Light in the Kafkaesque sanctuary of Israel’s Supreme Court

It’s enough for our judges to know why a journalist is detained without trial.

The rays of sunlight shining through the round opening in the ceiling fall directly on the carefully shaven heads of the two young men. Their bald pates sparkle and shine. The bearded one keeps writing something down. The other guy (who seems to this writer to be of Russian origin) watches and listens without showing any emotion. Their names aren’t known; they presumably are employees of the Shin Bet security service.

To the left of our two anonymous men, on the same bench up front, sits Marlene, a tall woman of about 50, and two graceful teenage girls, serious Ghazal and smiling Marah.

The hall has a long central space. Two lines of pillars on the sides separate the hall from two passages, each with a small, slightly raised wooden compartment at the end.

Omar Nazzal, 54, is brought into one of these compartments from a side door. He is tall and has a graying beard and a balding head. His eyes fall on the three women on the first bench and his face lights up.

The central hall leads to a concave wall and an upraised platform, with three high-backed chairs. Did architects Ada Karmi-Melamede and Ram Karmi imagine a church when they designed the Supreme Court’s courtrooms? We see unadorned walls as in a Protestant church, a high ceiling as in a Gothic cathedral, the symbol of the Menorah instead of Jesus on the cross. And the justices instead of you know who.

Last Monday they were justices Menachem Mazuz, Salim Joubran and Daphne Barak-Erez. They looked through Nazzal’s petition against his detention without trial. A journalist, he was on his way to a conference of international journalists in Bosnia when he was arrested on April 26 at the Allenby Bridge, which links the West Bank with Jordan.

Hunger strike

The hearing was an opportunity for Nazzal to see, from a distance, his wife and daughters. He’s among the detainees on a hunger strike in solidarity with Bilal Kayed, who has been on a hunger strike for two months to protest his detention without trial immediately after he served 14 and a half years in prison.

“Try us or release us,” they say. And the prison authorities punish all the strikers by preventing family visits. (The famished Kayed is chained to his bed in the hospital. District Court Judge Aharon Mishnayot, a former military judge and resident of the settlement of Efrat, rejected a petition Friday to free him from his chains and let him see an independent doctor.)

Church or not, at the Supreme Court they rely on the natural light that penetrates the courtrooms, as Carmel Hanany, a lawyer who deals with planning and construction matters, wrote in a November 2013 article in Urbanologia, a Hebrew-language blog by Tel Aviv University’s Laboratory of Contemporary Urban Design. She compares the Jerusalem temple of justice to the courtroom described in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” The size of the two courts, which make those who enter smaller, is similar, she says.

“The two structures are similar in their use of natural light to illustrate access to the law, but they represent the positive and negative of each other,” she writes. “Josef K. comes to the justices’ chambers and discovers they are dark.” Actually, the natural light in the hall in Jerusalem is meant to express transparency and accessibility to law and justice.

Back at the court proceedings, Attorney Mahmoud Hassan tells the justices how as a journalist, Nazzal has connections with people who make news in all kinds of organizations. In his articles, he expresses his opinion, and maybe someone doesn’t like it.

But to jail him without trial without an indictment, without evidence? He wasn’t even investigated after he was arrested. We believe, Hassan says, that he was jailed to be silenced, as a journalist. In the meantime, Nazzal, his wife and daughters speak to each other with their eyes.

Josef K. one more time

At this stage, the leg-cuffed detainee, the lawyer, the family members, two friends and journalists leave the courtroom. In the courtroom filled with light remain the justices, prosecutor and the two anonymous men, with the light falling directly on their heads.

We can assume they showed the justices the word of God. Oops, pardon – the confidential file.

“Only the lawyer remains in the dark,” Hassan says with a bitter smile. After about 15 minutes those who were asked to leave are called in to return. The state’s representative, lawyer Reuven Eidelman, rises and says he can only say that Nazzal’s detention is not for his journalistic activities but because he holds a position with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Like a diligent student, Joubran reads out loud the judges’ decision. They don’t find it appropriate to intervene in the administrative-detention order and don’t oppose its expected extension at the end of August. But they recommend that it be for three months, not four.

Nazzal lights up one last time to his wife and daughters and disappears behind the door. Outside the daughters say they don’t understand. This isn’t what they know about the courts: There the defendant is entitled to know what he’s being charged with; the lawyer is supposed to examine the evidence and question witnesses.

In her article, Hanany mentions Kafka’s Josef K., “who was tried by the system with enormous and undefined authority without knowing what crime he had committed …. The Kafkaesque justice system is described as one that abandons any attempt to create legitimacy during the legal process, and only deigns to declare its authority and validity after it reaches a decision.”