Palmer ‘praying’ for justice for dead son, grandson

Military trial continues for Palestinians accused of stoning Kiryat Arba residents’ car last September, causing fatal road crash.

Funeral of Kiryat Arba car accident victims 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Funeral of Kiryat Arba car accident victims 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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.
In 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 car.
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 Bank.
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 passengers.
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 training.
Arjeh is charged with 30 security offenses, including attempting to intentionally cause death and throwing objects.
The 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 gallery.
According to a prison guard, defendants are allowed to invite two or three relatives to support them during the court hearings.
Sitting 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 him.
“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 trial.
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 pleas.
“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 proceedings.
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 seriously.
“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.”
The Palmers, however, are resigned to a long and painful legal process.
“The 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?”