Israel’s military courts imposed fines topping 60 million shekels ($16 million) on West Bank Palestinians from 2015 to 2017, even though the great majority of the offenses don’t involve the harming of people or property.
Two reports by the Military Court of Appeals’ president were submitted to the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights at its request and were brought to Haaretz’s attention this week. In 2016 the fines came to 21.97 million shekels, and in 2017 to 20.59 million shekels.
Also, a lawyer at the Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry told Haaretz about a year ago that in 2015 these fines totaled some 21 million shekels, also based on military court figures.
These aren’t exceptional sums: In 2011 the total fines imposed on Palestinians in military courts reached about 13 million shekels, according to figures Haaretz obtained in 2013. Some 8,000 trials ended that year.
The money is deposited in the Israeli Civil Administration’s accounts in the West Bank and is managed by an officer also subordinate to Israel’s Finance Ministry.
It’s hard to find a system and uniformity in the scales of the fines, as reports by the Machsom Watch rights group reveal.
At the beginning of December 2018, a military judge, Maj. Sivan Omer, convicted a resident of Beit Ummar of throwing a stone at security forces from an unknown distance. The stone did not hit anyone and caused no damage. He was sentenced to six months and a day in prison and fined 2,000 shekels.
In mid-October 2018, Judge Sebastian Osovsky convicted a 45-year-old man of what the court considered a “hostile terrorist offense” – he went on a family picnic holding a hunting rifle with one bullet in it. In a plea deal he was sentenced to two months in prison and fined 3,000 shekels.
At the end of July 2018, Judge Rani Amer convicted a man of trading in military equipment and possessing weapons. His role was to accompany someone involved in such trade, examine the weapons and do some of the mediation. He was sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison and fined 1,000 shekels.
At the end of November 2017, a minor was convicted of throwing stones at soldiers who stood near his school. He was released after three days in jail for a fine of 3,000 shekels. The father preferred to pay the full fine instead of paying 2,000 shekels and having his son spend 12 days behind bars.
“The military courts’ computerized system does not enable the extraction of reliable data regarding the sum of the fines collected in the military courts,” she wrote. “Therefore, we cannot grant your request. However, we will note that the IDF’s computer people are working to develop a new computer system, which, after it is developed, will be able to provide an answer regarding future information.”
The officer in charge did not give Mack the figure in the system of the overall sum of fines imposed.
The IDF spokesman told Haaretz that the overall figure appearing in the reports refers to the fines imposed, not those actually collected. “The military courts are not the body that collects the money, it only imposes the fines …. The military courts, being the judicial branch in the Judea and Samaria region, are not in charge of collecting fines,” the spokesman said.
Prison or a fine
Experience shows that a Palestinian cannot be released from detention or prison without paying the fine imposed on him, regardless of the offense’s severity. “The fines imposed on Palestinians in the military courts are extremely exaggerated, both in their scope compared with the size of the population and its economic ability,” Combatants for Peace told Haaretz.
Itamar Feigenbaum, a member of the group that connects former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian security prisoners, got the idea to submit its request based on the Freedom of Information Law after a Palestinian member said his nephew was fined 7,000 shekels – in exchange for a prison term. He was charged with being part of an “illegal” student organization and helping organize a reconciliation meeting between Fatah and Hamas.
“Our friend made enormous efforts to raise the sum so that his nephew wouldn’t go to prison – it’s a very high sum, certainly in Palestinian terms,” Feigenbaum said.
“During our activity in the Jordan Valley, for example, we found that fines to release tractors that the Civil Administration had confiscated from farmers [forbidding them to cultivate their land] sometimes reached 4,000 shekels. Fines are part of the Palestinians’ life under a military regime, and there’s no reason the Israeli and Palestinian public shouldn’t know how high they are.”