As he waited outside the Ofer Military Court near Ramallah on Sunday morning,
Michael Palmer said he is “hoping and praying” for justice for his son and
infant grandson, Asher and Yonatan Palmer, both killed after rocks thrown at
their car caused it to overturn and crash on Route 60 last September.
November, the Military Advocate- General indicted five Palestinian men,
allegedly part of a terror cell formed to harm Israelis, in the Ofer Military
Court in connection with the Palmers’ deaths, and the court convened for the
second time on Sunday to hear the case.
The IDF initially said the car
crash, just outside Kiryat Arba, was a tragic accident. However, after a
subsequent investigation into the crash, the IDF announced their suspicion that
the Palmers were murdered as a result of rocks thrown at their moving
The five defendants on trial on Sunday – Ali Sa’adeh, Wa’al
al-Arjeh, Iyad al-Baw, Mahmoud al-Baw and Mohammed al-Baw – were charged in the
court under the Military Order regarding Security Provisions (1651) in the West
According to the indictments, the five men formed a cell to assault
Israelis in revenge for a “price tag” attack on a Nablus mosque shortly before
the killings. They decided to throw rocks from a moving car at Israeli cars in
the West Bank, the indictment alleges, with the aim of killing
If the court finds the defendants guilty of deliberately
causing the deaths, it will set a legal precedent, as to date no one has ever
been convicted of murder as a result of rock throwing.
Sa’adeh is charged
with intentionally causing death – effectively a murder charge, the maximum
penalty for which is a death sentence. The indictment lists a total of 23
charges against him, all related to attacks and security offenses in the area,
including an attempt to fire an M-16 rifle at a passenger bus on Route 60. Other
charges against him include membership in a group that intentionally caused
death – punishable by a life sentence – and illegal military
Arjeh is charged with 30 security offenses, including
attempting to intentionally cause death and throwing objects.
remaining defendants are charged with, among other offenses, belonging to a
group whose members intentionally caused death.
Sunday’s hearing took
place in the largest of the military court’s tiny courtrooms, of which there are
about ten, housed in a row of small trailers.
According to a Prisons
Service guard on duty Sunday, these courtrooms are busy, hearing upwards of 80
cases each day, sometimes as many as 100.
As proceedings began, prison
guards lead in the shackled defendants.
From the dock, the defendants
waved and called out to family members sitting in the small public
According to a prison guard, defendants are allowed to invite
two or three relatives to support them during the court hearings.
on the opposite side of the courtroom from the defendants’ relatives were 10
people – some of whom had never met the Palmers before – who traveled to the
court to offer their support to Michael Palmer and his son Shmuel. Michael
described how he sent a request for support during the hearing, after attending
the previous proceedings in February alone.
“There was a crowd of people
who came to support the defendants,” he said, adding that the group of
Palestinians had heckled the court during that hearing, which greatly upset
“It felt like they were making victims out of the defendants, even
though this is a murder trial.”
Although over 100 people responded to the
request for support, in the end the IDF only allowed ten supporters, not
including press, to enter the military court compound and sit in on the
Among those who came to show support for the Palmer family was
Michelle Baruch of nearby Givat Ze’ev, who said that although she did not know
the family personally, she was moved by their story.
“I saw an email sent
to our yishuv about the hearing, and so I came,” Baruch said. “I hope the
outcome of the trial will be in their favor.”
As in civilian murder
trials, a panel of three judges – led by court president Lt. Col. Ronen Etzmon –
presided over the hearing.
The court asked each defendant to stand in
turn while the judges read out the charges against them in Hebrew and an
interpreter translated them into Arabic.
The judges then asked the
defendants whether they understood the charges, and to provide their
“I understand the indictment against me,” one defendant, Iyad al-
Baw, said. “It’s not correct.”
While the defendants’ lawyer, Haled
al-Araj, asked for a two-month trial delay to review witness evidence, the
military prosecutor objected, insisting that the court case had already been
substantially delayed, with indictments filed four months ago. The judges agreed
to hold the next major hearing on April 18.
Before and after Sunday’s
hearing, the Palmers raised the issue of how the trial proceedings are
conducted, including several delays the defense has requested since the
indictments were filed in November.
The Palmers said they were also upset
that the IDF – which in February sent a car to bring the Palmer family from
Jerusalem to the court – said Sunday morning that they were unable to do so for
this hearing, leaving Michael and Shmuel to make their own way to the trial. As
they arrived without an IDF escort on Sunday, the Palmers had to stand and wait
outside the court compound entrance for some twenty minutes, less than a meter
from family members of the six defendants.
“It dishonors the memories of
Asher and Yonatan, that their families must go through this,” said Michael. “It
causes me a lot of pain to have to stand here in line next to the relatives of
those who murdered my son.”
Yehuda Poch of OneFamily Fund, a nonprofit
that supports victims of terror, said he had come to Ofer to support to the
Palmers and that the trial raised issues of how terror victims’ families are
treated and cared for during the traumatic months of legal
The State Attorney’s Office and the Military
Advocate-General Corps could do more to explain the legal proceedings to terror
victims’ families, Poch said.
Despite the delays, the Palmers said they
were grateful for the support shown to them by the prosecution and members of
the public Sunday, and added that they hoped the presence of press and
supporters in the courtroom would help authorities take the trial more
“I hope and pray that there will be justice, and I thank the
prosecution for doing its best to get things moving,” Michael said. “It’s
important that all the defendants get the outcome they deserve.”
Palmers, however, are resigned to a long and painful legal process.
prosecution is concerned that it’s hard to prove murder,” Michael said. “But why
else would anyone throw rocks at a moving car, if not to kill its occupants?”