A bullet hole in a door of the Jerusalem synagogue where two Palestinian terrorists killed four rabbis and a police officer, November 19, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a landmark ruling by the IDF West Bank Appeals Court that could substantially set back Hamas’s terrorism financing, a woman over 50 years old was given a fine far higher percentage-wise than any previous ruling. She was fined more than double what the lower IDF court had fined her for her financial involvement in terrorism.
Until now, the fines against those convicted for financing terrorism have been exponentially smaller than the amounts those convicted had transferred to Hamas, with one recent case having a fine equal to just over 10 percent of what Hamas received. (Hamas received around NIS 600,000, and the fine was only around NIS 70,000.) The ruling, handed down late Thursday but not previously reported by any other outlet, could open up the floodgates in hitting every single Hamas terrorism financier with exponentially higher fines, particularly since it was handed down by an appeals court judge, Lt.- Col. Zvi Lekach.
The actual fine was only NIS 50,000. However, that fine is 50% of the value of the NIS 100,000 transferred by Rasmia Balauma for Hamas, more than double the original fine handed down by the lower IDF West Bank court, and around five times percentage-wise the relative amount of many fines routinely handed down until now.
In dramatic fashion, Judge Lekach mentioned the historic power of his ruling, stating that he recognized that “the fines that have been imposed until now did not reach” anywhere near “the amounts transferred” by those convicted, “and were even substantially lower than them.”
“It seems to me,” Lekach said, “that the time has come to set new punishment policies,” since “there exists a great and significant need to fight terrorism financing.”
Just as importantly, the court left the door open for, in the near future, raising fines all the way up to being equal to the full amount transferred, as had been requested by chief IDF West Bank prosecutor Lt.-Col.
Maurice Hirsch, who took the unusual step of personally arguing the appeal.
Lekach said that even as he gave a vastly higher fine than usual, in this particular case he would not grant the full NIS 100,000 fine the IDF prosecution requested.
But he added that this was only because legal precedent dictated that major changes in punishment policies must be made somewhat incrementally.
In other words, once there were a few more rulings published with much higher fines, the court would be comfortable with going even higher, fining Hamas terrorism funding accomplices shekel for shekel.
One of the unique aspects of the case, the court said, was how “normal” and “clean” Balauma was, with no prior record, no direct connection to Hamas and the perfect cover of being a harmless middle-aged woman, as opposed to a hardcore Hamas member being the front for receiving the funds.
Balauma got involved in being a conduit for receiving and distributing Hamas funds in the West Bank at the request of her son, who is a Hamas agent in Gaza. The multiplied increase in fines could hit Hamas on multiple fronts.
First, the higher fines could make it harder for Hamas to recruit “normal” and less hardcore West Bank Palestinians to serve as financial conduits for terrorism, for fear of astronomic fines.
Second, Hamas has generally paid fines for those working for it, in order to send a message to future recruits that it takes care of its own.
If Hamas continues to pay fines such as Balauma’s as expected, the much higher fines will be a systematically higher drain on its funds, away from other terrorism projects for which it might otherwise have used them.
The argument that Hirsch made to the court was a large part of what opened the major policy-shift in punishments.
The IDF prosecution had three major new arguments that were part of what convinced the court.
First, Hirsch said that legal precedent on terrorism financing has always said that fines should be substantial according to the measure transferred for terrorism purposes.
Next, the IDF prosecutor said there is precedent with other financial crimes, besides terrorism financing, for fines imposed to be even greater than the profit gained through tax evasion or fraud schemes.
Third, the IDF prosecution stated that Hamas has changed its historical pattern and is more often intentionally using innocent bystanders who don’t arouse suspicion, like Balauma, to bring funds into the West Bank – a new strategy that requires a new response by the judicial apparatus to effectively deter the tactic.