A military court on Wednesday sentenced an Israeli soldier to seven months in jail for beating detained Palestinians.
In addition to jail time, the convicted soldier was also slapped with a six-month suspended sentence and demoted to the rank of corporal for two counts of abuse and aggravated abuse arising when he beat Palestinians while they were under arrest at the battalion’s base several months ago.
The case followed the indictment in November of five other soldiers from the same Netzah Yehuda Battalion for abusing a Palestinian suspect they had arrested near the West Bank city of Jenin.
A senior rabbi appealed to the judges in this latest case to be lenient with the ultra-Orthodox soldier so as not to harm attempts to recruit men from his Haredi community.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have been staging protests and riots against the draft. As recently as Tuesday, protesters attacked military police and overturned a cruiser when an anti-military draft protest in the coastal city of Ashdod turned violent.
In determining the sentence, the three judges wrote that it was important to deter other soldiers from behaving in such a way, especially in light of other instances of injury to Palestinians detained at the base. They noted in their reasoning that deterrence was critical and that “the message must be absolutely clear.”
In November, five soldiers from the same battalion were charged and accused of having blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten a Palestinian detained near Jenin. One of those soldiers allegedly attached electrodes to the man’s neck and sent a current through him. When the detainee pleaded with him to stop, he increased the voltage, according to the indictment cited by Haaretz.
In this latest case, defense lawyer Adi Keidar of the right-wing legal aid group Honenu successfully persuaded the court to alter the initial charge sheet and drop two out of four counts of abuse.
Character witnesses included the soldier’s commander, who said the accused was “the best soldier there is, a soldier you can depend on, with a good head on his shoulders,” even during intense periods of terror attacks and serious pressure.
Rabbi Yitzhak Bar-Haim, one of the founders of the Haredi battalion, said the accusations against the soldier, whom he called a “righteous person,” were not in character and were surely caused by the severe pressures of army service.
He cited the “bold step” the soldier had taken in agreeing to serve in the IDF despite the negative atmosphere in which he had grown up, and urged the judges to understand that a severe punishment would play into the hands of Haredi groups opposed to military conscription.
“The parents are heroes, look at them, this is the public that sends [its sons] to the army and now they, too, won’t send [them]?”
Despite this, the prosecution demanded maximum punishments for each conviction and asked that one punishment run consecutively rather than simultaneously.
Keidar accused the military court and the prosecution of being “disconnected from operational activities in the field and the harsh reality which soldiers have to deal with on a daily basis.”