A military court Sunday handed down three-month suspended jail sentences to two Givati soldiers charged with endangering the life of a nine-year-old boy in Operation Cast Lead two years ago.
The court rejected military prosecutors’ demand “to send a clear message to elite soldiers” by ordering them to serve time in jail. The soldiers’ defense attorney argued that their offense was at worst a disciplinary violation.
They were charged with violating procedures prohibiting soldiers from ordering children to open packages that are suspected of containing explosives. A United Nations report by retired South African Judge Richard Goldstone charged the Israeli Defense Forces with various “war crimes” and using Arab civilians as "human shields" in the counter-terrorist campaign. This is the only instance of an incident that could be connected with Goldstone's sweeping accusations.
Besides the probated three-month sentence, the soldiers were demoted from the rank of staff sergeant to that of sergeant. They already have completed their mandatory army service.
The sentence was relatively light, but the conviction of a criminal offense will hang over them the rest of their lives.
Children as young as the age of 13 attacked soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) during the Cast Lead war. The IDF also recorded frequent incidents of Arabs carrying parcels and packages containing explosive bombs to be used in an attack on the military and on civilians.
The two convicted soldiers testified that they feared for their lives and those of their comrades when they saw the parcel. There were no men present, and instead of insulting a woman, they asked the oldest-looking child to open the parcel.
A friend of one of the soldiers told the Yisrael HaYom (Israel Today) Hebrew-language newspaper that if the soldiers were sent to jail, it would be a “certificate of shame to the entire IDF and the country and an earthquake that would announce a war against soldiers.”
They added that a prison sentence should cause soldiers to start thinking about their ability “to take on missions in life-endangering situations.”