President Shimon Peres has refused a request to pardon Itzik and Danny Halamish, two brothers who were convicted earlier this year of attacking Arab marauders who attacked them.
Danny, 35, was sentenced to seven months in prison, but his request for parole has already been granted, and he is set to be freed in a month. His brother Itzik, 28, was sentenced to eight months, and the Parole Board is to convene in three weeks' time to hear his case. If he is granted the customary one-third off for good behavior, he should be released a month later.
The beginning of the jail sentences for the two IDF combat unit veterans was delayed for several weeks while Peres considered their request for a pardon. However, in May, the Supreme Court denied their request to have their sentences pushed off for good until Peres would make his decision.
Arabs Attack, Jews Arrested
The brothers were convicted of attacking Arabs who infiltrated the fields of their town, Maaleh Rechavam in eastern Gush Etzion, located approximately 9 miles south of Jerusalem. Not only do they claim that the Arabs attacked first, they also say they did not shoot at all, and that the judicial process against them was faulty throughout.
The story began one day in February 2004, when an Arab gang entered the fields just outside the young Jewish townlet. In accordance with accepted procedure, the local security officer, on Defense Ministry payroll, called two members of the local fast-response security team - Danny and Itzik - and the three went out to banish the Arabs from the fields where Jewish children play.
It did not go smoothly, however. The mob of 20 Arabs attacked the Jews with rocks and even with sticks, and then surrounded them. The security officer shot at the ground in front of the Arabs, and then he and the Halamish brothers retreated.
"The next thing we knew," Danny Halamish later told Israel National News, "the police came to arrest us - after the Arabs claimed that we had attacked them!"
Though the Jews filed a counter-complaint, the police later acknowledged that they never even interrogated the Arabs, Halamish said, "because of the weak claim that the Arabs had complained first..."
The site is just a kilometer away from the cave in which 13-year-old Kobi Mandell and his friend Yosef Ishran were brutally murdered while hiking in 2001. The murderers, who were apprehended just several months ago, were still on the loose at the time of the Halamish incident.
The Halamish brothers and the local security officer spent a few days in jail, and were soon accused of assault and battery. The security officer, who admitted that he had shot, received a pardon for "personal reasons." But the two Halamish brothers said they "had nothing to confess, since we did not shoot. But even more importantly," added Danny, "I have no intention of apologizing for having gone out to protect Jews. Even if I have to sit in prison for a few months, I will not say that it is wrong to do what I did. What do we have a state for, if not to protect ourselves? The State has lost its way..."
Danny, married with two children, said that though his legal position was solid, "the courts took the strange position that because we didn't make certain claims at the right time, our conviction stands. This is unheard of. First of all, our legal claim is one that can be made at any time, and the courts are simply not following the law. But regardless of this: How can they send two upstanding citizens to jail merely because of a technicality? This is totally unjust."
Police Shoot the Guns Themselves, Thus Neutralizing the Evidence
The brothers said that when their weapons were taken from them, they were confident that the ballistics tests would show that they had not been fired. This would support the finding that all the bullet casings had been shot from the security officer's gun. However, the police did not check the guns; instead they fired them, claiming to want to see if they were in working order. Thus, the brothers' claim that they had not shot could no longer be proven.
Despite the lack of evidence against the brothers, and despite a recommendation by the probation officer that the sentence be only community service, Judge Amnon Cohen and two other judges of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled that they believed the Arabs. The judges said they should be jailed to "serve as a lesson to others."
The brothers' subsequent appeals to the District Court and the Supreme Court were rejected, largely because the claim about the lack of police ballistic tests should have been submitted earlier.
Danny said that he and his brother were convicted because "the justice system simply doesn't know how to deal with Arab aggression. Therefore, the easiest targets for their frustration are those on the frontline - like us, in this case, and Shai Dromi, and the settlers [Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria] in general. If the legal system were to exonerate us, this would be an admission that we are doing the security job that the country is supposed to do on its own, but is failing at."
Attorney Sheftel's Presentation
Attorney Yoram Sheftel, representing the two brothers, said in one of the appeals, "My clients were convicted amidst total disregard of the police blunder in not having performed ballistic checks on the guns... In addition, the Arab identification of the brothers was done improperly, and is not acceptable as evidence."
Furthermore, Sheftel said, "there are no grounds for the judge having rejected my clients' claim that they acted with proper authority as part of their community's security team. Actions like the one they took are routine in many towns in Judea and Samaria."