A military court sentenced three soldiers from the army’s religious Netzach Yehuda unit to 190 days in prison, three months on probation and a demotion to the rank of Private, for physically abusing two Palestinian detainees.
The ruling came after the defendants pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to the abuse of two detainees, suspected of being accomplices in the terror attack in which two soldiers from their unit were killed in a Givat Assaf attack.
The three expressed remorse for their actions and received relatively light sentences. It was agreed that the defendants could submit a request in two years for their criminal record to be expunged and the prosecution would not oppose. The three will also be allowed to go home over the Passover vacation.
One of the defendants, a staff sergeant and a squad leader, filmed the abusive incident, a fact which added a measure of severity to the indictment as it was intended to further humiliate the victims. But his taking responsibility for his actions allowed the court to lighten his sentence.
Regarding another defendant, a sergeant, the judge stressed his good record as a training commander and the fact that he was friends with the murdered soldier.
The third defendant, a corporal, will not be demoted. “During the incident he was in the midst of a personal crisis and later expressed shame over it,” said the judge. He was commended for cooperating with the court and for taking responsibility for his actions.
According to the testimony of one of the defendants, the violence against the detainees began when the vehicle the force was traveling in passed by Givat Assaf, the place where a shooting attack by a Palestinian terrorist killed Yuval Mor Yosef and Yosef Cohen, two Netzach Yehuda soldiers.
“I saw the sights and everything came rushing back; it was a specific event that does not characterize me, I regret what I did," he testified. “I reached the scene of the attack moments after they were killed and I saw my friend fighting for his life.
“I buried Yuval Mor Yosef. Before the attack, we sat together and suddenly I am grasping the fact that he is no longer alive,” he continued. The intense period following the attack, in pursuit of the suspects and their accomplices, did not allow him to properly deal with his emotions he said.
The unit’s commander Lt. Col. Nitai Okesh testified on behalf of the soldiers and asked the judges for mercy. “Most of our soldiers are volunteers, they give up a lot in order to enlist in the IDF and many lose contact with their (ultra-Orthodox) families… There was quite a lot of pressure on the battalion,” he said.
Commander Okesh added that following the incident, the unit conducted a session with relevant professionals regarding what is allowed and not allowed on the battlefield.
“Today we are in an entirely different place. Despite the storm of emotions, the fighters know what is expected of a soldier in the IDF. This is not an event that characterizes the battalion,” Okesh concluded.
Meanwhile, the trial of the direct commander of the defendants, a lieutenant officer, is ongoing. He is accused of not interfering in the crime and negligence in allowing the incident to take place.