Riot in Nalin
Riot in NalinIsrael news photo: (Flash 90)

IDF attorneys have announced that two soldiers accused of firing a rubber bullet at a handcuffed Palestinian Authority Arab will face tougher charges than before, following criticism from the Supreme Court. Earlier this month Supreme Court justices slammed the decision to charge the soldiers with “unbecoming conduct” as insufficient.

At the time, IDF officials in the Military Advocates Office defended the decision, saying that one soldier – the commanding officer – had not truly intended for the other to fire, and therefore “unbecoming conduct” was a sufficiently serious charge. In addition, they said, neither soldier had intended to wound the detainee, but rather, to intimidate him in order to secure his cooperation.

However, on Wednesday officials announced that the commanding officer would be charged with threatening a detainee, while the soldier who fired would be charged with illegal use of a weapon.

Both charges bear a punishment of up to three years in prison, and would go on the soldiers' permanent criminal records.

The affair began in 2008, when the organization B'Tselem released a video showing a soldier firing a rubber bullet at the lower leg of a PA Arab man, Ashraf abu-Rahma, who had been arrested during a riot in the village of Nalin. A second soldier held the man back as the shot was fired.

Abu-Rahma claims that the shot injured his foot. With help from B'Tselem and similar organizations, he filed an appeal to the Supreme Court asking for tougher punishments for the two soldiers involved in the incident and won the court's support.

Judges termed the charges against the soldiers “extremely insufficient,” and ordered the military prosecutors to reexamine the case. Military attorneys called the ruling “a tough blow.”

Following the verdict, Abu-Rahma expressed hope that “justice will be served.”

Rahma: Continue in the Path of Yassin

According to the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group, Abu-Rahma is “widely known for his organizing in Bilin and Nalin” against Israel's separation barrier, and is also known for “organizing mass popular demonstrations in confrontation of the occupation.” Following the incident with the two soldiers, Abu-Rahma was honored by several local terrorist groups, including the PFLP.

At the event in his honor, he called on those present to follow in the path of “martyrs” such as assassinated PFLP leader Ali Mustafa, deceased Fatah head Yasser Arafat, and assassinated Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, according to the PFLP.

Mechina head: A Dangerous Precedent

Moshe Hagar, head of the pre-IDF academy (mechina) in Beit Yatir, expressed deep concern over the Military Advocate's change of heart in an interview with Arutz Sheva. The Supreme Court set a dangerous precedent, he said.

The ruling will put soldiers in Nalin and other dangerous areas in an “impossible” situation, he warned. “There have been cases where soldiers were put on trial for opening fire accidently, and their friends who were operating in Gaza later refrained from giving an order to fire out of fear that they, too, would be put on trial. These cases frighten soldiers and make them unwilling to fight,” he said.

In addition, the Supreme Court ruling “does not demonstrate faith in the military justice system,” he stated.

Hagar sharply criticized leftists groups such as B'Tselem that take the lead in pressing charges against soldiers in combat zones. “I don't understand why the head of Central Command allows them to enter the territory... They should not be allowed to dominate the scene at checkpoints, or to enter areas where troops are active,” he said. Israeli society should denounce such groups, he added.