As the trial for five Israeli soldiers charged with seriously beating two handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian suspects opened on Monday, their defense attorneys said that the serviceman were placed in a situation that did not take into consideration the emotional pressure they were under.
“They were called upon to perform an impossible task — to watch over people who helped murder their two best friends,” the attorneys told the military court in Jaffa.
The soldiers deny the accusations against them and claim they did not abuse the Palestinian detainees.
Defense attorneys said they were in possession of psychological evaluations of the mental health condition of the servicemen, who were under the strain of an exhausting series of operations in the wake of a shooting attack that claimed the lives of two members of their unit, Channel 12 news reported.
Prosecutors were expected to ask that the soldiers be held under arrest until the end of proceedings.
Last Thursday military prosecutors filed indictments against the soldiers, who are suspected of beating the Palestinian suspects early last month, seriously injuring them, as a form of revenge for a terror attack that killed two of their comrades.
The five soldiers are 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 at the time.
The two Palestinian detainees — a father and son — had been arrested in a raid conducted as part of a search for a terrorist who had killed the servicemen’s comrades outside the Givat Assaf outpost in the central West Bank.
The Palestinians are suspected of assisting the terrorist in his escape. They remain in Israeli custody but have yet to be charged.
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 soldier 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 extent of the father’s injuries was so great that he could not be interrogated for several days.
The five soldiers were charged with aggravated assault and aggravated abuse, the army said last week.
In addition, two of the soldiers were indicted for obstruction of justice as they are suspected of trying to coordinate false testimonies about the incident.
With the filing of the charges, military prosecutors also requested to keep the five suspects in custody through the trial.
If convicted, the five soldiers would face heavy prison sentences.
Several right-wing politicians criticized the military last week for seeking to punish the soldiers.
Separately, the platoon commander of the soldiers, a lieutenant, is suspected of knowing about the abuse of the prisoners and not taking action against it. As of Thursday, he remains confined to base as military prosecutors determine what steps to take against him.
The soldiers involved all serve in the Kfir Brigade’s religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion.
Soldiers in the 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.
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 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.
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.