Soldier questioned over ‘Cast Lead’

Trial followed B'Tselem inquiry in death of two Arab women.

cast lead 311 (photo credit: kobi gideon)
cast lead 311
(photo credit: kobi gideon)
IDF Military Advocate General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday summoned a recently discharged soldier who fought in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead for a hearing amid suspicions that the soldier killed two innocent women during the operation.
The incident took place on January 4 in Juhar a-Dik, near Gaza City, when a group of about 30 Palestinian civilians, including women and chil- dren, approached an Israeli military position. The group, according to several eyewitness accounts, was waving white flags.
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At a certain point, one of the IDF soldiers from the Givati Brigade opened fire, killing 35- year-old Majda Abu Hajiji and her 64-year-old mother Salama.
The incident was later thoroughly investigated by B’Tselem and mentioned in the Goldstone Report.
During a military probe shortly following the incident, one soldier was singled out as responsible for opening fire at the group of civilians.
“Ahmad and Majda waved white flags, so the soldiers would see us. Suddenly, they opened fire at us, and we began to run eastward,” Majda’s sister- in-law Farhaneh Abu Hajaj later told B’Tselem.
“My mother-in-law was behind us because she couldn’t run. While I ran, I saw Majda on the ground. I thought she was lying there so she wouldn’t be hit by the gunfire. I said to her, ‘Get up! Get up!’ But she didn’t move. I finally realized she had been killed by the gunfire.”
Mandelblit decided last year to open a Military Police criminal investigation into the incident during which the soldier was interrogated but explained that he had felt in danger, was in the middle of a battle, and therefore opened fire.
In October, B’Tselem facilitated the transfer of four Palestinians who were involved in the incident to the Erez Crossing where they gave testimony to Military Police investigators.
Next week, Mandelblit will hold a special hearing for the soldier before deciding whether to press charges and if so of what severity. Military sources said that the evidence collected by Military Police investigators raised “serious questions” regarding the soldier’s conduct during the incident.
 B’Tselem welcomed the decision by Mandelblit to summon the soldier for a hearing but expressed concern that the IDF investigations were ending at the tactical level and not with the echelon that gave the orders how to fight inside Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
“We welcome this decision but there are still many cases that are waiting to be concluded,” B’Tselem spokeswomen Sarit Michaeli said.
“Our fear is that the Military Police probes are dealing with the soldiers on the ground but not with those who gave the orders.”