Who is the country’s first female Muslim District Court judge?

Osali Abu Assad was appointed a full-fledged Northern Magistrate’s Court Judge in 2012.

A gavel in a court of law (photo credit: REUTERS)
A gavel in a court of law
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Judicial Selection Committee appointed Israel’s first female Muslim district court judge last week and although Osaila Abu Assad has declined to talk to the media, there are some general details available about her career and some published decisions.

Abu Assad was born in 1973 and graduated in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1996. After practicing in the private sector for several years, she was appointed a court registrar at the Northern Magistrate’s Court.

In 2012, Abu Assad was appointed to the bench at the Northern Magistrate’s Court. In 2016, she transferred to Nazareth Magistrates’ Court where she has now been promoted to sit as a District Court judge.

There has routinely been an Arab-Israeli justice on the Supreme Court bench for the last two decades but so far, the appointments have all been of Christian-Arab men, although Tel Aviv District Court judge Khaled Kabub appears to be a possible nominee as the next Arab Supreme Court justice and would be the first Muslim to hold that position.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute, as of 2019, only 8.4% of judges in Israel were Arab, so Abu Assad is quite a trailblazer – especially as a Muslim woman.

 District court of Nazareth, Israel (credit: רנדום/Wikimedia Commons) District court of Nazareth, Israel (credit: רנדום/Wikimedia Commons)

In 2017, Abu Assad ordered the state to free from custody haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi Moshe Iram, who was indicted for threatening Maj.-Gen. Manpower Chief Moti Almoz, in charge of drafting haredim into the army, and ordered him to be placed under house arrest until the end of his trial.

For several days, the indictment said that Iram traveled to Almoz’s hometown and accosted him both at his synagogue and near his home.

Iram not only spat at Almoz, the indictment stated, but also yelled, “There is a law and there is a judge” and implied that Almoz “would face grave punishment” for drafting haredim, particularly orthodox women.

According to Iram’s lawyer, right-wing activist and current MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, many of the accusations were exaggerated and the real issue was authorities cracking down on protests near senior officials’ homes.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Abu Assad ruled against the prosecution’s argument that it would be dangerous to free Iram from police custody in light of his alleged threats against Almoz.

Abu Assad also ordered a social worker to interview Iram to determine whether he could be trusted to be granted additional leniencies beyond transfer to house arrest.

In a decision reported by Calcalist in June 2020, Abu Assad issued an order relating to JNF/KKL chairman Dani Atar having to withdraw from illegally trespassing and expanding his estate onto lands beyond the plot he owns.

She also fined him a sum of about NIS 80,000.

It is hard to establish an ideology from these two decisions and a few other reported decisions by Abu Assad, but even these two show that she is not afraid to ruffle feathers and does not fit into an ideological box.