Bereaved parents plead for leniency for soldiers accused of beating Palestinians

Bereaved parents plead for leniency for soldiers accused of beating Palestinians

Father and son detainees accuse servicemen of punching and stamping on them, hitting them with rifle butts while they were bound and blindfolded

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers blindfolding and detaining Palestinians. (Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers blindfolding and detaining Palestinians. (Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The bereaved parents of two slain IDF soldiers, whose unit members are facing trial for seriously beating two bound and blindfolded Palestinian suspects in revenge for their comrades’ deaths, have asked military courts to be lenient in sentencing the accused servicemen.

The written requests came as media reports revealed testimony from the two Palestinians in which they claimed the soldiers repeatedly beat them and forced one of them, a teenage boy, to watch as his father was assaulted.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers Sgt. Yosef Cohen and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef were shot dead near the Givat Assaf outpost on December 13, in an attack that also seriously wounded two other people — soldier Netanel Felber and Shira Sabag, a civilian woman. The shooter, Asem Barghouti, was arrested by the IDF nearly a month later.

Five Israeli soldiers from Cohen and Yosef’s unit are charged with seriously beating two handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian suspects, a father and his 15-year-old son, who were arrested during the search for Barghouti, on suspicion of having aided the gunman’s escape.

The soldiers involved, all of whom serve in the Kfir Brigade’s religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion, deny the accusations and claim they did not abuse the Palestinian detainees.

A photo composite shows Sgt. Yosef Cohen, left, and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade. The two were killed on December 13, 2018, in a terrorist shooting attack outside the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank. (Israel Defense Forces)

In letters to the IDF Chief Military Advocate General and the judge presiding over the case, the parents of Cohen and Yosef asked that the emotional pain the accused soldiers suffered be taken into consideration, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Wednesday.

“These soldiers, who are on trial for beating terrorists who murdered my son, are not criminals,” wrote Ilana Mor Yosef, mother of Yuval. “They share our pain. They are brothers in arms of our sons, their comrades.”

“The soldiers’ pain is my pain, their punishment is my punishment, their honor is my honor and the honor of my son,” she added.

Eliyahu and Odel Cohen, parents of Yosef, sent a letter urging that consideration be given to the accused soldiers’ argument that they received no emotional support in dealing with their comrades’ deaths and were put under enormous emotional strain when tasked with guarding two Palestinians suspected of helping the killer.

“These combat soldiers were brothers in arms, brothers in pain, injured brothers, and from the day that Yosef was murdered, they became our sons,” the Cohens wrote. “As bereaved parents we know the pain of bereavement did not pass over them… The moment when they lost their friends is not a moment to judge their shortcomings.”

An indictment was filed at the end of last month against the five soldiers, who are charged with aggravated assault and aggravated abuse.

The two Palestinians are suspected of assisting Barghouti in his escape. They remain in Israeli custody but have yet to be charged.

On Tuesday the Ynet news site published excerpts from the 300 pages of testimony investigators have gathered from the platoon commander, the military doctor who treated the prisoners, the Netzah Yehuda battalion commander and the two prisoners.

Asem (L) and Salih (R) Barghouti at a rally in Kobar after the former was released from Israeli prison in April 2018 (screenshot: Twitter)

The incident occurred on January 8, after the two were arrested during the operation to capture Barghouti. They had been loaded onto a military van and transported from the Abu Shukheidim village to an IDF base in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, some 15 minutes away.

When they arrived at the base, the two prisoners’ injuries were so bad that Border Police officers who were supposed to take custody of them and transfer them for questioning elsewhere refused to do so, Ynet reported. Medical examinations later found the Palestinians had suffered broken ribs and their noses were broken.

One of the soldiers filmed some of the beatings, though publication of the footage has been banned under a gag order.

In his testimony, the teenage Palestinian described how in addition to his own beating, he was forced to watch the soldiers hitting his father.

“I lay on the floor on my back,” he told investigators. “My hands were cuffed behind my back. I was cuffed throughout the drive,” he said and noted he was also blindfolded.

“When I got into the vehicle, one of the soldiers grabbed me and threw me inside. I was hit in the face, the chest area, the stomach, the legs, and the knees. Four soldiers beat me, with their hands, legs, and weapons.”

“One of the soldiers stamped on my leg. I took a lot of punches to the face. I couldn’t count them. Also the chest. They hit me on the knee with the barrel of a gun and with the butt of a gun in the chest, on the knees, on the thighs and the testicles. When I got out of the vehicle my face was swollen. I couldn’t open my left eye. My mouth was full of blood and also my shirt. I was also bleeding from my nose,” he said.

The teenager recalled that his blindfold was removed so that he could see what was happening to his father. One of the soldiers asked him to say the phrase, “With blood and soul we will redeem Palestine,” a popular chant among Palestinian nationalists.

“Each time they beat my father they asked me, ‘Is everything okay?’ They cursed me in Arabic. When they took the blindfold off and told me to watch how my father was receiving blows they said, ‘Look at your father, he deserves to be beaten.'”

“I saw them beating my father in the face and in the chest with a weapon and that caused broken bones,” he said. “My hands were tied behind my back. I couldn’t do anything and I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t resist and none of those in the vehicle tried to stop the violence. When they finished beating us they danced.”

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The father said he was interrogated for half an hour in a neighbor’s home after his arrest and then was taken away by the soldiers.

“At first they beat me with a belt and cursed me. When I asked them why they were beating me, they hit me with the butt of a gun. After that one of the soldiers stamped on my face and broke my nose. I bled massively during the journey and the soldiers didn’t give me anything. They beat me unconscious.”

“They trampled on me more than five times all over my body,” the father said, recalling he heard the soldiers beating his son. “Later I had an operation and they found I had three broken ribs.”

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 extent of the father’s injuries was so great that he could not be interrogated for several days.

The soldier who filmed the incident told investigators he did so to try and embarrass the soldiers into stopping the assault. In addition, the solder claimed he sent the video to their unit’s basic training instructor to show him how poorly the soldiers he trained had turned out.

According to the Ynet report, the soldier had denied making the video until investigators showed him the evidence.

The IDF said in a statement Tuesday that the five soldiers had agreed to have their detention extended until February 19, among other things to enable mediation.

Mediation for a plea bargain is scheduled to start next week.

According to the Shin Bet, the gunman, Asem Barghouti, also took part in another shooting attack on December 9 with his brother, Salih, in which they injured seven Israelis, among them a seven-months pregnant woman, who was seriously wounded. The woman’s baby was delivered in an emergency operation, but died days later.

Salih Barghouti was shot dead on December 12 in Kobar as he attacked Israeli security forces in an attempt to evade arrest, the army said at the time.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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