Can settlers get a fair hearing?

The case of the Halamish brothers demonstrates shocking injustice.

jail 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jail 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny and Yitzhak Halamish live in Ma'aleh Rehavam, a settlement near Bethlehem. The IDF trained and armed the brothers as volunteer security guards. On February 21, 2004, Baruch Feldbaum, the IDF security guard from the neighboring settlement Sde Bar, called for the assistance of the brothers as Beduin threatened Sde Bar. About 20 rock and club-wielding Beduin surrounded the brothers upon their arrival. To enable their escape, Feldbaum fired a warning shot in the ground and Yitzhak fired a warning shot in the air. The brothers did not fire their rifles. The Beduin filed a complaint with the police: All three guards had shot at them with rifles, beat them with their fists and shot a three-year-old child. Danny and Yitzhak were convicted of aggravated assault and negligence with a firearm, and sentenced to seven and eight months in prison. As a byproduct, the brothers are no longer allowed to carry weapons in an area known to be dangerous for Jews - the very reason the IDF trained the two as guards. Nor can they serve in the IDF, thus weakening the army. BUT THE brothers committed no crime. First, they acted within the guidelines of the IDF. Second, the police - who entered the homes of the brothers illegally - acted with malevolence. Instead of testing to see if their rifles had been fired, they themselves fired the weapons, ostensibly to see if they were in working order. By doing so the police destroyed evidence that would have exonerated the brothers. Third, the evidence is based only on witness testimony, the weakest legal proof. This is the more so when the witnesses are the complainants, and even more so if the complainants are suspected of having threatened the persons against whom they have complained. The judge favored the testimonies of the Beduin, unsubstantiated by any other proof. There were no visible wounds or pictures of wounds, not even of the child allegedly shot to death. Fourth, the prejudice of the public prosecutor was revealed when he demanded an extra-stiff penalty because "the behavior of the accused during their interrogation indicated incriminating behavior on their part" and "the accused have a lifestyle with a clear-cut ideological character that finds expression in their behavior, their place of residence and their social and political outlook." THE VERDICT is clearly in breach of the international principle of non-discrimination because of "race, religion, sex or political conviction," and should sound an alarm bell for appeal by any supreme court. Not so for the Supreme Court in Israel, which whitewashes blatant injustice performed by lower-court judges. Moreover the Supreme Court made an incomprehensible ruling on May 3: The brothers were not allowed to remain free while awaiting a decision on a pardon they had requested from the president. Feldbaum - sentenced to nine months imprisonment - had awaited such a decision in freedom. The ruling of May 3 was all the more unjust as president Katsav had reduced Feldbaum's sentence to six months of community service. This case is inherently offensive. It was prosecuted because of the political views of the brothers, and the fact that they are settlers; this was clearly stated by the prosecution. There is reason to think that this case is just the tip of an iceberg whereby judges condemn settlers without legal grounds other than the complaint of opponents of the settlement movement. I have never seen such a combination of incompetence and injustice. This case is a strong indication that settlers are persecuted: by the police, public prosecutors and judges, including the Supreme Court. And by the president: On March 24 the brothers requested a pardon from Shimon Peres. On May 20 their prison sentence began and on May 22 the Ministry of Justice gave the president a positive recommendation. Despite repeated and urgent requests from inside and outside Israel, President Peres has not responded, thus perpetuating this injustice for more than two and a half months. Enough! The writer worked for almost 28 years as an attorney in private practice in the Netherlands, and for two years as a lawyer with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.