Mohammed Khatib was acquitted today at the Ofer Military Court of charges of incitement, Performing a service for an unlawful association and obstruction of a soldier. The presiding judge, Captain Sharon Rivlin, noted in her decision that the evidence brought forth by the prosecution were insufficient and did not personally implicate Khatib in any offense.
The verdict was read in front of a packed hall, full of Khatib's supporters and family, as well as journalists and European diplomats from France, Germany Spain and the European Union. Also in attendance was former vice president of the European Parliament, Luisa Morgantini, who also testified on behalf of the defense during the trial.
Mohammed Khatib is a founding member of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, which was formed in 2004 and began organizing regular demonstrations against the construction of the Separation Barrier on Bil'in's lands in February 2005. The campaign led to an Israeli High Court of Justice ruling in September 2007, which declared the path of the Wall on Bil'in's lands illegal and ordered it to be rerouted. More than three years later, the original and illegal path still stands and demonstrations continue on a weekly basis.
Khatib is also a founding member and coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC), an umbrella organization uniting popular committees from across the West Bank, providing organizational infrastructure, resources and mutual support for the Palestinian popular struggle movement.
In June 2009, Mohammed Khatib traveled to Canada for preliminary hearings on an historic lawsuit launched by Bil’in village against two Quebec-based companies, Green Park International and Green Mount International. Both companies are building illegal Israeli-only settlements on Bil’in’s land.
Mohammed Khatib was arrested on August 3rd, 2009, during a pre-dawn military raid on his house at the West Bank village of Bil'in.
He was subsequently charged with:
2) Obstruction of a soldier
3) Performing a service for an unlawful association
4) Throwing of objects [i.e. stone-throwing]
The charges in the indictment are all based on the testimonies of three minors (Hammouda Yassin (17), Kamel Khatib (16) and Khalil Yassin (16)) who were arrested from their beds by the military during night-time raids on their houses, and questioned without the presence of either their lawyer or a family member, in complete disregard to regulations on the questioning of minors.
Under military law, incitement is defined as:
"The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order" (section 7(a) of the Order Concerning Prohibition of Activities of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda (no.101), 1967)
The incitement charge.
The indictment alleges the Mohammed Khatib, as a member of the "Wall Committee" incited others to participate in demonstrations and marches and to throw stones. The charge, as all other charges brought against Khatib except for the stone-throwing charges, is based solely on the testimonies of the three minors, and isn't backed by any concrete evidence whatsoever. This is the case despite the fact that demonstrations are filmed by the army on a regular basis.
The minors' incriminating testimonies at the police station, which serve as the basis for the indictment, are extremely general in nature, without citing specific events, dates or places.
For instance, Khalil Yassin, the central prosecution witness in Khatib's case, was asked by the police investigator, "Who organizes these demonstrations?", to which he replied, "The Wall Committee".
The officer then asked, "Who are the members of the Wall Committee?", to which Khalil Yassin replied mentioning five names, including that of Mohammed Khatib.
The policeman then continued to ask, "Who incites the youth to disturb the order and throw stones during these marches?", to which Yassin replied saying "the Wall Committee", without mentioning any specific names.
The last question on this issue was then "what do they tell them [to the youth]?", to which Yassin replied "'Push them back', 'throw at them', 'don't let them shoot', and they divide the demo into two parts, one part throws stones and one part cuts the fence."
No follow-up questions were asked regarding which of the "Wall Committee" members say which of the things exactly, when and to who. Such questions would be required to satisfy the minimal demands to prosecute on criminal offences, as a criminal procedure should be based on concrete accusations relating to concrete and specific actions.
In his testimony, Yassin did not mention what is the source of the information he gave, which could very well be second hand hearsay, and therefore invalid in court. The police investigator, however, did not bother to ask Yassin how he knows that these are the things said by the members of the "Wall Committee".
The obstruction charge.
The obstruction charge in the indictment is no more that an attempt to artificially give the indictment a more serious and wide-ranging nature. It simply alleges that by committing the offence of incitement, Khatib Obstructed the security forces in their role of keeping public order.
The performing a service for an unlawful association charge.
This charge alleges that Khatib, together with other members of the "Wall Committee" handed out flags of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The charge is base on the testimony of Hammouda Yassin who said, "These people [the people he mentioned as members of the "Wall Committee", Abdallah Abu Rahmah, Mohammed Khatib and Rateb Abu Rahmah] collect the people after the prayer near the mosque, hand them Palestinian flags, Fatah slogans and red slogans of the Front, with 'Jesh' written on them and orange slogans of the DFLP [Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine]. And they lead the marches towards the fence."
The PFLP isn't specifically mentioned in the testimony, and Yassin seem to think that the DFLP uses the orange color, which is in fact associated with Mustafa Barghouthi's Al-Mubadara party.
In this case too, Yassin was not asked specifically who was it that handed out flags, when, to who or how he knows about those things.
