Holyland trial gets angry, personal and entertaining

First Person: Weeks of listening to the state list lines of documents, alleged illegal checks and bribes are over.

Holyland 390 (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Holyland 390
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
At the Holyland trial yesterday, even the judge was asking the “audience” (attorneys, witnesses, reporters) if a trial or a talk show was taking place.
With the circus atmosphere that took over the case when the cross-examination of the state’s main witness started, it would be easy for observers to forget that they are watching one of the most dramatic corruption trials in Israeli history.
The weeks of listening to the state list in a monotone a line of documents and alleged illegal checks and bribes are over.
Instead, shouting matches and finger-pointing between the state witness, known only as “S.D.” under a gag order, the defense attorneys, and at times, the judge are now part of the daily proceedings.
Giora Aderet, defense attorney for businessman Hillel Cherny, asked S.D. every question during the cross-examination as if he were a child and a liar. On top of that he took pains to emphasize that S.D. was an outcast and a turncoat against all of the other defendants in the room who had been his friends and business partners for years. It worked like a charm.
S.D. has made it clear that this case was about two things for him: getting paid and achieving both respect and vengeance. Although the case has huge implications for the state, for those involved, the trial is personal.
The defense attorneys’ treatment of S.D. appears to have unnerved him and cause him to frequently lose his train of thought or go “off message” in his responses.
Frequently all of the defendants and their attorneys – which could be up to 30 people and the majority of those present – laughed at his answers to questions.
You could see his shame and the sense of futility in his eyes. He joined forces with the state to bring these men, the defendants, to their knees, but it is clear he is far less confident now than on day one, when he made headlines by mentioning former prime minister Ehud Olmert and “bribe” in the same sentence.
The laughter in the courtroom was at times so frequent and loud that the judge, who runs a mostly hands-off and laid-back trial, got animated and accused the laughing audience of turning the trial into a circus.
But Aderet was not to be deterred from his campaign.
After a series of particularly condescending questions and characterizations, the state attorney – who was virtually silent throughout the cross-examination – objected for the first-time that Aderet was taking S.D.’s answers out of context.
Aderet thundered back at her that S.D. was a liar and was taking everything out of context, until the judge intervened.
Aderet had a heated exchange with the judge, until he essentially countered the rhetoric with “you want to keep messing with me?” Aderet briefly backed down for a few minutes.
In addition to the angry exchanges, observers were kept entertained by the continuing exploits of Shula Zaken, Olmert’s former bureau chief. At one point she entered into the back of a court cafe during a recent lunch recess to schmooze with the workers and check what food they had behind the counter that wasn’t available to the general public.
Every defendant present had their own way of passing time during the trial.
Some tables sat three defendants who diligently played with their smartphones, dutifully ignoring the proceedings.
Only one defendant was paying rapt attention. He took over an entire table and placed several well-organized folders in clearly delineated stacks, with a sophisticated color-coding system for keeping track of the testimony.
The angry, personal tone of the trial will likely continue through cross-examination, but the state will probably get its own chance to voice some anger and fury once the defendants begin to take the stand.
At that point, the laughter on the side of the defense will probably have died down.