7 March 1999
The story of the trial and execution of a Palestinian police officer, Ahmed
Abu Mustafa, who was convicted of raping a minor and of the crime of
harming “the honor of the Palestinian revolution in a manner which
aroused the public against it”, demonstrates that law and justice are
very relative matters.
According to articles over the weekend by Amira Hass in Ha’aretz and Khaled
Abu Toameh in the newspaper Tel Aviv, the ‘trial’ – Palestinian
Authority-style – was remote from even a semblance of justice. The
published report had it that according to the prosecution’s claim, a
six-year old boy identified a senior Palestinian police officer as the one
who cruelly raped him. The officer denied the charges against him. Hundreds
of Khan Yunis residents, demanding a ‘just trial’, exploded into riots.
To appease the agitated crowd, the officer was put on trial immediately,
without his alibi being investigated and without the child being questioned
about the statement he gave the police. The prosecution presented the court
with medical reports which affirmed that the child had been the victim of a
sexual assault, but which did not link the accused to the act.
The defense attorney was not given an opportunity to question
witnesses, nor was the relevant evidence presented to him for review. After a
two-hour hearing, the accused was convicted of rape and sentenced to 15
years in prison. The death penalty was imposed on him since his act had
caused agitation against the Palestinian Authority.
Two hours after the sentencing, which was approved by Yasser
Arafat, the officer was executed. He was not given the right to appeal,
considered a basic right and recognized, for example, by the Israeli
administration in the territories upon the Israeli Supreme Court’s
Holding a criminal trial against an officer before a military court when the
act is not connected to his position surprised a Palestinian legal expert, Dr.
Ahmed Kharab, who wrote about the matter in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam.
On the face of it, the conviction for the crime of inciting against the
Palestinian Authority appears unreasonable, since proving the defendant’s
role in causing the riots appears impossible.
The insubstantial investigation and the ‘quickie trial’ did not prevent
Palestinian police chief Ghazi Jabali from boasting in an interview about the
Palestinian justice system and declaring that he “understands
international law better than anyone.”
The Palestinian Authority’s trial deviated from all that is known as the
‘minimal international standard’ by which an authority seeking to become a
state is bound. The ‘trial’, rendered a travesty, contravenes the Oslo
Accords, which give the Palestinian Authority jurisdiction over crimes
committed by Palestinians in areas under its control subject to an article
in the agreement entitled ‘Human Rights and the Rule of Law.’ According to
this article, the Palestinian Authority will exercise its jurisdiction
“with due regard to internationally-accepted norms and principles of
human rights and the rule of law.”
The security annex to the agreement states that the Palestinian police
will act with due regard for accepted international norms regarding human
rights and the rule of law, and will protect “human dignity”. In the
memorandum signed at Wye it states that the Palestinian Authority will conduct
itself with due regard for accepted international norms.
That which is written in the Wye memorandum is the fruit of an American
demand for the holding of fair trials. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright’s remarks in Beijing regarding the violation of human rights in
China, reflect a policy that refuses to view such matters as ‘internal
affairs.’ This policy should guide Israel and the donor countries which
give to the Palestinian Authority. One can not ignore the obliteration of
The State of Israel has repeatedly expressed its readiness to cooperate
with the Palestinian Authority on legal issues. The Joint Legal Committee,
headed by Justice Ministry Director-General Nili Arad, formally exists as a
result of the Oslo Accords, but it is inactive. The Legal Assistance Unit
in the Justice Ministry, headed by Jean-Claude Nidam, is not called upon to
do anything in this connection. Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein has
expressed on more than one occasion his desire for maintaining contact with
the Palestinian Authority on legal issues, but to no avail.
There will be those who will undoubtedly claim that the destruction of
fundamental principles of fair trial proceedings in the Palestinian
Authority is an internal matter. But this does not appear to be so at a
time when there is a violation of the most elementary human rights, as
opposed to deviation from the finer points of legal justice.
The mention of the rule of law and human rights in the Oslo Accord and
the Wye Memorandum was included in accordance with the widely-held
philosophy in the international community, which states that one who seeks
international recognition must accept upon himself, at the very least, the
minimal standards accepted by everyone else.
In particular, those who support a Palestinian state and seek to declare it
and win international recognition for it must understand that a trial such as this
does their cause no good.