The stone-throwing charge.
This indictment alleges that Khatib threw stones towards soldiers with the purpose of hurting them or damage property on November 7th, 2008.
The charge is based on solely the testimony of Khalil Yassin attested to recognize Khatib as a man photographed throwing stones in four different pictures taken by the army during a demonstration in Bil'in on the said date.
His statement at the police on the matter was "In pictures 40-43 I recognize Mohammed Talal Khatib, whose brothers are Mustafa and Akram, of which I said before that he is a member of the 'Wall Committee', while he is throwing stones."
As a side note, it is not clear how the prosecution concluded from the abovementioned testimony that the stones were thrown towards soldiers, or what was the intent, but the real issue at hand is different.
It is obvious even from a mere glance at the "incriminating" pictures, that the man photographed in them is not Mohammed Khatib. It must have been clear to the police officer, and undoubtedly have been clear to the prosecution, who had Khatib sit right in front of them at court as they showed the pictures to the judge. Nevertheless, they have chosen to use the picture and the false incrimination as the main grounds for requesting Khatib be remanded until the end of legal proceedings.
The judge presiding in the remand hearing, Major Amir Dahan, raised doubts in regards to the identity of the man in the pictures as soon as he saw them. But it was only after the defense brought Khatib's passport, which proved that the "evidence" was falsified and that Khatib was abroad at the time the picture was taken, that the judge ordered his release.
Later on the stone-throwing charge was dropped from the indictment, while the rest of the charges are still being deliberated.
The stone-throwing charge is the only charge in the entire indictment referring to a concrete and specific incident, with which the defense could actually deal on a factual manner, which brought to its annulment.
The police and prosecution tend to not delve into details exactly for this reason - from the prosecution's point of view, it is much more comfortable to run a trial which is completely general and eliminates the defense's ability to raise alibi claims or address concrete facts. Since the military court often accepts such a poor level of evidence as sufficient for a conviction, it is in the interest of the prosecution and police to keep the charges as general as possible, and not investigate into the details too much.
Khatib was subsequently released on conditions severally limiting his rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression - most notably that he does not participate in demonstrations and that he reports to a police station on Fridays (when demonstrations are taking place) between noon and 16:00.
* * *
On January 28th, 2010, one night after he gave a big interview to the prominent Israeli news website Ynet, Mohammed Khatib was arrested again, during a pre-dawn military raid on his house at the West Bank village of Bil'in. At a quarter to two AM, Khatib, his wife Lamia and their four young children were woken up by Israeli soldiers who stormed their home, which was surrounded by a large military force. Once inside, the soldiers arrested Khatib, conducted a quick search and left the house.
Roughly half an hour after, five military jeeps returned to surrounded the house, and six soldiers forced their way inside, where Khatib's children sat in terror. They conducted another, very thorough search of the premises, without showing a search warrant. During the search, Khatib's phone and many documents were seized, including papers from Bil'in's legal procedures in the Israeli High Court of Justice.
The soldiers left an hour and a half later, leaving a note saying that documents suspected as "incitement materials".
Once brought to court, it turned out that the excuse for the arrest revolved around the fact that in compliance with the conditions set for his release from the prior arrest, Khatib reported to a Palestinian police station every Friday, as the condition set by the court did not specify to which police station Khatib must report.
On the 2nd of February, 2010, he was released on a 10,000 NIS bail and in condition that he reports to an Israeli police station every Friday.
* * *
While the stone-throwing charge was dropped, the three other charges still hand over Khatib, as the trial continues. It is now at the final statements stage, in which both sides summarize their arguments in the case and stress their main points.
The prosecution filed their closing arguments in writing, in it still alleging that Khatib had thrown stones. The prosecution also referred to defense witnesses from Abdallah Abu Rahmah's trial (Adar Grayevsky and MK Dov Hanin) as if they appeared before the court in Khatib's case and made some factual arguments relevant only to Adeeb Abu Rahmah's case.
This exposes the political motivation behind the indictments, and shows that the prosecution refers to the cases related to anti-wall organizers as if they are in fact the same one, rather than individual cases of individual people.
* * *
On August 4th, 2010, the Israeli Shin Bet prevented Mohammed Khatib from crossing the Allenby Bridge on his way to Spain. Khatib was denied leaving the country despite having a permit to do so issued by the Military court.
Khatib arrived at the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge between the West Bank and Jordan in order to fly to Spain from the Amman airport. In Spain, he was scheduled to attend a number of meetings and has a few planned speaking engagements. At the crossing, Khatib was told he is not allowed to travel for "security reasons" and to "go back home".
Earlier this year, another member of the Bil'in Popular Committee, Iyad Burnat, was prevented from traveling abroad by the Israeli Shin Bet. He too was stopped at the Allenby Crossing and detained for several hours, together with his five year-old daughter, before being ordered to turn back home for "security reasons".