The trial of the 62-year-old Spanish aid worker Juana Ruiz Sánchez, before a military court in Israel, resumed this Tuesday after more than two months of suspension. Since her arrest, in which a score of soldiers broke into her home on the outskirts of Bethlehem at dawn on April 13, the humanitarian worker at a Palestinian health NGO has remained behind bars for a judicial ordeal that threatens to drag on. The military justice accuses her of belonging to an “illegal organization” that diverted funds from international cooperation to a Palestinian group classified as a terrorist. His defense plans to contest the charges now and ask for his immediate release, or at least his transfer to house arrest. But, after the change in your team of lawyers, the process can be prolonged due to the arrest of other members of your NGO.
Juana Ruiz is hospitalized in the old Damon prison, in the forested mountains surrounding Haifa (on the north coast of Israel) alongside dozens of Palestinian “security” (nationalist) dams. Gone are the weeks of isolation in the cell in a jail near Tel Aviv and the long interrogations by the Shin Bet (internal security service) agents. “Juana is better, at least she is not alone,” say diplomatic sources familiar with consular assistance to the Spanish aid worker. “But the recent arrests within his organization may lead to new accusations,” warn the cited sources, who fear that he will not be allowed to leave prison until the security services complete the investigations.
A month ago the Palestinian was also arrested Shatha Odeh, Executive Director of Health Work Committees (HWC, for its acronym in English), an NGO in which Ruiz worked for more than three decades in the area of international cooperation. In the same raid, 10 other people from the organization were arrested by military forces. All of them are accused of participating in a network to “illegally introduce funds into the Palestinian territories”, which were diverted to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group considered terrorist by Israel and the European Union, “through fraud. , counterfeiting and deception ”to donors from European countries.
“On Tuesday I am going to contest all the charges. There is no consistent evidence, no proof, ”Avigdor Feldman, current lawyer for the Spanish aid worker, has advanced. “It is all part of an operation by Israel to accuse civil society associations that carry out humanitarian tasks in the Palestinian territories without basis,” said Feldman, founder of the Israel Civil Rights Association and who was a lawyer for Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear technician who revealed the existence of Israel’s secret atomic weapons program.
Feldman has relieved the lawyer Gabriela Laski from the head of Juana Ruiz’s defense, who three years ago represented the Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi before the military justice, who became an icon of her people after slapping a soldier who had broken into her house in the West Bank. Laski left the defense after being elected deputy for the Meretz party (pacifist left).
“The family has had to open a fundraising account to defray the high costs of legal defense ”, states a statement released on Sunday by the platform to support Juana Ruiz, made up of 140 organizations in Spain. “Thanks to the enormous solidarity of hundreds of people and organizations, 60% of the total needed has already been obtained.” “We hope that the trial will serve to demonstrate that the accusations are false and to achieve his freedom after four months of unjust and arbitrary imprisonment,” the statement said.
In a situation that diplomatic sources described as “psychological and psychic pressure”, it took Ruiz more than two weeks to receive his personal effects after his arrest, such as reading glasses, and he could not change clothes with his own clothes. The Spanish aid worker must take medication due to a chronic illness and was mired in a depressive state for several weeks due to permanent isolation at the beginning of her detention. He also had to sign documents in Hebrew, a language he does not know, without the presence of an interpreter. This is the first time in recent times that a person with exclusive Spanish citizenship has received the inflexible treatment that the Israeli military justice has systematically applied for 54 years to residents of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Involvement of the Spanish Government
The change in the defense team of the cooperative dam has also coincided with the change of head of Foreign Affairs in Spain. In its first contact with the head of Israeli diplomacy, Yair Lapid, the new minister, José Manuel Albares, took an interest last month about the situation of the jailed humanitarian worker. Albares also specified in a parliamentary appearance that he was going to be personally involved in the matter.
The official interest, however, runs up against the slow progress of the process in Israel, among other reasons, due to the parenthesis in the change of lawyers. Predictably, the military judge will not issue a resolution this Tuesday in the military court of Ofer (West Bank) after having heard the challenge of the defense and the possible new charges presented by the Prosecutor’s Office. If the hearing is postponed to September, diplomatic sources warn, it runs the risk of coinciding with the judicial holidays of the Jewish New Year. The Israeli Government is also considering the hypothesis of a new general confinement during that three-week holiday period due to the rise in infections by covid-19. In the previous confinements, the activity of the courts was reduced to the most urgent cases.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.