Thursday, July 10, 1997

True Justice

True Justice
July 10, 1997

This is a true story. It is also a personal story because it involves, not only myself, but also my wife. It is sort of cute - I thought you might enjoy it.
Four years ago - the days, weeks, months following the initial meetings with the terrorists, with the signing of the original Oslo agreement - an accord signed in blood. Rocks and firebombs accompanied the terrorist murders which were taking place nonstop on Israeli roads. I was working in Jerusalem - going back and forth every day. It’s only an hour drive, but at that time, the anxiety was so great that after arriving home at night, I couldn’t move.
One spring evening I arrived home and heard that at 8:00 p.m. a small demonstration was to take place outside the main Kiryat Arba gate, protesting the constant rock and firebomb attacks on cars going back and forth to Jerusalem. The organizers had an unofficial agreement with the police to allow us to demonstrate from 8:00 until 9:30. I was exhausted but felt an obligation to participate, at least for a little while. So my wife Ora and I, with five of our children took a short walk to the main Kiryat Arba gate. I told Ora, we’ll go for a half hour, and then return home.
We found about 50 people present, on the street - most of whom were teenagers and children. There were about 15 adults congregating on the road. That road is particularly quiet at night, with little to do except stand there. At about 8:45 the fun started. All of a sudden the deputy commander of the Hebron region, an officer named Schmeal showed up, with more soldiers than there were demonstrators. He climbed up on his command car and announced: "This area is a ‘restricted military zone.’ You have five minutes to get inside the gates of Kiryat Arba or we start arresting people." With that he jumped down off the car and walked over to a friend of mine, standing a few meters from myself and Ora. He said to him, "You have 7 seconds to get inside." The man responded, "But it will take me longer than 7 seconds to get inside the Kiryat Arba gate." So Schmeal retorted, "OK - you’re under arrest. Get into the police vehicle."
Having seen this, I turned to my wife and told her, "if this is the way they want to play, we go all the way." With that I took my then year old daughter in my arms and watched as Schmeal approached me. "You have seven seconds to get out of the street and into Kiryat Arba." "But why?," I asked. "You have seven seconds." "But I live here," I answered. With that he yelled at me, "You are under arrest. Give the baby to her mother." "No," I said. "Give the baby to her mother," again. "No." So Schmeal put his arm around my head, pushed by head back and held me that way for about five minutes. We had an interesting conversation: "Get rid of the baby." "No." Until he finally told me to take the baby with me into the police van. So I collected her diapers, bottle and pacifier and joined my friends who had already been apprehended. We had a good time singing and clapping hands.
After about a half hour a bus showed up, to take us to jail. I was the last one on. Climbing up the steps I suddenly stopped, and exclaimed, "what are you doing here?" Because, in front of me, I found sitting on the bus my wife and three more of my children. Ora smiled and told me that she too had been told to leave the street. She told the officers that she refused to move before receiving back her husband and baby. So they arrested her too. With three more of our kids.
We were taken to the Kiryat Arba-Hebron police station, questioned and held until 2:30 in the morning, when we were finally sent home.
One year later Ora received an indictment in the mail. Together with eight others. I wasn’t charged, but she was. The charge was illegally demonstrating. The trial went on for THREE YEARS. The judge, twice, suggested to the prosecution that they close the case against five of the defendants, (including my wife) because there wasn’t any case. They refused. Schmeal, who had long since left the army, admitted to performing illegal procedures. He filled in all the forms necessary to declare a land area ‘restricted military zone’ and had them signed AFTER the declaration and arrests. According to the law, that has to be done before the declaration. When asked what land area was off-limits he spoke of an area about 30 miles long. For a group of 50 demonstrators. When asked if he knew that the police had allowed the demonstration to take place he answered, "If Rabbi B... says they had an agreement, I believe him."
A video camera, which had been used to film the demonstration was confiscated by the police. When it was returned to the owner, the cassette was missing. It remained missing, permanently. And the case went on, and on, and on, and on - FOR THREE YEARS.
CHAPTER THREE - The Verdict and Sentencing
A few weeks ago the judge announced the verdict. His decision was extremely critical of the officer Schmeal, saying that until he showed up everything had been very quiet, and maybe if he had handled the event differently, the results would have been different. He criticized the police for the vanishing cassette. Etc. etc.
But, it was an illegal demonstration (the oral agreement with the police isn’t binding) and that cannot go unpunished. So, his decision was to refrain from convicting the defendants, but he ordered them punished. (There is some kind of quirk in Israeli law that allows court-ordered punishment without conviction.) He informed the guilty parties that they would not receive a jail term, but rather be required to do community volunteer work. The minimum time allowed by law is 60 hours. So my wife together with the other guilty parties were sentenced to 60 hours of volunteer work as a result of a demonstration against attacking Jews, four years ago.
True Justice.

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