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Americans: Your tax dollars at work

“Six Shots at a Dog”

Shlomo Hazan in Matzpen (August 1979)

“‘I was arrested because I wasted six bullets on a dog!’ a bearded fellow wearing a skull cap told me. He appeared to be somewhere in his forties, with a naive look stamped on his face which displayed bewilderment at the evil meted out to him. To his mind the whole thing was ridiculous; he simply couldn’t understand it. Neither could I.

“This exchange took place in a military prison of the Israeli army in March 1978. In the course of the conversation it transpired that the ‘dog’ was an Arab resident of East Jerusalem. After that revelation I began to understand, but the fellow still could not make any sense out of it. Neither could the people who gathered around us: ‘But he only killed an Arab ….’ ‘He was defending himself and the Jewish people ….’ ‘For that they arrest someone? …’ (In all truth, this is a fair sample of Israeli public opinion.)

“The fellow was none other than Israel Lederman, the ‘civil defence’ (Haga) soldier who was sentenced in military court to 20 years imprisonment for premeditated murder and whose sentence was reduced to 3 years after a series of appeals and amnesties, still not fully exhausted.

“I was present in the military prison (for a totally different reason) throughout the period of Lederman’s detainment and until the conclusion of his trial. I followed closely the way he was treated by the other detainees, convicts and prison guards. I took special note of the attitude taken toward him by the prison authorities. He was generally regarded as an Israeli national hero; everyone without exception showed respect toward him. The prison guards treated him with silk gloves. He was granted an almost free right of movement inside the prison. Several times I saw him eating in the staff cafeteria. Every convict and detainee is permitted only a fortnightly 15 minute visit, but Lederman was an exception. The frequent visits which he was granted were unlimited in time. He was rewarded by being granted many furloughs even though detainees in general, and those charged with serious crimes in particular, are granted no furloughs at all. Once he was even granted a full 48 hour leave, something which was very unusual.

“He was regarded as a martyr even after having been sentenced by the military court. He was, in fact, then transferred to a closed wing of the military prison where the ‘hard cases’ were locked up together with the convicts awaiting transfer to civil prisons (convicts sentenced to a prison term longer than one year are not held in military prisons), but during the few days that Lederman spent in the closed wing, awaiting transfer to a civil prison, he was granted three daily outings to the prison synagogue, which is located outside the closed wing, while others who wanted to pray there were only given leave to attend their court hearing or to be taken to the hospital.

“It is noteworthy that every time Lederman returned from a court hearing he seemed nervous and worried, yet when he arrived back in prison after the last session, in which his sentence was read out, he was calm and tranquil. He was certainly given hints about further future moves. Who knows? It may be that a decision had already been taken as to which public position he will be appointed to after serving his sentence. (In a similar case, the officer Dahan, one of the killers in the Kafr Qassem affair,[1] found employment in the Ramleh municipality as the officer in charge of Arab affairs. Dahan’s sentence, it may be recalled, was gradually reduced from 15 years in prison to 5, and he ended up serving only 3 and a half years.)

“So far this has been an eye-witness account. After having left the prison, I learned from a man who is still there that a decision was taken not to transfer Lederman to a civil prison, but to allow him to remain where he was. Not, God forbid, in the closed ward but in the so-called ‘officer’s camp,’ where sentenced Army officers and other privileged convicts are concentrated. In addition, ‘Rabbi Lederman’ (that is how they refer to him), my informant communicated to me, is employed as a prison clerk, is free to move around wherever he pleases inside the prison, permanently dines in the staff cafeteria and is frequently visited by Hassidic Habad members who cheer him up ….

“All this is taking place while others convicted of similar crimes are subjected to the routines of torture and sentenced to life imprisonment without right of appeal. It is not accidental that these nameless ‘others’ are Arabs.”

[1] in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Qassem, nearly 50 men, women and children were coldly shot down in 1956 as they returned from work in the fields, where no one had informed them of a hastily imposed curfew.

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