An Israeli Twilight Zone
July 22, 2002
July 22, 2002
A few weeks ago I introduced the evening’s commentary as a “fairytale,” my own cynical way of dealing with true episodes, which are stranger than strange. Tonight, rather than label the following story a fairytale, I’ll leave it at, what some of you might remember as, ‘The Twilight Zone.’
Hebron resident Noam Federman has long been at odds with the police and security forces. He has been arrested and indicted countless times, and very rarely, convicted. His notoriety stems, in part, from his connection to the late Kach organization, of which he was spokesman.
A couple of months ago Federman was again arrested, this time in conjunction with the new, so-called terrorist underground. Three men from the Bat Ayin community, in Gush Etzion, were arrested and charged with attempting to detonate a bomb near a hospital in East Jerusalem. Following their arrests, the three reportedly admitted to their wrongdoing and the cooperation between them. However, after about a week and a half of intensive interrogation, one of the three changed his story and implicated Noam Federman, who was then apprehended and charged with being the mastermind behind the plot. He was accused of receiving and passing on explosives to an unknown person or persons, for use in the attack.
Noam Federman denied any and all connection to the alleged crime, fully answering police questions. The only evidence against Federman was the account given by one of the original three men arrested – it was his word against Federman’s.
When the court ordered Federman be remanded in prison until his trial, he appealed. The appeal reached the Israeli Supreme Court. Judge Turkel, rebuking the prosecutor, declared that the state was trying to implicate Federman in crimes that he had nothing to do with, that he was not dangerous, and should not be kept in prison. His decision allowed that Federman be released from jail with restrictions. The case was returned to the Jerusalem municipal court. The judge there decided that Federman would be held under house arrest, in Kiryat Shmona, one of the northern-most cities in Israel, on the border with Lebanon. Federman refused. Eventually it was agreed that he would be held in house arrest at his in-laws home in Kiryat Arba, five minutes outside of Hebron. His father-in-law was required to be at home with him at all times, ‘guarding the prisoner’ so to speak.
Now for the good part.
In a couple of days Noam’s sister-in-law is getting married in Jerusalem. After being denied permission by the police to attend the wedding, Noam appealed to the courts. On Friday, accompanied by his father-in-law, Noam attended a hearing in Jerusalem. While Noam sat in the courthouse, his father-in-law did some errands in the city. When the case was called, in walked the Shabak, Israeli intelligence officers, who claimed that they had obtained ‘secret material,’ which would prove why Federman could not attend the wedding in Jerusalem. Not having expected this, and not having his lawyer present, Noam requested, and was granted, a delay in the hearing until Sunday. As the hearing ended, the prosecutor demanded that Noam explain why his chaperon wasn’t present, to which Federman responded, “he’s running some errands and will be back shortly.” After a little while his father-in-law arrived, and together they returned to Kiryat Arba.
A couple of hours later, the police arrived, knocking on the door, and demanding to speak to Federman. “We’ve been issued a complaint that you violated the terms of your release,” they said, and took him in for questioning. Noam showed the court protocol, explained where he had been and asked why he’d been again apprehended. The police, not Noam’s best friend, looked at him with question marks in their eyes, and replied, “we don’t really know.” After consultation with senior officers, Federman was allowed to go back to his in-laws.
Yesterday, Sunday morning, Federman returned to the Jerusalem court, which refused to allow the Shabak to introduce secret evidence, demanding that the two sides reach a compromise. Eventually Noam was granted permission to attend the wedding in the middle of the week, but would be denied permission to attend the following Shabbat’s wedding celebration.
Federman and his father-in-law left the court, stopped for a bite to eat, and then proceeded to south Jerusalem to pick up Noam’s wife, in the Talpiot neighborhood, before heading back to Kiryat Arba and Hebron. Suddenly, out of nowhere, in the middle of the road, two plainclothes men jumped on Federman’s car, and while demanding that he get out and identify himself, called the police and ordered him arrested. When the police arrived, they too were stunned. Again, Federman showed them the court protocol, accounted for every moment of his time, and told them that he was on his way home. The plainclothes agents who had stopped the car, also intelligence agents, claimed that Federman’s car was ‘suspicious,’ and that he had again violated the terms of his release. Again, Noam was taken to the police station for further interrogation. The officer questioning him said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know what they want from you.”
By this time Noam’s father-in-law and wife had gone home, leaving him with the police. When, at 9:30 at night they finally agreed to release him, he refused to go, exclaiming, “I don’t have an escort. If I leave alone, again, I’ll be arrested and charged with violating my terms of release.” So, the police issued him a special, one-time permit, allowing him to drive home in the presence of his friend and former Kach colleague, the infamous Baruch Marzel.”
One more little goodie – the indictment still standing against Federman charges him with possession of, and selling, explosives. When the indictment was presented in court, the defense attorney asked, ‘who was Federman accused of selling the explosives to?’ The prosecutor’s response, “I don’t know.” The judge then asked, “a man, woman, a child, who?,” to which the prosecutor answered, “I don’t know.” The judge then asked, “how will he be able to defend himself if he doesn’t know who he is accused of selling explosives to,” and the prosecutor again replied, “I don’t know.”
That’s the Israeli D.A.’s office for you – the Twilight Zone.
With blessings from Hebron,