Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - Page 6 News List

No jail for Israeli soldiers who used boy as a shield

THE Guardian, JERUSALEM

Two Israeli soldiers who used a nine-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield were given suspended sentences and demoted on Sunday after being convicted of “inappropriate conduct.”

The unnamed soldiers, from the Givati Brigade, ordered Majeh Rabah, from the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City, to check bags for explosives in January last year, toward the end of Israel’s three-week offensive.

The pair, who completed their compulsory military service 18 months ago, were convicted last month after a closed military trial that became a cause celebre among soldiers who claim they are being victimized following international criticism over Israel’s actions during the war.

The Israel Defense Force handbook forbids the use of human shields.

Both soldiers were given three-month sentences suspended for two years and were demoted from staff sergeant to sergeant. They had faced a maximum of three years in prison.

The military judges said the soldiers did not have immunity for their actions, but the court could not “ignore the difficult conditions in which fighters sent by the State of Israel had to operate.”

The sentence — described as “light” by Army Radio — was criticized by the boy’s mother, Alaf Rabah.

“This is a scandal that just encourages others to continue in this behavior, which sends a negative message to both the victims and the soldiers,” she told the Ynet Web site.

The family is considering a civil action.

The soldiers’ lawyer, Ilan Katz, said he was satisfied with the outcome, adding that it showed a criminal trial was inappropriate.

Majed was among dozens of men, women and children who were sheltering in a basement when the soldiers forced him to open a bag at gunpoint, according to the boy’s affidavit, given to Defense for Children International (DCI), which filed a complaint against the Israeli army.

“I thought they would kill me,” Majed said. “I became very scared and wet my pants. I could not shout or say anything because I was too afraid ... I opened the bag as he pointed his weapon directly at me. I emptied the bag on the floor. It contained money and papers. I looked at him and he was laughing.”

The child has been traumatized since the incident, according to his family, and has been demanding that the door of their home is locked at all times.

Gerard Horton, of DCI, said: “The sentence shows that the army and military justice system does not take its obligation to protect civilians seriously.”

Sarit Michaeli, of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, said: “Although individual soldiers do bear responsibility if they have violated rules, this has to be accompanied by systematic examination of issues of policy — such as what constitutes a legitimate target, open fire regulations, types of weapons used and the targeting of public buildings.”

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