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The Israeli High Court and Abir Aramin

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2009-10-25-Button.jpgOn Wednesday, Oct. 14, the Israeli High Court of Justice heard arguments in an appeal to reopen the investigation in the killing of Abir Aramin.  The court did not make a final ruling but instead, as stated in the Jerusalem Post, “ The court gave the state 14 days to present it with materials from the investigation and documentation of official police communications from that day.”   The court will receive the materials this Wednesday, Oct. 28.   Upon their review, the court will either acknowledge that Yesh Din Attorney Michael Sfard’s arguments are correct and order the state to indict the Border Policemen, order a re-opening of the investigation, or dismiss the petition depite 14 eye-witnesses and independent autopsy.

During the Rebuilding Alliance's first speaking tour with our partner Combatants for Peace, we sought to tell this story and raise funds for the Abir’s Garden playground project.  I brought Abir’s mother and father, Salwa and Bassam Aramin, and her sister Areen who was with her when she was shot, to testify at the U.S. State Department.   Israeli Combatant for Peace, Yonatan Shapira, joined us to testified how his brother Zohar Shapira and other Combatants for Peace, stayed with the family through the nights at the hospital as Abir struggled to hold on to life.  Together their testimony would enter her killing into the 2007 Human Rights Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories.   As Areen testified, her mother Salwa's eyes filled with tears, then she asked for justice for her child and her family.  Bassam explained how their family came to understand in the long vigil by Abir’s side that Abir was not only his and Salwa’s child but that she was Zohar’s child too, indeed she was everyone’s child -- and in recognizing this, their family set aside revenge to press for justice and continue to extend their hands through Combatants for Peace.

In the autumn of 2008, after the State of Israel closed the investigation of Abir’s death and denied the appeal to re-open it, Yesh Din filed their petition to the High Court of Justice (HCJ).   At that time, I asked Yesh Din attorney, Emily Schaeffer, to clarify the jurisdiction of the HCJ.  She wrote,

“The HCJ is not an appeals court (which would review decisions, in this case criminal, made by lower courts based on review of law and fact) -- it hears only constitutional and administrative challenges to decisions made by governmental bodies (i.e. the Police Investigation Unit of the State Attorney’s Office).

“Therefore, it can void a decision (here the decision to close the investigation without filing indictments), but it cannot reverse an acquittal (had there been one) or convict the suspects. Those acts would take place, if an indictment were to be served, within the regular court system (which the HCJ is not a part of). And as the representatives of the family of the victim Yesh Din would not have the right to appeal an acquittal or appeal for a heavier sentence (this lies within the prosecution’s authority). Therefore, the maximum relief that the Aramin family can seek and receive in Israel is a reopening of the investigation.

“It is true that the High Court of Justice is a body set up by the British (in fact in all of their colonies, not just in the Mandate over Palestine). Its purpose was to ensure that the Queen’s decisions would not be adjudicated in the domestic courts of the colonies, by the colonized. However, it is not accurate to describe it as weak. Its jurisdiction is simply limited, as are the types of remedies it can provide. But within that framework, its decisions are binding and have the full force of any court of last resort.”

Nurit Peled Elhanan, after witnessing the High Court proceedings on Oct. 14 in her summary “The court does not sympathize,” noted that “Judge Beinish reminds Sfard -- twice -- that there have been such incidents in the past and that soldiers have rarely been put on trial or even indicted, so it would be best to just forget it. The State Counsel, with a laugh: I had the pleasure of attending such trials.”  When I called Bassam and Salwa just after the Oct. 14. High Court hearing, Bassam asked me if I could hear a loudspeaker in the background.  Their family had just finished their afternoon dinner.   Bassam explained that the Border Police soldiers were driving by the school in Anata, taunting the children by saying, “Come out, you heroes.”   After Abir was killed, the Border Police had met with the parents and agreed to end patrols near the Anata schools but that agreement did not last very long.  Now the Border Police are back every day and Bassam says they routinely use the loudspeakers to yell profanity at homes while on patrol -- all this on the Palestinian side of the Separation Wall in Anata.

In the October 23 edition of Bill Moyer’s Journal, Judge Richard Goldstone called truth-telling an essential building block for peace.  Judge Goldstone said, … it's been my experience in the countries in which I've been involved and many in which I haven't been involved, that in the aftermath of serious human rights violations, you cannot get enduring peace if you leave rancor and calls for revenge in the victim population. What victims need is acknowledgment. They need official acknowledgment of their victimization. And whether that's done by Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, as we did in South Africa, or through domestic prosecutions or international prosecutions, that official truth-telling is an essential building brick to lasting peace.

Like so many in Palestine, in Israel, and around the world, I hope that when the Israeli High Court reviews the evidence, they will decide in favor of the petition on behalf of Abir Aramin and insist that those responsible be brought to trial.  I hope their decision will lead to justice in the Israeli court system -- and result in policy change to move the Israeli Border Police far away from Palestinian schools, and so make the schools and the playgrounds we call “Abir’s Garden,” safer places to grow.

P.S.  Recently, Andrea LeBlanc of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows donated $500 to help the Rebuilding Alliance reach our fundraising goal for the 2nd Abir's Garden playground, to be constructed by Combatants for Peace in Si'ir Village (near Hebron).  This project won 2nd place in the GlobalGiving.com competition this summer and just needs about $5000 to reach its goal. Andrea made her donation in the hope that you would be inspired to donate too.   Please donate through GlobalGiving.com, donate now.   Let's finish fundraising now so that Combatants for Peace can move forward with the building project as soon as possible.