by Amira Hass
The abuse of a shepherd from the South Hebron Hills by Nahal Brigade soldiers will cost the state 5,501 shekels ($1,557). That is what Judge Nir Nahshon, senior registrar of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, ruled last Thursday: 3,500 shekels for the goat and two kids the Israel Defense Forces soldiers confiscated for no reason, and 2,000 shekels for mental anguish after detaining the shepherd for about three hours.
From this amount the judge deducted 25 percent for “contributory guilt,” and all told the state will pay the shepherd, Kamel Mahamra, 4,125 shekels. The state will also pay 1,000 shekels for his legal fees and refund a 376 shekel court fee to Mahamra, who sued the state and won.
This calculation does not include the rest of the costs the state incurred because a group of soldiers did what soldiers tend to do there, in the wild, wild south: abuse – either following orders from higher up or at their own behest.
But this time a precedent was set: the abuse led to a lawsuit, filed by attorney Eitay Mack, and a quick hearing in court.
We do not know how much the Defense Ministry paid to the agricultural assessor who calculated the value of the goat and two kids that disappeared.
We are not calculating the value of the trees that were cut down for all the forms in the file of the investigative branch of the Military Police, lawsuit and defense briefs, plus courtroom transcripts.
We are not calculating the amount of diesel fuel or gasoline used to bring the soldiers to the Military Police investigation.
And we are not asking about the salary of attorney Talia Kalamaro, the representative of the Jerusalem district of the State Prosecutor’s Office, so we can calculate the time she spent writing the state’s defense brief, in which she said: “Above and beyond the letter of the law … the defendant is willing to compensate the plaintiff for the damages that will be proved by him as a result of the removal of the goats.”
At the same time, it should be pointed out, Kalamaro asked the court to reject the suit and require Mahamra to pay court costs and legal fees to the state.
The indefatigable Ta’ayush activists and I tried, in real time, to follow up on the fate of the goat, two kids and a donkey.
And here is what has been learned since then, as a result of the filing of the lawsuit: Mahamra, 31, a resident of the small village of Maghayir al-Abeed, went to herd his goats on February 18, 2013. Maghayir al-Abeed is one of 12 decades-old Palestinian villages, among which the IDF decided to place a firing range. Its fate is now under discussion in a mediation process.
Kalamaro claimed that Mahamra entered Firing Range 522, located nearby – where there is a ban on grazing livestock. Mack claimed that, since he was not allowed to examine the Military Police case file, he does not know where exactly the incident occurred. In any event, there are no clear markings that delineate where one firing zone ends and the other begins.
Mahamra started gathering together his herd, including two newborn kids, whom he placed in sacks on his donkey. There is no disagreement that young boys then appeared. In the state’s version, they came close to ammunition in order to steal it. Mack assumes they wanted to collect the empty shell casings. As the occupation brings poverty and impoverishment, Palestinians, especially those in the fringe areas, recycle everything – from empty soda cans to the metal fibers in tires. So why should they leave the shiny metal of the empty shells to rust in the fields?
Our forces and jeeps started chasing after the boys, who managed to escape. Our forces then aimed a rifle at Mahamra, asked where the boys were, and decided he was lying when he answered that he didn’t know where they were, that he had no connection with them and that he must get home.
In the meantime, the herd of goats started to scatter. Our forces left and Mahamra discovered the donkey, the newborn kids and a goat had disappeared.
Was it a field punishment for not leading the soldiers to the boys? Not at all, wrote Kalamaro in the defense brief: “The plaintiff told the soldiers that he was unable to remove the animals from there, and for that reason the soldiers themselves removed them from Firing Range 522,” where the exercises were being conducted with live ammunition.
This argument made Mack laugh. “Do you mean,” he asked the court, “that the merciful soldiers simply wanted to rescue the goat, the kids and the donkey, but left behind, in this dangerous place, the shepherd and his 120-odd other goats, and another shepherd that was also there with his herd?”
Back then, on February 18, Mahamra saw the donkey tied up to an army water carrier, but he did not dare to get close. The day was ending, so he gathered his herd and took them home, minus one goat, two kids and the donkey.
At the time, the IDF Spokesman said the soldiers had returned the animals to the field, but only the donkey came back after three days.
Mack demanded compensation for his client for the goat and kids, the time he lost and his mental anguish. Mack listed 13 legal obligations the soldiers had violated in their abuse, including the animal cruelty law, which bans torture, abuse or cruelty to animals in any fashion. The state’s defense denied the claims.
Mack estimated the mental anguish at 20,000 shekels. The state was willing to recognize only limited physical harm. Judge Nahshon made his decision, and deducted 25 percent because of Mahamra’s contributory guilt – his entering Firing Range 522.
Would it not have been cheaper and simpler for the state if the Nahal soldiers had not harassed Mahamra when he grazed his herd?