Analysis: Military court refuses to sacrifice 2 ex-soldiers

Decision is clear blow to Military Advocate Mandelblit who was feared to be turning soldiers into scapegoats for Goldstone Report.

Col. Ilan Malka 311 (photo credit: IDF )
Col. Ilan Malka 311
(photo credit: IDF )
The Southern Command Military Court’s decision on Sunday to give two Givati soldiers a suspended jail sentence for using a Palestinian boy as a so-called “human shield” during Operation Cast Lead is a clear blow to Military Advocate General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit and his team of prosecutors.
The military prosecution had asked the court to sentence the two soldiers – who served in the Givati Brigade’s elite Reconnaissance Battalion – to jail time, for asking the boy to inspect bags suspected of concealing improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Givati 'human shield' soldiers sentenced to probation
Instead, the court decided to slap the soldiers on the wrist by demoting them from staffsergeant to sergeant – which, since they have already completed their service, does not really matter – and to give them a three-month suspended sentence. In other words, no jail time.
There was no question that the soldiers made a mistake, which they confessed to. The question that was left for the court to decide was whether two soldiers placed in possibly one of the most complicated battlefields in the world should be punished harshly. The court’s answer was no.
For many though, there was a feeling that Mandelblit was being extra harsh with the two soldiers from the beginning, just by deciding to press charges against them, rather to allow an internal trial by their unit commander.
Behind Mandelblit’s decision was, firstly, a concern that the High Court of Justice would overturn his decision if the charge was perceived as too lenient. He had already been burned earlier this year on a different case, involving a battalion commander who appeared to have ordered a soldier to shoot a rubber bullet at a Palestinian protesting against construction of the security barrier near Modi’in. In that case, the court forced him to up the charge.
The other fear was that Mandelblit was turning these two soldiers into the scapegoats for the Goldstone Report.
While the IDF has investigated some 400 complaints filed after Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and questioned more than 600 officers and soldiers, 20 of them under caution, only 50 evolved into criminal investigations and only three led to indictments.
The most severe indictment so far involves a soldier – also from Givati – who allegedly opened fire at a Palestinian woman on what Military Police suspect were unjustified grounds. He could face serious time in jail if convicted.
In another case, another two Givati soldiers were sent to jail for stealing a Palestinian’s credit card during the operation and using it to withdraw cash from an ATM in Israel.
And, in what could develop into an indictment, the commander of the Givati Brigade during the operation, Col. Ilan Malka, is under investigation for authorizing the bombing of a home that killed 21 innocent civilians from the same family. There are suspicions that Malka knew that civilians were in the building at the time, a claim he has denied.
It is interesting that all of the cases involve soldiers from the Givati Brigade. This is not because the Givati Brigade is more ruthless than other IDF units but rather, since it has evolved into the military’s leading unit for the Gaza Strip, it was sent the deepest into the Gaza’s densely-populated refugee camps and neighborhoods during the operation.
When fighting in such a setting, it would be unreasonable to assume mistakes and misjudgments wouldn’t happen.
Israel still has a lot of explaining to do. While the IDF tends to dismiss the Goldstone Report as anti-Israel propaganda, it is not viewed as such around the world.
This does not mean however that soldiers, like the two sentenced on Sunday, need to pay the price for the entire country.