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Walter Bingham is a veteran journalist and broadcaster from London who now lives in Jerusalem. His weekly radio programme, Walter´s World, can be heard on Israel National

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Judiciary in Israel

Walter Bingham
Oct. 31 2005

For most of my life, I lived in England and learned to trust the legal system, because there, judges are not appointed by the political establishment of the day. They evolve from the ranks of distinguished lawyers. Politics plays no part whatsoever. Therefore, the judiciary is not beholden to any government policy, and is totally independent and fair. They scrupulously carry out the legislation laid down by parliament and in case law.
Now, what about Israel's judiciary? The slogan on their web site is very interesting. It quotes Isaiah 1: "Zion will be redeemed with justice, and her captives with righteousness."
Recent events have turned this slogan on its head. You know that they imprison children for demonstrating and hold them without trial? They call it "protective custody". It's a term that was used by the Nazis to imprison Jews and other opponents of the regime without trial. Draw your own conclusions. One of the better-known names is Chaya Belogorodsky, who was freed in September after 40 days, but only into settlement-arrest, a severe restriction on her movements. To this day, no trial date is fixed. And there is the case of 18-year-old Shimshon Cytryn, who has now been in prison for four months charged with attempted murder; in fact, he is the main suspect in a 'lynch' attack on an Arab youth.
Now that's a very serious charge, lynching; but if we look into the facts as they have become known, we find nothing of the sort. During the period of the Gush Katif expulsion, he was, with others, occupying an old, disused building on the beach, when he was attacked by Palestinian youth. Rocks were thrown by both sides. A photo journalist took a picture of an Arab youth who was hurt and on the floor. It was claimed that a rock, thrown by Cytryn, totally incapacitated him, nearly killed him.
But the Arab youth was soon seen to get up and walk away unaided. It is alleged by Cytryn's defence that the Arab himself said it was the butt of a rifle that caused his injury and not a rock. Yet he, a participant in the attack on the Jews walks free, while Shimshon Cytryn is languishing in jail, still without trial.
So much for the slogan on the web site. Several appeals for Cytryn's release on bail were turned down, probably because, like 14-year-old Chaya Belogorodsky, he is deemed to be a danger to the State. Isn't that utterly ridiculous, and a feeble, unconvincing excuse?
Those cases, together with many others, are examples of the judiciary's political bias, because the Supreme Court is stacked with government appointees, and the government carried out the expulsion in Gush Katif. So, those who exercised their democratic right to peacefully demonstrate and oppose are treated harshly, as an example, to dissuade other right-wing political opponents from being too active.
Thousands were arrested illegally and the Supreme Court approved legal and political processes that cement its position as an arm of power, rather than as an independent judicial authority.
Sometimes, just sometimes, someone will persist in getting justice. Like Noam Federman, who, for more than a year, was either kept in protective custody or sentenced to house arrest. At one time, he was free to move by day, but at night, he was deemed a terrorist and restricted to his home. Another ridiculous order. After uncountable court appearances, each adjudging him guilty or dangerous, with a similar negative outcome, the court of appeals finally overturned it all - and awarded him a substantial sum in compensation for unlawful detention.
Now that this precedent is set, similar awards should follow. What a waste of tax payer's money - to keep innocents in prison in the first place and then to have to pay compensation.
Here is another example. According to a report on Ynet, David Axelrod, who was convicted for treasonous statements on the radio in connection with the murder of Yitzchak Rabin, requested a retrial on the basis of the outcome of the trial of Mohammed Yousef Jabarin. Jabarin is an Arab poet who praises terrorist murders in poems and who was apparently acquitted. I quote from an article in Ynet:
"Aharon Barak, the Chief Justice didn't like the request, to put it mildly, and sent the appealer to request a presidential pardon. The prosecution agreed, but Moshe Katsav, himself a well-worn politician who probably has plans of returning to politics, understood that one doesn't play games with the Rabin assassination. He rejected the request for a pardon. Now, Chief Justice Barak has no choice, and on the eve of the Sukkot holiday, despite the unfortunate timing – a few days before the tenth anniversary of the Rabin murder – Barak asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to acquit Axelrod. If Mazuz refuses, Barak will [have to] order a re-trial."
Our courts are serving the government, and the way our judges are appointed will never lead to a truly independent judiciary.
Just as the selection of Knesset members must be radically overhauled to achieve accountability if Israel wants to display democracy in action and not only in name, so must the judiciary be overhauled and judges' terms of office predetermined.


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