Thursday, May 26

The aid worker Juana Ruiz appears in shackles and without a Spanish interpreter before the Israeli military justice | Spain


Juana Ruiz Sánchez, 62, came dragging her feet on Tuesday morning to the Ofer military court, a barracks attached to the Israeli prison of the same name in the West Bank. “I’m fine,” she whispered from afar in the latticed corridor through which she was led to the bench by two security agents, who prevented her from approaching the journalists covering the view. The Spanish aid worker, settled in Palestine since 1985 and detained at her home at dawn on April 13 by about twenty soldiers, is accused by the military prosecutor’s office of belonging to an “illegal organization” that diverted funds from international cooperation to a Palestinian group classified as a terrorist. Juana Ruiz was handcuffed, with shackles chained to her feet and did not have a Spanish interpreter, as required by Israeli law, during the nearly 30 minutes that her appearance lasted. The military judge again postponed the trial until September 1, after the defense of the humanitarian worker argued against the charges and announced that it is going to demand her immediate release.

After almost four months behind bars, the health worker looked very tired, with longer hair than she usually shows in her family photographs. Stunned by her first appearance before the military courts (the previous ones were by telematic means), she watched the debate in Hebrew procedural jargon from the bench without understanding a word. Ofer’s jail and court are housed in a kind of outpost built with the same gray concrete towers and walls that make up the wall built by Israel around the West Bank nearly two decades ago. Juana Ruiz, who worked for 28 years as coordinator of international projects in the Palestinian NGO Health Work Committees, had never been detained or interrogated until now. Like all non-Israeli West Bank residents, the martial law that governs the occupation has been applied to him.

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When your defense attorney, the Israeli lawyer Avigdor FeldmanAsked why there was no Spanish interpreter in the room, the judge asked Ruiz what languages ​​he spoke. “Spanish and Arabic,” he replied. A soldier translated it from Arabic to Hebrew, but the defendant said she looked more confident with Spanish to follow the view. “I have tried to communicate with her in English, but it is not a language that she knows,” said the lawyer after the hearing. “She has asked me to do everything possible to get her out of jail, that has become clear. Now they (the military judges) have assured that they will provide a Spanish interpreter. There has to be, ”he warned. The soldier who was apparently acting as an interpreter from Hebrew to Arabic barely intervened at the hearing.

When the session concluded with a new appointment to the aid worker for September 1, predictably by telematic means, Juana Ruiz’s husband, the Palestinian Elías Rismawi, approached a few meters to speak with her. “Lucky. Be strong. We are all with you, ”he said as their gazes met, tears about to flow. A security officer stepped between them and a prison official forced the press out of the room.

The husband later explained why the aid worker seemed so tired. “They took her out on Monday at 10 in the morning Damon prison, in Haifa (north), and they circled (in a prison service van) until 10 o’clock at night from prison to prison until they reached HaSharon (a prison located north of Tel Aviv). It was a torture”. This is how he related the journey of his wife, who had arrived at Ofer’s court early in the morning. “She is so tired that she can’t even stand. Much more than when I visited her on the 4th in prison. He has hardly slept, “added Rismawi, who assured that both are confident in a speedy release. “It is getting very hard for a woman of her age and her situation (with chronic diseases),” alleged the husband of the Spanish aid worker.

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Juana Ruiz’s attorney is a veteran defender of civil rights in Israel. Avigdor Fieldman maintains that the allegations against his client are baseless. “The investigation of the secret service (Shin Bet) presented to the court is very unsatisfactory: general accusations, without evidence or witness statements,” he argued after the conclusion of the hearing.

“Some of the events (that are part) of the charges occurred in Spain, where this court has no jurisdiction,” Feldman added in the summary of his allegations. “We also deny that there is any connection between our client and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, a group in whose illegal financing the Spanish citizen is involved). This organization was declared illegal in 2020, but the decision was made effective in 2021, all the accusations are previous ”, he added. Extraterritoriality and non-retroactivity are determining factors in the nullity of the case, according to the defense. “We are going to ask that she be released from prison; We see no reason for him to remain behind bars. We will look for a place outside the prison where she can remain (under house arrest) while the process finishes. “

In the courtyard of the Ofer military court, where dozens of Palestinians took turns to attend the trials of their relatives, Juana Ruiz’s husband tried to show hope. “I try to be strong to help her, but things are not easy,” he confessed. “There is hope that he will get house arrest. We are going to try to take her to a nunnery in Jerusalem, ”said Rismawi. “We are willing to sign whatever (bonds, guarantees …) as long as he gets out of jail.”

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Illegal financing charges and cooperative fund fraud

The Shin Bet and the military prosecutor’s office have accused the Spanish citizen, along with other members of her NGO, of participating in a network to “illegally introduce funds into the Palestinian territories”, diverted to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group considered terrorist by Israel and the European Union, “through fraud, counterfeiting and deception” of donors from European countries. “She did not handle funds. The money from the cooperation went to the bank, and she never signed a check, ”her husband assured. “She has been managing projects for 28 years.”

Last Thursday, the High Representative for EU Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, defended that, “to date, (the EU) has not found substantiated evidence of misuse or diversion (of funds) in Palestine,” reports the Efe agency. “The EU is perfectly aware of the issue of Spanish citizens,” said the head of European diplomacy, in a parliamentary response to a question from MEP Soraya Rodríguez. “Providing (the Spanish citizen) with adequate detention conditions and ensuring that they receive consular assistance and legal advice,” he added, “remains extremely important.”

The Consulate General of Spain in Jerusalem has visited and assisted the aid worker since her arrest became known. The Foreign Minister of the Consulate, Carlos Bengoechea, attended the hearing held at the Ofer military prison on Tuesday. In his first contact with the head of Israeli diplomacy, Yair Lapid, the new Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, 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 case of Juana Ruiz.




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