A Givati Brigade soldier, indicted for manslaughter following the fatal shooting of a mother and daughter during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, agreed to a plea bargain in which he will serve time for illegal use of a weapon.
The plea bargain was approved Sunday by a military court in Jaffa. “I’m very glad it’s over,” said the soldier, who cannot be named and is referred to as “S.”
S will serve 45 days in prison after his defense lawyers demonstrated to the court that there was no direct connection between the shots he fired and the deaths of Majeda Abu Hajaj, 35, and her mother Raya Salama Abu Hajaj, 64, Army Radio said. A conviction of manslaughter could have carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
S said it had been proven “that the accusations against me were not correct… Now I start my live over.”
The incident was recalled in the United Nations-initiated Goldstone Report into Israel’s actions during the 2008-2009 conflict against Hamas. But conflicting and vague testimonies made it difficult to identify exactly who was responsible for the deaths of the two women.
The Goldstone Report, issued in September 2009, accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza during Cast Lead. Goldstone retracted this accusation in April 2011; his three co-authors distanced themselves from that retraction.
On January 4, 2009, according to various reports, a group of Gaza civilians carrying makeshift white flags approached an IDF position manned by Givati soldiers, including S, and their officers. The soldiers had received reports that a terrorist might attempt to draw close to their position under the cover of a group of civilians. At one point, some of the soldiers, S among them, opened fire on the group, without first being ordered to do so by their commanding officer. S later admitted that he had fired shots and reported hitting one of the people in the group.
Palestinian testimony indicated that the two women were killed in the incident, but felled by tank fire. Israel has said that there were no tanks in the immediate area at that time. S’s defense team argued that there was no evidence that the women died in this incident.
S. was questioned by the military police only in 2010, and explained his actions by describing the incident as a threatening situation endangering the lives of the soldiers, and saying he fired at the legs of the advancing crowd.
S’s defense team argued that in the aftermath of the incident, investigators were unable to conclusively establish where the deceased women had been killed, nor exactly who it was that had been wounded, or which of the soldiers had fired fatal shots at the group if any such shots were fired
Following the investigation, S was transferred to a non-combat position where he remained until the end of his mandatory service in 2010.
In the wake of the plea bargain, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem demanded that the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) reopen the file into the killing of Majeda and Rayah Abu Hajaj. Since the military prosecution accepted the claim brought by the soldier’s lawyers, that there was no connection between the shooting he admitted to and the killing of the Palestinian mother and daughter, “this means that the investigation into this incident was never completed,” it said. “The MPIU must therefore solve the case and pursuant to the finding, hold accountable those responsible.”
Operation Cast Lead was a three-week conflict in the winter of 2008-2009 in which IDF forces entered the Gaza Strip and battled Hamas in an effort to stop Palestinian rocket fire on communities and cities in southern Israel.
In many cases, the IDF took steps — including via radio broadcast and phone calls — to encourage Gaza civilians to leave areas where it was about to confront Hamas targets. In some cases, conflict took place in the confined spaces of an urban environment that put Palestinian civilians in close proximity to the fighting.