Second soldier accused of beating Palestinian prisoners accepts plea deal

Serviceman assents to terms a day after comrade agrees to plead guilty to aggravated abuse and serve 6.5-month prison sentence

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: An IDF soldier sits in a military court. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Illustrative: An IDF soldier sits in a military court. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

An IDF soldier, part of a group of five servicemen accused of beating two Palestinian prisoners last month, accepted a plea deal with military prosecutors on Monday, joining one of his comrades who had made a similar agreement a day earlier, the army said.

The soldiers, from the religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion of the Kfir Brigade, were arrested and charged with abusing the Palestinian suspects, believed to have assisted a terrorist who had killed two of their comrades in a shooting attack at a bus stop.

Under the deal, the two soldiers will plead guilty to aggravated abuse and serve six and a half months in prison, while avoiding a more serious charge of aggravated assault, an army official said.

They will also be placed on probation and demoted in rank to private.

One of the five Israeli soldiers from the Kfir Brigade arrested for allegedly beating two Palestinians in their custody arrives for a court hearing at the Jaffa Military Court on January 10, 2019. (Flash90)

Efforts to convince the other three soldiers involved in the alleged abuse to plead are ongoing, the military official said.

The five soldiers were indicted for aggravated assault and aggravated abuse. Two of them were also charged with obstruction of justice for attempting to coordinate their statements before they were interrogated.

According to the indictment, the soldiers viciously beat the two handcuffed and blindfolded prisoners — a father and son, who have since been charged with abetting the terrorist — and filmed their actions with a smartphone. One of the prisoners sustained such serious injuries that he was hospitalized and could not be interrogated by Israeli security forces for several days.

The soldiers’ commanding officer, a lieutenant, was also charged this month for failing to prevent the assault, despite knowing that it was occurring.

Since the indictments were filed, military prosecutors have attempted to convince the servicemen to plea in order to avoid trial.

The five soldiers were accused of “striking the Palestinians with slaps, punches and bludgeons, while they were handcuffed and blindfolded, causing them serious injuries,” the army said in a statement last month.

According to the indictment against the soldiers, during the assault, the troops removed the blindfold from the son “so that he would see how they were hitting” his father.

One of the soldiers filmed the violence with his cellphone, while the other soldiers “cheered with joy and pride to one another — all of this in front of the camera lens,” according to the indictment.

The servicemen are accused of striking the father in the head, face, right arm, back, ribs and legs, and of hitting the son in the head, face, chest, stomach, legs and testicles. “One of the suspects even pulled [the son’s] hair,” the indictment read.

The son had a number of wounds to his head and “significant swelling” to his face, according to the charge sheet. The father sustained multiple broken ribs and a “severely” broken nose, as well as subdermal bleeding around his stomach. He was hospitalized for three days after the beating, according to the indictment.

The lieutenant who was indicted last week is not suspected of having beaten the prisoners, but of having failed to stop the soldiers from doing so. He was charged with failing to prevent a crime, negligent assault, and conduct unbecoming an officer, the army said.

According to the military, the lieutenant “saw that his soldiers were acting very violently toward Palestinian prisoners, while they were handcuffed and blindfolded, and nevertheless failed to prevent them from continuing to strike the prisoners.”

He has been suspended from his position, the army added.

Soldiers in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, which operates in the West Bank, have been at the center of several controversies connected to right-wing extremists and Palestinians, especially of late.

Bezalel Smotrich after winning the election for chairman of the National Union, at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Jerusalem, January 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In December, two members of the battalion were dismissed from duty after they fought with a group of Border Police officers who had arrested civilian friends of theirs for throwing rocks at Palestinian homes in Ramallah.

Also in December, the Military Police launched an investigation into the actions of Netzah Yehuda soldiers who shot dead an East Jerusalem man whom they said tried to ram them with his car at a West Bank checkpoint. An initial investigation into the incident found that no such ramming attempt had occurred.

In 2016, a soldier from the battalion was sentenced to 21 days in military prison for taking part in what was called the “hate wedding,” in which extremists celebrated the murder of a Palestinian toddler several months earlier.

Soldiers from the battalion have also been convicted in the past of torturing and abusing Palestinian prisoners.

The battalion was created so that ultra-Orthodox and other religious soldiers can serve without feeling they are compromising their beliefs. The soldiers do not interact with female troops to the same extent as other servicemen and are given additional time for prayer and study.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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