Judge, jury and creditor: How Palestinians finance the Israeli military court system
In 2011 alone, Palestinians paid NIS 13 million in fines, which are an integral part of the penalty in the West Bank’s military court system.
In 2011, Palestinians paid NIS 13 million in fines to military courts in the West Bank. Unlike in the civilian criminal court system, in the Israeli military court system where Palestinians are put on trial, fines are an integral part of the penalty.
While the Palestinians demand a boycott of products from the settlements and other Israeli goods as a vital part of the popular struggle against the occupation, there is a conspicuous lack of debate on the tactic of refusing to pay fines at military courts. The fines are levied for convictions at military courts for all categories of offenses: traffic violations, criminal offenses, illegal sojourn, order disturbances and hostile terrorist activity.
In the military courts’ annual report for 2011, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz, the fines are not broken down by offense. According to the report, in 2011 verdicts were issued for 8,018 Palestinians at the military courts at Ofer (for Judea) and Salem (for Samaria). The report shows a steady reduction in the number of indictments for offenses defined as hostile terrorist activity: 1,204 in 2011 compared with 2,898 in 2007.
In contrast, since 2007 there has been a steady increase in cases involving traffic violations. During these five years, the number of such cases nearly doubled to 4,904 in 2011 from 2,605 in 2007.
Of the trials that produced verdicts in 2011, 1,232 involved illegal sojourn residence − 37.5 percent fewer than the 1,973 of 2010. In 2011, 702 trials were criminal cases and 697 were for disturbing the peace. A multiyear comparison shows relatively little fluctuation in the annual number of indictments in the military justice system since 2007: between 8,300 and 8,700. In 2007, 8,768 indictments were filed, compared with 8,635 in 2011.
The total amount of fines paid to the military courts by convicted Palestinians was NIS 9,605,743 in 2007, NIS 13,787,242 in 2009, NIS 15,940,910 in 2010 and NIS 13,141,813 in 2011. Haaretz asked the Israel Defense Forces and the coordinator of government activities in the territories to say where the money was deposited, what is was allocated for and what was the share of traffic files in the overall fines paid in 2011 and earlier. The reply was only partial.
Five days after that query, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said it did not wish to answer Haaretz’s questions on the fines paid. The COGAT spokesman said the traffic fines paid by Palestinians “are deposited in the bank accounts of the Civil Administration in the West Bank. The money that is received is spent in accordance with the law and with the legislation pertaining to matters of national security. It is earmarked to benefit the region and the infrastructure of roads, lighting at intersections, waste-removal sites, waste-treatment facilities and other environmental areas − the improvement of infrastructure for the Palestinian population, etc.”
After being asked again about the exact sum, COGAT’s spokesman replied that “the absolute majority of fines are in traffic files. Even if there are other fines, their share is negligible, and of course the money derived is invested for the benefit of the area.”
In the military court system, fines are an integral and automatic part of the penalty and come on top of a prison term, unlike the civilian justice system, where fines are incidental. Some convicted people can’t pay the fine and thus spend a longer time behind bars − usually NIS 1,000 equals one month in prison.
The Palestinian Authority is theoretically supposed to reimburse security prisoners for fines they pay to military courts. But because of the PA’s economic crisis it’s payments are lagging. An ex-prisoner told Haaretz that “refusal to pay” fines as a political tactic is not being implemented and is not even seriously mooted by the organizations and lawyers representing detainees. Sometimes Palestinians who have been convicted (of security offenses) even ask their lawyers “to buy them a few more days” − that is, to increase the fine in order to reduce the prison sentence.