An Israeli prison committee on Tuesday rejected the request for conditional release for the Spanish aid worker Juana Ruiz Sánchez, sentenced on November 17 by a military court to 13 months in jail after having accepted a judicial agreement of guilt in order to see her reduced condemns, as reported by diplomatic sources. Contrary to the usual practice in Israeli civil justice to cut the final stretch of sentence, the prison committee – made up of a judge, a social worker and a psychologist in Nazareth (northern Israel) – has decided by two votes to one (that of the magistrate) that Ruiz must remain in prison until mid-May and fully serve his sentence. This verbal resolution was not motivated in principle. The defense allegations about the age of the Spanish aid worker, 63 years old, and the chronic diseases for which she is taking medication have not been taken into account.
Ruiz’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, announced that he is going to appeal the resolution of the prison committee for an ordinary district court to decide next week on appeal on the request for parole. Juana Ruiz attended the committee meeting in Nazareth, held behind closed doors although with the assistance of a representative from the Spanish Embassy in Tel Aviv. On the 2nd, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, telephoned his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid. “His case is very important for Spanish public opinion. No one here believes that she is a terrorist, ”the head of Spanish diplomacy informed him.
The military court of Ofer (West Bank) sentenced the Spanish aid worker to 13 months in prison and a fine of 50,000 shekels (about 14,000 euros) for the crimes of “providing services to an illegal organization” and for “trafficking in foreign currency in the West Bank” , within the Palestinian health NGO where he worked. Ruiz agreed to plead guilty to both charges, within the framework of an agreement with the Military Prosecutor’s Office that eliminated three other serious charges for crimes related to terrorism, to see her sentence reduced and shorten a process that forced her to remain behind bars for a long time.
Ruiz’s family is confident of a speedy release, if feasible, before the sentence of deprivation of liberty set in the sentence is served in May. Attorney Feldman has insisted that moving to parole, by reducing the final third of his sentence, is standard practice in the Israeli criminal procedure system. “In view of the time she has been detained, she should be released in a few weeks,” anticipated the lawyer after hearing the ruling.
The defense also asked the military jurisdiction to clarify that its client did not recognize in any case her collaboration with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), classified as a terrorist. Two Israel ministers, Lapid himself and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, relied on the judicial agreement signed by the Spanish aid worker to incriminate six Palestinian NGOs that have recently been outlawed. In a joint statement, both ministers affirmed that Ruiz “admitted to having raised funds for the PFLP” and “confessed that [ese partido] he used NGOs as a cover ”.
The military court, however, pointed out during the reading of the sentence that Ruiz’s case was not related to that of the proscribed NGOs. “According to the verdict [de culpabilidad] which was accepted by the defendant, (…) the facts mentioned in the background chapter of the agreement are not attributable to it, ”a magistrate specified.
María Rishmawi Ruiz, daughter of the aid worker and her husband, the Palestinian Elías Rishmawi, then told the media that followed the hearing in the military court: “How is it possible to publicly defame someone’s reputation to try to justify criminalization [de ONG defensoras] from the human rights? It seems pretty vile to me. “
“Everything in this case is political,” concluded attorney Feldman, Ruiz’s attorney, in his statements after the sentence. “There has been an attempt to manipulate it to justify the outlawing of Palestinian NGOs that defend human rights,” he added before demanding that both Israeli ministers withdraw.
Judicial Calvary from April 13
Juana Ruiz was arrested on April 13 at her home near Belén (West Bank) on charges of collaborating with an illegal organization, as an employee for almost three decades of the health NGO Committees of Work for Health, declared illegal in 2020. By reason of his residence he has been subject to the military jurisdiction that governs under the Israeli occupation for the Palestinians. “I always thought I was working for a legal organization. I’m very sorry if I made a mistake about something. I hope they take into account that I have not tried to do harm, ”Ruiz closed his statement before the military court.
In nearly eight months of detention (she is currently in a prison reserved for Palestinian activist women in northern Israel), the Spanish aid worker has only been able to receive a few family visits in jail.
Criminal proceedings under Israeli military jurisdiction can drag on for years. This is the case of the Palestinian engineer Mohamed Halabi, who has been behind bars for five years accused of diverting funds from an international NGO in Gaza in favor of Hamas, awaiting trial.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.