Court acquits Givati cmdr. of charges related to death of Palestinian girl.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFFGivati Brigade company commander Capt. R. broke down and cried after the Southern Command Military Court acquitted him of all charges, a year after he was accused of shooting Palestinian school girl Iyman al-Hams, 13, at point blank range and "verifying the kill" outside the Girit outpost near Rafah.
"I told you I was innocent. I am happy that the truth has finally come out," Capt. R. told members of the press at the courthouse upon hearing the verdict.
The officer's father, Rajah, praised the army's legal system, calling it "just and fair." The family had suffered greatly in the past year, he said in an interview on Channel 2, noting that never once did the family doubt their son's innocence. "He was educated to respect people and be dedicated. I am proud of our son, the court's verdict is our victory and the army's victory," he said. Capt. R. intended to continue serving in the army, he added.
According to his lawyer, Elad Eizenberg, the captain never fired a burst of gunfire at point blank range into the girl's body and he was not the only one to shoot that day. "He did not shoot at the girl at point blank range, the soldiers lied because they wanted to oust him," the attorney said.
In the 100-page court protocol that summed up the judges' unanimous decision of the shooting, the judges accepted the officer's claim that he thought the schoolgirl was a terrorist. The judges harshly criticized the military police probe, calling it amateurish. They also criticized the media, accusing it of being quick to judge the officer's fate before the court trial had been concluded.
The court also found that Capt. R had acted in accordance with army regulations and genuinely believed that the girl was in fact a terrorist at the time of the shooting.
Capt R. was indicted last November on two counts of illegal use of weapons, obstruction of justice, unbecoming behavior and the improper use of authority that endangered others. Throughout, he denied the charges against him and expressed his intention to clear his name.
According to the initial probe and the officer's version of events, in the early morning hours of October 5, 2005, soldiers spotted "someone" carrying a bag in an area off-limits to Palestinians near Rafah. Suspecting the bag might contain a bomb and taking into account that hours earlier shots were fired at the post, soldiers shot the figure. They then closed in, discovering the girl.
The officer was also accused of "verifying the kill" a term used when bullets are pumped into a body to ensure that an armed and dangerous suspect is dead. The accusation was leveraged based on the false testimony of two soldiers who claimed to have seen the officer shooting the girl at close range.
Lt.-Col. (Res.) Ronen Ketsef, the military prosecutor, said he intended to appeal the court decision. "The military police investigation was carried out properly. We need time to study the 100-page verdict, but the court also noted in its decision that it was necessary to investigate the incident," he said on Channel 1.
In February this year, in a dramatic about-face, one of the soldiers who testified that he had seen Capt. R. shoot Hams to death at point-blank range admitted to the court that he had lied. Because of the developments, the court ordered the release of Capt. R. from custody and the return of his weapon.
At the time, Eizenberg told The Jerusalem Post that the charges against his client were based mainly on the testimonies of two soldiers - the one who recanted and another who, in an earlier hearing, was unable to confirm that the company commander had aimed his weapon and shot the girl.
Eizenberg said Capt. R had taken up his post just two months before the girl was killed. "He fought against all sorts of problems he encountered among the soldiers in an attempt to restore discipline. The soldiers apparently took advantage of the situation and decided to incriminate him and kick him out. They had a clear-cut agenda," he said.
On October 15, 2004, after reviewing an internal probe of the OC Southern Command officers, former Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon supported the officer's dismissal from the company, citing his lack of leadership as the cause of the incident. Ya'alon, at the time, said there were no grounds to dismiss the commander but warned that, if the military police investigation proved otherwise, the commander would be prohibited from serving in any position of command.
The investigation described the soldiers' actions - including their to leave their position and the failure to identify the girl - as a series of professional foul-ups.