This is not one of Kalila and Demna fables, or maybe it is.
I wore a t-shirt with an owl print on the day I appeared in court for my husband’s sentence hearing at Ofer’s Israeli military court. I was told once that owls bring good luck, I am not superstitious by nature but I was desperate that I had no hope to hold onto but that owl and some nonsensical myths. I put on my mask, as per new COVID-19 regulations, and convinced myself that my shirt will bring good luck.
My husband, Ubai, had been detained since November 13 of last year. The court hearing marked the anniversary of the Naksa: when Israeli occupation forces conquered the remainder of Palestinian land in 1967.
I waited for a long time before I was called into courtroom number 7. I was nervous, my legs were shaking. The judge had blue eyes and blond hair tied back neatly, she had a tattoo on her left arm circled by subtle-looking bracelets. She looked more like a tennis-player than a judge. She fiddled with her ponytail for the whole period of the hearing. To her left, a darker woman sat wearing Khaki and transcribing the proceeding, unbothered by her surroundings. I had thought that the job of a stenographer had ceased with the use of typewriters. Alas, all that had changed was that the typewriter was replaced by a laptop.
To the right of the podium sat a person who resembled a sly fox. He was the Israeli prosecutor, scanning the room and studying its occupants. He stared at me multiple times, as if to decipher my feelings throughout the proceeding. I kept my legs nailed to the ground and drew a superficial smile every time his eyes caught mine, which happened often.
On the opposite side of the prosecutor there stood an arrogant-looking interpreter. He translated Hebrew ramblings and accusations perpetrated by the prosecutor while scrolling through his Facebook timleine. He couldn’t have cared less about a Palestinian’s life. He was probably messaging his girlfriend to set up a weekend trip, or perhaps they were arguing while he performed the unimportant mundane task of translating.
There were also two more people present in the courtroom: a woman dressed in military uniform and a man in a police uniform. These two were busy joking around as they took papers from the printer.
The room had little resemblance to courtrooms screened in cinemas. This one was anything but just.
My husband was on the other side of the room, attending via a video conference. I was not able to see him till the end of the hearing, when the curtains dropped closing the session and granting the Israeli perpetrators in the room a round of applause for their courtroom performance. I was greatly pained by the whole experience and outcome of the session, but I knew the outcome in advance, so did my husband, the prosecutor, my husband, and his lawyer. All except for the judge. Unlike me, Ubai did not seem to be disturbed by the proceeding, even though he was the one imprisoned and enduring all forms of punishment and humiliation.
The real proceeding had already taken place behind closed doors where the fox of the prosecution meets with the defendant’s lawyer and begin negotiations. The lawyer argues for the lowest possible sentence for the defendant while the prosecutor argues for the maximum sentence. It is merely a calculation of lives.
The majority of court proceedings for Palestinians are usually conducted behind closed doors between the foxes of the prosecution and lawyers prior to the official court date, where the latter negotiates to get a minimum sentence for his client. In the meantime, the former is adamant to make the indigenous land-owner (the detainee) pay the maximum sentence possible. The injustice is played out and applied through a false negotiating game where the shrewd occupation prosecutor (fox) has the upper hand. He remains in control not only of Ubai’s life, but of all our lives.
Ubai’s trial started as others do – with the judge reading the charges. She listed a number of accusations, as if she were reading from a manual. The stenographer typed, the interpreter translated some parts. The judge continued to affirm that mutual respect to agree upon deals is expected, but she failed to mention the times that Zionist courts broke its promises, renewing sentences under the pretense of “administrative detention”.
Administrative detention is an arbitrary and unjust arrest. No evidence or proof is presented. It is based on what the prosecution claims to be secret files submitted by the general security agency or Israeli intelligence agencies. Neither the lawyer nor the detainee is allowed to see such files, and detention cycles are renewed by the occupation indefinitely. In the meantime, the prisoner’s family lives in a different form of prison, waiting for the sentencing or release of a loved one.
