IDF combat unit veterans Danny and Yitzchak Halamish are set to begin 7-8 month prison terms next month - unless President Peres accepts their request for a pardon.
They have been convicted of attacking Arabs who infiltrated the fields of their town - but they claim they did not shoot at all, and that the Arabs attacked them.
The story began one day in February 2004, when an Arab gang entered the fields just outside the young Jewish community of Maaleh Rechavam in eastern Gush Etzion.
In accordance with accepted procedure, the local security officer - hired by the Defense Ministry - called two members of the local fast-response security team, Danny, 35, and his brother Yitzchak, 28, 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 told Arutz-7, "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 Kobi Mandell, 13, and his friend Yosef Ishran, 14, were brutally murdered while hiking in the area in 2001. The murderers, who were apprehended just this past week, 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 and convicted of assault and battery. The security officer, who admitted that he had shot, asked for and received a pardon for "personal reasons." But the two Halamish brothers say they "have nothing to confess, since we did not shoot. But even more importantly: 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, says that though his legal position is solid, "the courts have taken 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 say 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 themselves, 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, and sentenced the brothers to seven and eight months in prison, respectively. The judges said they wanted to put them in jail 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.
"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."
Rigged in Advance
Asked how he explains these rulings, in light of the lack of evidence against him and his brother, Danny said, "For one thing, I think it was rigged in advance. The evidence and the witnesses were not really important; what really counted is what we call 'the commander's spirit' - it's fairly clear what the authorities on top want, and the judges often go along with that. Even Ariel Sharon had to fall in line; when he was in legal trouble, he knew what he had to do in order to stay on the right side of those in charge..."
Don't Know How to Deal With Arab Violence
"But more significantly," Halamish continued, "is the fact that 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."
Danny emphasized several times: "I have no regrets. We were called to take part in protecting Jewish lives, and we came without hesitation - not like the policeman outside Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav who remained outside until the danger passed."
"The judicial system expects soldiers, policemen and farmers who face danger to make sure to observe the law perfectly," Danny feels, "even at a risk to their own lives. So why does the legal system itself violate the laws? The system is defending its mistaken rulings in the various courts, at the expense of two people who did nothing wrong - and this is not the first time."
Asked what aid he would like from the public, Danny said, "There are two planes. Firstly, I would like the public to know what is going on with the legal system here. Tzviya Sariel [the 18-year-old girl who was in prison for 3.5 months for refusing to cooperate with the system; she was released last week] has fired one of the first shots. She yelled, 'The Emperor has no clothes!', that is, that the system is unjust - and her claim was proven by the fact that the system, instead of dispatching her case quickly, kept her in prison for an inordinately long time. People have to know that the legal system is not working properly."
Supporters are asked to fax Pres. Peres and phone the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
"Secondly," he said, "we have filed a request for a pardon from President Shimon Peres. If people will fax his office [02-5611033; from abroad, replace leading 0 with international access code and 972], and demand justice, it could have an effect."
As of now, Danny and Yitzchak are scheduled to enter prison on April 10 - though there is a possibility this date will be pushed off while their request for a pardon is processed.
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."
Sheftel then took a broader view:
"Despite the terrible situation of Arab terrorism throughout Israel, and especially in Judea and Samaria, one would think - when reading the ruling of the lower court, and especially when reading the invective-filled cross-examinations of the Danny and Yitzchak and their witnesses - that there is no such thing as Arab terrorism in Yesha. One would further think that the [Halamish brothers], who are among the pioneers of Yesha and have no criminal background, are part of some group of bullies who attacked a serene group of shepherds for no reason at all. A false picture is painted as if we are dealing with a clash between base lawbreakers and innocent Arab shepherds who simply went out to graze their sheep in a pastoral meadow in serene Switzlerand. In fact, however, the Jews were forced to act to save their lives and prevent a situation that in the past has claimed the lives of Jews who were afraid to act the way they did."
In addition to faxing Pres. Peres, supporters in the U.S. are also advised to phone the Israel Embassy in Washington (at 202-364-5500) and ask to speak to the military attache. The message, according to Gush Etzion activist Datia Yitzchaki, should be one of "outrage by Israel's abdication of military responsibility of its own soldiers, who now face jail terms solely because they helped protect Jews." Callers are also advised to say they plan to discuss the case with their Congressional representatives.