Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lawrence of Cyberia: Israel Will Reap Whirlwind

"It feels awkward to pick out one person from all those who have been killed in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories over the last few weeks, but I do want to say a few words about the death of Uri Grossman, the son of Israeli novelist David Grossman, killed while serving with an IDF tank crew in Lebanon on 12 August.

"I suspect that for many people who grew up on the grotesque popular Zionism of Leon Uris - with his heroic, blond-haired, blue-eyed, European Zionists set upon by the bestial, backwards, incorrigible Arabs - it was David Grossman, and especially The Yellow Wind, his 1987 expose of life under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, that helped to snap them out of it.

"Personally, the part of the book that has stayed with me for years after I read it was Chapter 7 (Catch-44), in which Grossman describes an afternoon he spent observing proceedings at an IDF military court in Nablus. Virtually every Palestinian brought before the judge has already “confessed” under interrogation, so most cases consist entirely of IDF officers discussing among themselves how much jail-time the defendant will serve, while the defendant himself – unable to speak Hebrew and served by bored and incompetent military translators - uncomprehendingly awaits his fate.

"But then a real trial begins. The defendant, Jafer Haj Hassan, isn't just accused of a technical violation like failing to get a permit for some everyday activity, but of being a terrorist. And as he – unlike all the others – has refused to confess, Grossman finally gets to witness an IDF court at work.

"The charge is that Jafer Haj Hassan has been in contact with a terrorist organisation. The evidence against him is that years earlier, Hassan had asked his father to help him raise money to study overseas. His father had sought help from an old friend in Jordan who was a member of Fatah, and the friend had arranged for the movement to pay tuition for Hassan to study German at a univerity in West Germany. As it turned out, Hassan hadn't really taken to German; the scholarship had been revoked, and Hassan had eventually come home to the West Bank. The prosecutor acknowledges that Hassan isn't involved with terrorism, and has never actually been in touch with anyone in Fatah – which is the basis of the charge against him - but asks the judge to convict him anyway on the grounds that while in Germany he had remained in contact with his own father, who had in turn once been in contact with the old friend in Fatah.

Grossman can tell that the judge is skeptical that staying in touch with one's own father is sufficient grounds for a terrorism conviction, but he can also see that the judge cannot bring himself to order an acquittal:

"Since the defendant, Jafer Haj Hassan, had already spent forty-four days in prison, the judge faced a serious problem . Can a military court of an occupying power admit that the military government of the occupation made a mistake? And how will that influence its authority, esteem, and power, in the eyes of the inhabitants? Everything depends on the answer to this question."

"The judge disappears to his chambers to consider how to deal with the dilemma. Two hours later he emerges, like Solomon triumphant, to announce that he has reached a verdict. Jafer Haj Hassan is not guilty of the charges he is facing, but the court has found him guilty of a charge he wasn’t facing, specifically, smuggling foreign currency into the territories! Grossman notes that Hassan never actually received any foreign currency (his tuition was paid for him); and he didn't receive the scholarship in the Occupied Territories, but in Germany; and in fact it is illegal even under the IDF's own regulations to convict a defendant of a charge he didn't know he was facing… But none of that matters. What matters is that the defendant who was charged has been found guilty of something, proving to the natives that Israeli military justice does not make mistakes.

"In recognition of the fact that Jafer Haj Hassan is really no more guilty of currency smuggling than he was of terrorism, the judge sentences him to time served – forty-four days (hence the title of the chapter) – which is effectively an acquittal. So the honour of the occupier is preserved. The court is spared from having to acknowledge that the defendant is innocent, but lets him go home, because everyone knows he is.

LINK TO WHOLE ARTICLE: Scroll Down to "The Yellow Wind"

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