Secret evidence files erode fair trial rights which are granted by international humanitarian law. It is a war crime to block a person from a fair shot at defending themselves. There are currently around 400 male and female Palestinian prisoners under administrative detention. During the time of this detention, occupation forces buy time to plot charges and fabricate hearsay to convict the prisoners, as was the case with my husband in the early stages of his arrest. Occupation forces also use the “Tamir” law, which convicts and tries prisoners based on the confession of another prisoner taken through torture. This occurs without obtaining a confession or interrogating the prisoner at trial.
The judge arrives in reading to a paragraph about the duration of the sentence, she gives the podium to the individual who actually makes a ruling: the prosecutor and implicitly, the intelligence agency. The prosecutor presents the deal which had been agreed upon, or perhaps to put in slightly more accurately, what the lawyer was able to obtain.
- Prosecutor: 12 months and one week; a fine of 2500 shekels (735 $US) and two probation sentences.
- Judge, sarcastically: why the extra week?
- The prosecution in victorious Hebrew: No reason. That is what we agreed on!
Indeed, that was what was agreed upon. The fine was actually a financial payment in exchange for two and a half months of imprisonment.
The proceeding reminded me of Kafka’s novel “The Trial”. The novel follows the story of Joseph K. who is summoned court for a charge he does not know. Joseph K. fails to recognize what he is being accused of in order to defend himself with his lawyer, before a tyrannical judicial system that does not inform him of his charges nor of how long his proceeding will take. Unfortunately, the truth concerning his innocence is never revealed despite his resistance and the agony he endures.
Such is the case for thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Israel’s judicial system is armed with arrest forces, prosecutors, and judges for show, who work together to falsely and forcefully convict Palestinians. These forces prepare hundreds of ready-made files to convict Palestinians as indicated by annual statistics published by the Israeli military courts where 99.76 percent of the cases result in convictions. Prisoners are forced to accept deals made with the Israeli military prosecutors, which are classified as coerced confessions. They agree to wait, just as Joseph K. waited and eventually failed against a system that is based on calumny, lies and deception. Any legal arguments and pleadings that challenge the military court bring nothing but misery and frustration to the prisoners and their families.
This unjust judiciary system, which acts as both “judge and executioner,” and the set of procedures and policies followed in Israeli military trials, such as the repeated adjournment of sessions that could last for many years, mean that dozens of military court sessions are arbitrarily adjourned.
As with Joseph K. who futilely waited for details of his accusation, the Israeli military prosecution delays, stalls and balks at presenting any evidence concerning Palestinian detainees. It also blocks important information under the pretext that it cannot be disclosed (i.e., that it is ‘secret’), particularly information relating to the torture of prisoners during interrogation, hence refusing to comply with the defense’s demands for its release. All of the above forces the prisoners in many cases to accept “settlements” made between the prosecutors and defense lawyers. The detainees’ acceptance is mainly driven by their need to be with families and to spare them further suffering.
At the end of this farce, I was permitted to see Ubai. I walked towards the podium where the prosecutor was standing. I found Ubai staring back at me from a laptop screen. He was groomed for the occasion. While our meeting was virtual, I was happy to see my husband whom I had not seen in three months due to Coronavirus restrictions. During this time, Ubai lost 15 kilograms from exercising. He told me that he wanted to surprise me with his new look. He also did something that I had begged him to do since the day we were married: he shaved his beard.
- Ubai (laughing and stroking his chin): what do you think?
- Hind: it took imprisonment for you to listen to me and shave your beard, Mr. Aboudi?
- Ubai: you don’t like it?!
- Hind: Oh, no, you look very handsome.
- Ubai: do you really mean it?
- Hind: you know me…I am like an owl; I have to go along with you.
- Ubai: you are the most beautiful owl in my life.
We burst out laughing at our rowdy flirting, love, and yearning. The stern prosecutor did not laugh with us. Perhaps he realized that owls are also predators and that someday they may prey on foxes.
* Ubai Al-Aboudi: Director of Bisan Center for Research and Development, arrested since 13 November 2019. He was in Ofer prison until he was arbitrarily transferred to Nafha Prison on 1st of October. Loving husband and father of three children; Khalid (6 years) and the twins: Ghassan and Basel (4 years).