For first time, Israeli military court acquits Palestinians of stone throwing
By Chaim Levinson
[2 January 2014] - The military court at Ofer army base has acquitted, for the first time, Palestinians charged with throwing rocks at a settler.
The three Palestinians charged were found not guilty recently because police did not summon to court the settler in question, who was said to have thrown stones himself during the clash. The presiding judge stated that under the circumstances, a ruling against the defendants would be discriminatory.
The incident took place in January 2010, near Susya in the south Hebron hills. Footage filmed by a volunteer with B’Tselem shows Ilan Vilanda from the Mitzpe Yair outpost, and three members of the Nawaj’ah family from the Palestinian village Susya. At one point, Vilanda threw stones at the Palestinians and a scuffle ensued.
Setter arrested but not charged
Police arrested the three Palestinians and the military prosecutor put them on trial, but Vilanda was not charged. During the proceedings, the clip of Vilanda throwing stones was shown and he even admitted doing so. Attorney Neri Ramati, representing the Palestinians, asked that they be acquitted, as they were defending themselves.
In February, military judge Maj. Meir Vigiser asked the prosecution what steps law enforcement agencies were preparing to take against Vilanda. Nine months later, the prosecution responded to the inquiry, stating that the Israel Police believe there is a need for “comprehensive investigation, including determining legal status of the land, identifying the soldiers in the video clip, gathering their testimony, as well as identifying other individuals involved and taking testimony from them as well.” The police did not state why it took nearly two years to make a list of investigative goals.
In response, Vigiser decided to acquit the Palestinians of the charges. According the judge, the Palestinians’ story was not reliable, the violence they used was not reasonable nor commensurate with their self-defense. Nonetheless, the judge decided to acquit them because convicting them would be discriminatory.
Vigiser stated that “both sides in this incident were equally dominant. They threw stones, and so did he, and made violent use of a sharp stick he was holding. They were immediately put on trial, and he has not yet been put on trial. It is doubtful it he will be brought before the court.”
Judge: Prosecution sat on evidence
Vigiser criticized the police and prosecution, stating that they had video footage of the incident as early as 2011. “Despite that, the prosecution failed to act,” wrote the judge.
“In this regard I make no differentiation between the military prosecutor and the local prosecution. … At this point almost three years have passed and the investigation is incomplete. For two years the military prosecutor did nothing to inform the Israel Police of the incriminating footage. The prosecutor’s explanation for this conduct was that the footage needed to be sent to the Israel Police. I do not believe that this explanation stands to reason. The military prosecutor is one of the law enforcement agencies in the West Bank. Is it possible that one agency acts without informing the other?
“Furthermore,” wrote Vigiser, “after the incriminating footage was received, a prosecutor from the Hebron district asked that the investigation be completed. Why was an investigation not demanded of the military prosecutor before the charges were filed?”
Ramati told Haaretz: “This ruling came after too much time had passed.” She added that “despite the numerous chances the court gave the law enforcement agencies to right the injustice, the reality is as clear as day: Israeli citizens are not brought to trial for the same crimes that Palestinians are.”
In response, the IDF Spokesman stated: “The decision in question, including the criticisms therein, was handed down only on Wednesday, and will be reviewed by the military prosecution. All necessary conclusions will be drawn.”