just as if they were cross-examining a witness for the
The prosecutor then hammered away at Zeitoun, trying to expose
holes or any part of his new narrative that might not make sense.
example, she asked him if he spoke the truth the rest of the time during the
interrogation and only made things up to satisfy the police on the specific
points that hurt Nasser the most.
This could have made the witness’s
answers look too conveniently contrived, but Zeitoun did not take the bait,
saying they could check the video footage of his interrogation to see when he
was being pressured.
That answer may turn out to be important, as the
judge may evaluate Zeitoun’s credibility and which of his accounts to believe
based on the video footage.
Defense attorney Hassan jumped on Zeitoun’s
answers as an opportunity to defang all of the accusations he had made against
Hassan meticulously questioned Zeitoun about each allegation, to
get a full denial from him.
He also focused on the photograph, leading
Zeitoun to make a number of assertions about it – that there was nothing to
indicate that it was taken during the specific alleged PFLP gathering, and that
it could have been taken at any West Bank protest.
Based on the hostile
first witness and the possibility of the prosecution’s other witnesses, who are
also Palestinian, turning “hostile,” the prosecution has a hard case to make,
unless it can convince the court that the police statements were the true story,
and the testimony in court was fabricated for other motivations.
many human rights groups and many in the international media watching this case,
the stakes could not be much higher.