IDF soldier convicted, demoted for Gaza rioter death

The sniper is the first soldier to be convicted in a "Great Return March" death.

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October 30, 2019 21:25
3 minute read.
IDF soldier convicted, demoted for Gaza rioter death

Smoke rises as Palestinians take part in a protest marking the 71st anniversary of the ‘Nakba’ (the ‘catastrophe’ that they view as resulting from the creation of Israel in 1948) at the Israel-Gaza border fence on May 15. (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)

 An IDF soldier was sentenced to one month in prison by a military court for the death of a Palestinian teenager during the weekly Gaza border riots last year.

The soldier, a sniper from the Givati Brigade, was convicted as part of a plea bargain after he pleaded guilty for “disobeying an order leading to a threat to life or health,” the IDF said in a statement.
 

On July 13 2018, the sniper opened fire at 15-year-old Othman Helles as he was climbing the Gaza security fence during the weekly "Great Return March" protests, "without obtaining permission from his commanders [and] while not following the rules of engagement or the instructions given to him earlier,” the statement continued.
 

As part of the plea bargain, the soldier was sentenced to one month in prison – to be served by labor – as well as probation and being demoted in rank to private.
 

Helles’ father, Rami, said that while he was at first “very happy” to hear that the soldier was being tried “after hearing that he was sentenced to only a month of military-related labor, I was very angry, sad and in pain.”
 
 
“What kind of punishment is this for a soldier who killed a youth who wasn’t threatening anyone?  There is no justice in this inappropriate sentence.  I had hoped he would receive a more serious sentence so that other soldiers who kill our children in cold blood could learn something.  My son, a boy, had his childhood stolen by the soldier who killed him. But Israel and its soldiers are above the law.  Nobody will punish them for killing civilians in Gaza in cold blood.”
 

 

The Gaza Health Ministry said that Helles was hit in the chest by an IDF sniper as he tried to climb the security fence between Israel and the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
 

A month after Helles was killed, Military Advocate-General Sharon Afek ordered a criminal investigation into the shooting and the March 30 death of another Gazan rioter, 18-year-old Abdel Fattah Abdel Nabi, “in light of the suspicion that the shootings were not in accordance with the rules of engagement,” the IDF said at the time.

 
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem told The Jerusalem Post that the conviction does not change the situation on the ground where soldiers fire live ammunition at protesters.

 
"This is another demonstration  of the systemic whitewashing by the military law enforcement system. Soldiers given illegal orders to  fire live ammunition at unarmed protestors have killed more than 220 and wounded thousands; A rare indictment and rarest conviction do not change the reality of killing with impunity," they said.

 

The Great Return March border protests began on March 30, 2018, with tens of thousands of people violently demonstrating along the security fence, demanding an end to the 12-year-long blockade. The protests have taken place every Friday since.
 

During the demonstrations, rioters have attempted to breach the security fence and burn tires, and hurl stones and marbles as well as other types of violence, which includes the throwing of grenades and improvised explosive devices (including military-grade explosives) toward troops. Ball bearings and other projectiles are also launched by high-velocity slingshots towards forces along the border.
 

IDF troops respond to the clashes with live fire, rubber bullets and other riot-dispersal methods.
 

According to the Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, 211 Gazans, including 46 under the age of 18, have been shot and killed by the IDF since the demonstrations began. More than 18,000 others have been injured.
 

The military, which has been highly criticized for its handling of the demonstrations, says that there are strict rules of engagement for troops to open fire on the rioters, with senior commanders approving every shot fired.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem told The Jerusalem Post that the conviction does not change the situation on the ground, where soldiers fire live ammunition at protesters.

"This is another demonstration  of the systemic whitewashing by the military law enforcement system. Soldiers given illegal orders to fire live ammunition at unarmed protestors have killed more than 220 and wounded thousands; A rare indictment and rarest conviction do not change the reality of killing with impunity," they said.


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