The sentencing phase in the trial of Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, began yesterday at the Ofer Military Court. Abu Rahmah was convicted of organizing illegal marches and of incitement last month, but cleared of the violence charges he was indicted for - stone-throwing and a vindictive arms-possession charge for collecting used tear-gas projectiles and displaying them.
The prosecution demanded Abu Rahmah will be sent to prison for a period exceeding two years, saying that as an organizer, a harsh sentence is required to serve as a deterrence not only for Abu Rahmah himself, but to others who may follow in his footsteps as well. This statement by the prosecution affirms the political motivation behind the indictment, and the concern raised by EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, that "the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner."
Another argument made by the prosecution in their demand of a harsh sentence, were the repercussions and expenses caused to the army by anti-Wall demonstrations. These which were presented in detail in a report by what the prosecution called an "expert witness", who, in fact, is the Army's Binyamin Brigade's operations officer, Major Igor Mussayev.
The document includes many factual errors, such as mentioning seven Palestinian fatalities in Bil'in and Ni'ilin demonstrations, while in fact there were only six. In a ridiculous attempt to show that the military has no superiority over demonstrators, the "expert opinion" also claims that the effective range of rubber-coated bullets or 0.22"-caliber live ammunition is significantly lower than that of a slingshot. The report, in fact, claims that the effective range of a rubber-coated bullet is 50 meters - the minimal range of use according to army open fire regulations.
During the hearing, Major Mussayev claimed that all the weapons mentioned in the document are non-lethal crowd control measures. When asked specifically about the 0.22" caliber bullets, which were explicitly classified as live ammunition by the military's Judge Advocate General and banned for crowd control use, he replied that they too are crowd control measures. Such a reply from the officer in charge of operations in the brigade that deals with most West Bank demonstrations points to the army's policy of negligent use of arms in the attempt to quash the Palestinian popular struggle.
The highly biased document presented to the court also detailed the expenses on ammunition shot at demonstrators (almost 6.5 million NIS between August 2008 to December 2009). It also mentioned the costs of erecting a concrete wall in Ni'ilin in order to prevent damage to the barrier (8.5 million NIS), but failed to mention the costs of rerouting the Wall in Bil'in due to the original path's illegality, or the fact that even now, three years after the Supreme Court decision to reroute the Wall, it is still standing on its original path.
The hearing, which lasted more than three hours, saw a court-room packed with diplomats, representatives of international and Israeli human rights organizations, as well as friends and family members.
For the hearing's protocol (in Hebrew) see here.