Naksa Day protester Khaled Zawahre loses battle in military court

Related: All events concerning Khaled Zawahre’ since June5, 2011

Maan News Agency | By Charlotte Alfred | Sept 16, 2011

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — 26-year-old Khaled Zwahre is crouched in front of an Israeli army jeep, clapping encouragingly to his two friends backed against the vehicle.

It is June 5, or Naksa Day, 2011, marking the “setback” of 44 years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Around 300 Palestinians are gathered with Zwahre at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, protesters march on Syria’s ceasefire line with Israel, with Syrian media claiming 23 were killed by Israeli fire, while the Israeli army claims 10 were killed as they threw firebombs which triggered landmines on the Syrian side.

In much less dramatic scenes at Qalandiya, a photojournalist captured footage of Zwahre in a crowd of men and women raising the V-for-victory sign while dodging water cannons from an Israeli police truck, chanting slogans in front of a line of Israeli border police, and finally, being hauled by Israeli forces into a vehicle.

Three months on in early September, Palestinians in Syria have fled their homes as embattled President Bashar al-Assad cracks down on relentless protests, and Zwahre waits for his sentence, still behind bars in Israel’s Ofer military prison.

On Wednesday Zwahre was given a six-month jail term, a 5,000 shekel fine, and a four-year suspended sentence under which he will be immediately re-imprisoned for a repeat offense.

The Ramallah-based odd jobbing painter was found guilty of participating in an unauthorized demonstration, obstructing an officer on duty, and throwing stones.

“We admitted the first charge,” Zwahre’s lawyer Nery Ramati told Ma’an. “Every demonstration in the territories is unauthorized.”

He continued: “And you can see from the video he is annoying the soldiers, putting his hands in front of them.”

“But the whole case was not about that.”

Ramati said the crux of Zwahre’s case was whether he threw stones, which hung on the judge’s assessment of the border policeman’s testimony.

In his first report, the policeman did not mention Zwahre throwing stones, and he was not at first interrogated for stone throwing, Amnon Keren, a paralegal in Ramati’s office, told Ma’an.

“The judge accepted his claim that he forgot Khaled twice threw stones because he was tired,” Ramati said.

Another border policeman who testified against Zwahre said he was wearing khaki shorts, not blue jeans, he added.

That is why he brought the video to court, and the Israeli who shot the footage, Ramati said.

“It shows there were two groups at the demonstration, one throwing stones and another peaceful demonstration with women and international activists.

“You can see Khaled is not with the first group, they are younger and wearing face covers,” Ramati said.

No one else at Qalandiya that day was charged, the lawyer said, but Zwahre annoyed the border police, and was an easy target while sitting in the road.

Ramati’s firm Gaby Lasky and Partners has defended many Palestinians in Israel’s military courts. Keren pointed out that most cases end in plea agreements, which Zwahre was offered, but declined to fight for his innocence on the crucial stone-throwing charge.

Zwahre’s friend Ahmed said he doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the military courts, set up to try West Bank and Gaza civilians under the military law governing them since Israel’s occupation of the territories in 1967.

“But he was in prison and had to say something,” Ahmed explained, “so he decided that he will say the truth, and not be bought by any deals.”

“We both thought there was a chance, at least reasonable doubt,” Ramati said of the decision to fight the charges and not take a deal offered during interrogation — a four month term jail in exchange for a guilty plea.

“It was hopeless optimism, in retrospect I don’t know why,” he sighed.

“In a military court the judge is a soldier, it is difficult for any judge to say a policeman is lying,” the lawyer said.

His friends told Ma’an that Zwahre, who supports his family financially and helped his sisters complete their education, recently joined a group of young men and women supporting popular non-violence in the West Bank, particularly in Ramallah-district village Nabi Saleh, which organizes a weekly protest against continued land confiscations from the nearby settlement of Hallamish.

His friends are trying to help the family while their son is behind bars, they said.

Israeli human rights group Yesh Din says the Israeli army has prosecuted around 150,000 Palestinians in its military courts since 1990.

The Naksa Day protest in Qalandiya lacked the dramatic spectacle of Palestinians converging on Israel’s borders to the north. But to one man behind bars, it began an against-odds confrontation with the system the ‘Naksa’ put in place.


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