Farce in a Kfar Saba Courtroom

The police have marked Tzvia as a troublemaker.

Dr. Moshe Dann,

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The absurdity of 18-year-old Tzvia Sariel's trial became obvious when the key witnesses, Arabs from the village of Dir al-Hatab, recanted the police report charging Tzvia with assault.

Under close examination by Judge Nava Bechor, they stated that Tzvia did not attack them; in fact, no one did. Confronted by the police report (in Hebrew), which they didn't understand, they admitted that the police told them
They would not falsely accuse Tzvia.
to sign. They testified that there was no violence and no damage, offered different versions of what happened and also could not identify Tzvia.

Asked by Judge Bechor why they had come to court, the Arabs said the police had insisted and they were afraid they would be punished if they didn't appear. But, they insisted, they would not falsely accuse Tzvia.

Tzvia, from the community of Elon Moreh in Samaria, has been in N'vei Tirtza, Israel's maximum security prison for women, since Hanukah. She and two girlfriends were arrested when they tried to prevent a group of elderly Arabs from entering their community.

Accompanied by an officer from the Civil Administration, the Arabs were told to visit land they claim belongs to the village or to themselves (this is unclear); the police report said they had come to pick olives. This area had been closed to them for 20 years, since a terrorist from the village murdered a resident of Elon Moreh in that area. The community has been attacked by terrorists many times and there is a security problem.

Tzvia's friends signed a statement, posted a bond and were freed. Tzvia, however, refused because she said she hadn't committed any crime and was only trying to protect her community. Arrested and imprisoned, she has refused legal defense in order to protest her imprisonment and what she consider a non-Torah based, unfair judicial system.

When asked what Tzvia was charged with, Ayoub, the arresting officer, said she "pushed" the Arabs.

"How hard?" the judge asked.

"Not hard," Ayoub answered, moving his hands as if brushing off dust or shooing geese.

"And the Arabs carried clubs?" the judge inquired.

Ayoub nodded.

"And you were between them and couldn't do anything?"

Ayoub said nothing.

A second policeman who wrote the official report admitted that he actually saw nothing, but was told what happened by his officer, who also witnessed nothing.

Without complainants, then, who's pushing Tzvia's case, and why? Why spend tens of thousands of shekels, time and effort to make Tzvia a criminal and keep her in jail? What's the "public interest" and why continue to punish Tzvia?

Where is the good sense of the police and courts?

The police have marked Tzvia as a troublemaker - and they want to make an example of her to others who dare show disrespect for the State and its authority.

That Tzvia may be asking for trouble in refusing to cooperate may be true, although not uncommon among idealists. But where is the good sense of the police and courts, which should be acting like mature, responsible adults? Why punish her for what she thinks?

Tzvia has been placed in solitary confinement twice (for three and six days) for refusing to be strip-searched and refusing to stand when prisoners are counted.

"I am not a criminal," she maintains. She has also been denied books, access to phones and visits. She is a political prisoner.

Like many others, Tzvia is crying out against the way in which Israel's judicial system uses cruel and unusual punishments against people who protest government policies. A year ago, Tzvia's younger sister, Tirtza was imprisoned for forty days for throwing olives (in other words, for her beliefs). That children are imprisoned for minor offenses is intolerable in any civilized country. Yet, recently seven 14- and 15-year-old girls were held in prison for nearly a month for refusing to identify themselves when arrested at a hilltop near Beit El.

What concerns many about violations of civil and human rights is that such harsh punishment is being used for political motives, to break a person's spirit, a pattern of 'law enforcement' that was used during protests against the evacuation of Jews from Gush Katif. Despite pleas from Knesset members and human rights groups to forgive those arrested in an effort to heal still-bleeding national wounds, the State Prosecutor is pursuing hundreds of trials. That no such arrests and punishments were meted out to students or workers protesting - even when violence was involved - is discriminatory.

Get a good lawyer and 'beat the rap,' some advise. People like Tzvia are trying to show that the charges themselves are politically motivated and without merit. Hiring lawyers and fighting in court means accepting the legitimacy of the court and respecting its judgments. They want to show that the judicial system itself is biased and corrupted.

When courts are used to carry out questionable political goals, when the spirit of the law is strangled by the letter of the law, when we turn against our own children - alienating the most idealistic, the best and brightest of them - it is a sure admission that our society has failed. The willingness of courts to punish anyone, especially children, for
There's something more important than law and order; it's called morality.
what they think is a chilling indication of how close we are to dictatorship. Forced to suffer jail, they are desperately trying to sound an alarm: there's something more important than law and order; it's called morality. As a society, we dare not remain deaf to their pleas.

A basic rule of law is that punishment is meted out after conviction, not before. And precisely because society gives judges wide powers to punish, these should not be abused, and they are to be applied only after careful consideration that fully safeguards civil and human rights - as well as the integrity of the law itself.

When the form of the state substitutes for its content, when authority is more important than integrity, when respect for symbols obscures their meaning, then the state itself becomes irrelevant and meaningless.

Tzvia is asking for a country she can believe in; and therefore, she speaks for all of us.

The judge ordered Tzvia to remain in jail until the next hearing, April 3.