The Kastina Military Court sentenced two Givati soldiers, who asked a Palestinian boy to open bags suspected of containing explosives, to three months of probation. They were also both demoted to sergeants.
After the reading of the sentence the defendants hugged their relatives and expressed joy.
The judges stated that the soldiers "hurt the child and left a mark on him." They further noted that "maintaining human life is not just a slogan."
The panel nevertheless took into consideration the troops' military service and their willingness to serve in reserve duty. They were also aware of the complicated situation the troops were placed in.
Supporting the soldiers (Archive photo: Avi Rokach)
"We feel relieved," one of the soldiers said after the sentencing and thanked all those who supported them. "We hoped this would be the last time we would be in court and this story be done with."
The soldiers' attorney, Ilan Katz, said that the punishment supports his claim that an indictment could have been avoided from start. "The military court understood what the prosecution could not," he said.
Various military figures associated with the defendants attended the court hearing Sunday. Among them was former IDF deputy chief of staff (res.) Major-General Uzi Dayan who said the soldiers' criminal records should be cleared.
Addressing the two he said: "Go on with your lives, continue being combatants. We have to make sure these types of events which occur during combat will be probed inside the units and not in interrogation rooms."
Former Chief Military Rabbi Colonel Avichai Rontzki also came to support the troops and said he was satisfied with the court's decision. He was nevertheless disappointed with the decision to include the matter in their criminal records. "As a commander I know how they feel and it's a shame this whole process ever started."
'I'm being treated like a war criminal'
Last October, the soldiers were convicted of commanding a 9-year old Palestinian boy to open suspicious bags during Operation Cast Lead. They had been charged with overstepping authority and conduct unbecoming.
"The message should be clear, this is hardly a straightforward issue," military prosecutor Major Dorit Tuval said at the time, referring to her insistence on demoting the soldiers and demanding probation. She admitted the soldiers were excellent combatants who risked their lives for the state.
"I am being treated like a war criminal and I will have to pay dearly," one of the defendants previously said.
"For three years I struggled to earn these ranks. I want to be in the reserves in order to serve my country," he told the court, asking for a reprieve.
The conviction prompted angry responses from the troops' family and friends. Many of their supporters wore shirts which said "We're all victims of Goldstone" to the verdict hearing.
Shortly thereafter fliers and graffiti reading "traitor" were posted outside the house of Military Advocate General Avichai Mandelblitt.
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