Plea bargain reached in “spy” case

Monday, December 31, 2012 One year after heavily publicized detentions were made, the show trial of the activists operating an “outpost command center,” dubbed “spies” by the media, has come to a close. After initial accusations of the serious crime of espionage, a plea bargain was reached between the Attorney General’s office and the Honenu attorneys representing the defendants. Honenu reacted to the decision with mixed feelings.
The events leading up to the detention began slightly over one year ago when the Israeli Defense Minister announced his intent to destroy several “illegal neighborhoods” in the Shomron including Mitzpeh Yitzhar of Yitzhar and Ramat Gilad, an outpost adjacent to Karnei Shomron. During the days before the planned destruction, nationalist activists in the areas scheduled for destruction organized a group and relayed information about IDF and police troop movements in an effort to thwart the destruction. Many yeshiva students and nationalist activists arrived in the area to resist the destruction.
On December 12, 2011, nationalist activists demonstrated in the areas with concentrations of IDF soldiers preparing to carry out orders to destroy the aforementioned neighborhoods. In one of the locations opposite the Ephraim Brigade base, several dozen yeshiva students demonstrated and at one point entered the base in an attempt to prevent the soldiers from participating in the destruction. The illegal entry to the base drew harsh reactions from Israeli politicians and media and led to a demand to bring the demonstrators to justice.
Several days later, the GSS and the Israeli Police raided an apartment in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem which was suspected of being the headquarters for the flow of information regarding movement of the army and for planning demonstrations against the destruction. Several right-wing activists who were in the apartment were detained along with children aged 4-5 who were present at the time. Afterwards, some of the detainees were released and only three of them – David Tzvi Eliyahu, Ephraim Haikin and Meir Ettinger – remained in remand on suspicion that they operated the “outpost command center.” Later Elad Meir, a teacher and Harasha resident, and Akiva HaCohen, an agriculturalist and Yitzhar resident, were also detained because they were suspected of being involved with the incident. Meir and HaCohen are married and have children. For background information on the detainees please see here.
At first, the Attorney General’s office announced that it intended to charge the five detainees with the serious crime of espionage. Later, this was retracted and they were charged under the legal clause of “collecting information of military value” which dates back to the days of the British Mandate and had not been used against Jews since the founding of the State of Israel.
For the past year the five defendants have been under house arrest with severely limiting conditions, among them a long term ban on usage of telephone, Internet or any other means of communication; some of the restrictions were relaxed during the year.
In other incidents in the case, a suspect was detained despite weak evidence and there was also an incident of false detention on January 15, 2012; see here and here. Meir Ettinger was placed in remand until the end of proceedings, after he was caught on Saturday, June 30, 2012 outside of his home without an escort in violation of the conditions of his house arrest. According to Ettinger he was on his way to synagogue for Shabbat services. The police claim that there was no justification for walking to prayers so far from his place of residence.
Negotiations for a plea bargain between the defendants’ attorneys and the Attorney General’s office came to a conclusion on Wednesday, December 26, 2012 when the agreement was signed in court. It includes admission of guilt and conviction of three of the defendants (HaCohen, Haikin, Ettinger) for “collecting information of military value” and of the other two defendants (Meir, Eliyahu) for conspiring to carry out the same offense.
Akiva HaCohen, Ephraim Haikin and Meir Ettinger will be given a three month prison sentence, from which the time they spent in remand will be reduced. Meir Ettinger will be released immediately as he has already spent more than three months in remand. Elad Meir and David Tzvi Eliyahu will be sentenced to community service. Also all of the restrictions placed on them over the past year will be lifted immediately.
Honenu, which has assisted the defendants with legal counsel since the beginning of the case, states;“We have mixed feelings about the outcome of the case. On one hand we are pleased that the show trial conducted against our clients has ended with the Attorney General’s office dropping most of the charges, but on the other hand this has been a mark of disgrace for the Israeli legal system which for the first time since the founding of the State of Israel has made ridiculous use against Jews of the “collecting information of military value” clause, dating from the era of the British Mandate.”

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