(photo credit: AP)
Commander of the Givati Brigade Col. Moni Katz alongside hundreds of IDF reservists arrived Monday at the Southern Command Military Court in Kastina to protest the ongoing trial of two soldiers who have been convicted of using a Palestinian boy as a human shield during Operation Cast Lead last year.
The soldiers, who cannot be identified, were convicted two weeks ago of exceeding their authority during Cast Lead for ordering a nine-year-old Palestinian boy to open bags they suspected might be booby-trapped which were located near his home.
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Military prosecutors requested Monday that the court imprison the soldiers and demote them to the rank of private for violation of human rights and the IDF's code of "purity of arms." "They are treating me like a war criminal, that I need to pay dearly for years to come," said one of the accused at the court. The other accused soldier told the court, "We feel as thought we are victims of the Goldstone Report." The defendants, identified only as “St.-Sgt. A.” and “St.-Sgt H.,” have completed their mandatory military service. The charges carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
The military judges wrote in their ruling that “the testimony of the Palestinian child was credible, and he answered questions in a coherent and clear manner. We have fully accepted his testimony.”
The two sergeants came under investigation before the UN’s Goldstone Report was released in September 2009. The IDF probe was opened based on information in a report compiled by a special United Nations representative appointed to investigate matters involving children and armed conflict, and following a specific complaint filed by the Israeli branch of Defense for Children International.
On Monday, the Military Prosecutor began the sentencing phase of the soldiers’ trial Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, former deputy chief of staff, testified in support of the soldiers on Monday. He later explained that the IDF has entered a “lethal legal nightmare” by allowing 600 soldiers and officers to be questioned by Military Police since the end of Operation Cast Lead.
“I do not know these soldiers but felt that there is a need to give them support even if they did something wrong they are not criminals,” he said. “We need to return to the time when the commander is in charge of investigating operational incidents and not everything needs to go to a trial.”
During the court session demonstrators outside held signs reading “Soldiers for Soldiers”, and “Every Mother Should Know that Her Son has Been Abandoned”, a play on a famous saying by former prime minister David Ben-Gurion that Jewish mothers should know that they are depositing their sons in trustworthy hands in the IDF.