Lock Me Up! — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Your honor, I realize that it is irregular that counsel for a member of the courtroom audience approach the bench. But I hope that you will hold your peace and allow me, before you hand down the sentences of the men and women convicted in the Holyland case, to present my client’s plea.

     illustration by Avi Katz

     illustration by Avi Katz

My client—this is he, sitting here in the front row, the one with the funny nose, no, he’s not in a coma, that’s just his way of displaying interest—is a man of modest means, a freelance writer whose words have quickened the hearts of a handful of readers around the globe. He’s a family man, devoted to his community and his country, the salt of the earth, as we like to say. Unlike the movers and shakers who sit in the dock before you, Haim Watzman is barely known to anyone of importance. Like millions of other Israeli citizens, he labors long hours silently, without wealth and fame. And he has come here to ask, Judge Rosen, why he, too, should not be provided with room and board by the state for the next several years.

Has he committed a crime? No, he has committed no crime—because Israeli society has given him no opportunity to do so. Had he been born into wealth, he might have used it to corrupt one of our leaders. Had he been appointed to a position of power, he might have used his influence for personal gain. Never having been invested with the public trust, he was barred from violating it.

I ask you, your honor, is this fair? Is it constitutional? Has my client not been denied the rights guaranteed to him under our Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty? What dignity can he have if he is denied the kind of power that a wealthy man would pay him to misuse? And what about the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation? Is Mr. Watzman truly able “to engage in any occupation, profession or trade?” No, he is not. He is precluded, through a lack of money and connections, from being a high-rolling property developer like defendant number 2. He may not, like defendant number 7, approve zoning variances to property developers—after all, no one would think of appointing as city engineer a man who is precise about commas but nothing else. He may not pay out million-shekel bribes because, unlike defendant 12, he does not own a salt works, and he may not use dirty money to buy wheelchairs for the infirm, as defendant number 6 did, because he does not run a multi-million-dollar charity. Unlike defendant number 8, he was never elected to anything. He tried, but not even his mother voted for him, as she is not an Israeli citizen. Is this not further evidence of the rising inequality that plagues our once nearly classless society?

Note also that he has been relegated to the public benches in this courtroom, denying him his right to sit as an equal with the defendants you see before you. Is he less worthy than them? Is he not created in the image of the same God? Why can he not be in their company? Simply because investigative journalists take no interest in his affairs? Because his tax returns are boring? Because he cannot afford to hire a secretary who can, after years of living a high life, turn state’s witness?

What’s that you said? That my defendant has done nothing to deserve conviction? Your honor, it is not for want of trying. Let me tell you his sorry tale.

Two weeks ago, reading in the newspaper that you were about to hand down sentences in the Holyland case, my client—he’s snoring, excuse me while I kick him—resolved to do everything in his power to join the ranks of this august collection of Israeli leaders and doers.

That very morning he contacted Walid, a building contractor in East Jerusalem, and offered to gain him permits to build a high-rise complex in the current location of Liberty Bell Park. Walid merely had to bring him a suitcase filled with unmarked 200-shekel bills. In exchange for that, Mr. Watzman said that he would put a good word in with city and district planning officials who would no doubt delight in an opportunity to cover yet another of the city’s public green spaces with structures designed to win Architect Magazine’s annual “Most Ugly and Awkward Design” award. Walid came over, gave my client a one-shekel coin, and suggested that he use it as a down payment for a brain transplant at Hadassah’s Private Medicine clinic.

Undeterred, Mr. Watzman got on the bus to Safra Square and walked boldly up to Mayor Barkat’s sixth-floor office. Presenting himself before the receptionist, he stealthily removed a white envelope from his backpack and, looking around to make sure no one was watching, placed it nonchalantly under the secretary’s mug of Lemon Zinger. He gave her a wink. She took a sip from her cup, opened up the envelope, and removed a piece of paper reading: “To the mayor: half a million dollars to you if you change the zoning classification of Liberty Bell Park from ‘Green’ to ‘Crass Commercial.’” As my client waited, visions of a posh white-collar prison cell flashing before his eyes, the secretary blew her nose on the IOU and dropped it into the wastebasket.

Your honor, my client is not a quitter. He visited the Facebook pages of each of the defendants, writing on their walls that, in exchange for a healthy percentage of their illegal earnings, he would appear in court today and testify personally to their integrity. He also promised to drop hints that the Holyland high rise is not in fact a residential building but rather a secret military project that will, when a certain button is pressed, launch into Jerusalem’s skies to intercept an incoming Iranian atomic bomb. And what was the result, your honor? Each and every one of the men you see in front of you blocked his posts.

What could he do? Well, he did what every rich and powerful Israeli does when the courts refuse to do his bidding. He hired a hot-shot lawyer, yours truly, to handle his case. And I am here to tell the court, and the media, and the entire Israeli public: my client is confident of his guilt. Even if you disappoint him today, he knows that justice will prevail. Because Haim Watzman knows that, despite all the evidence proving his innocence, he is guilty, guilty, guilty. His ethics are warped, his character is base, his intentions have been nefarious at each and every step along his grubby way. Remember, Judge Rosen, evidence of absence does not prove an absence of evidence. Watzman was not involved in the Holyland scheme from beginning to end only because no one asked him to be—no one thought him worth counting. But for that, he would have worked day and night to link the moneyed and the powerful and to subvert the good government that all Israeli citizens have a right to expect. He has not attended this court session to be told that he is not fit to have his wrists chained to those of former mayors and bank presidents. If you, Judge Rosen, will not give him satisfaction, we will go straight to the Supreme Court, where the eminent jurists who sit there will certainly give Haim Watzman his due.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, your honor, prime real estate subdivided cannot but be holy land. Israel cannot stand strong and confident against its many enemies if a chasm yawns between the super-rich and super-powerful and the rest of the public. Our people have lost faith. They have come to accept this division as natural. Judge Rosen, now is the time to tell the Israeli public, that every Israeli boy and girl can, if they work hard, become a crooked plutocrat, and every Israeli man and woman can dream of standing here, and let me quote one of our most respected writers on this matter, “with Little Cats A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, and O, P, Q, R, S, T, and cat U and cat V and little Cats W, X, Y and Z.”

Excuse me, I seem to have brought the wrong book. My five-year-daughter must be asking her kindergarten teacher where the pictures are in Louis Brandeis’s Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It. No matter, the point is that my client wants to be used. He just doesn’t have the money to make it worthwhile for the bankers.

And if that is not enough, Judge Rosen, I ask you to think about the innocent men, women, and children whose lives you hold in your hands today. Consider the followers of Watzman’s Twitterfeed, whose phones buzz day and night with his inanities. Consider the unfortunate readers of the South Jerusalem blog and The Jerusalem Report, who live in constant dread of the next installment of his Necessary Stories column. Think of the wife who puts up daily with badly-washed dishes, and Watzman’s innocent children, weary of the embarrassments he causes them when their friends come over. It’s high time for Haim Watzman to become a ward of the state. Send a message to the Israeli nation, Judge Rosen, a message of equality, a message of empowerment. Put Haim Watzman behind bars.

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