Suspended term for Israeli soldiers who used child as shield


TWO ISRAELI soldiers have each received a three-month suspended sentence for forcing a nine-year- old Palestinian boy to open bags during the Gaza war in January 2009.

The military court in the south of Israel also demoted the two staff sergeants, who were from the Givati infantry brigade, to the rank of sergeant. It also ruled that the offence will be noted in the men’s criminal records.

The soldiers, together with relatives and supporters, celebrated after the sentence was passed down, relieved that they were free and would be able to serve in the military reserves as commanders.

In Gaza, the boy, Majed Rabah, now 11, and his mother Afaf criticised what they termed the “lenient” court decision.

“They should be jailed for a year or two,” said the boy. “If an Israeli child was exposed to the same thing, the whole world would have turned against us, but when it’s a Palestinian child, nothing happens.”

The soldiers were convicted last month of forcing the boy, a resident of a Gaza city neighbourhood captured by Israeli forces, to open a number of bags they thought might contain explosives.

The bags turned out not to be booby-trapped and the boy was unharmed.

The case made headlines in Israel. It was revealed that it was common practice for troops to force Palestinians to open, or clear away, suspicious objects.

However supporters of the two soldiers, including some top generals, argued that their relatively low ranking made them scapegoats, as the state tried to appease international critics of Israel.

Some supporters outside the courtroom wore T-shirts with the slogan “We’re all Victims of Goldstone”, a reference to retired South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who headed the United Nations panel that investigated the Gaza war and accused Israel and Palestinian militant groups of committing war crimes.

The military court judges ruled that the soldiers “hurt the child and left a mark on him”, but stressed that one could not “ignore the difficult conditions in which fighters sent by the state of Israel had to operate”.

Earlier this year, an Israeli report presented to the UN said 47 criminal inquiries had been launched into alleged misconduct during the Gaza war, including the case of the two Givati soldiers, and a soldier who was suspected of killing a Palestinian civilian.

The army has also pursued disciplinary action against senior officers.