Two Israeli soldiers who admitted to torching a Palestinian trader’s woodshed out of boredom, while on night duty, were sentenced to 60 days jail and an additional month of military labor on Thursday.
In a plea bargain, defense and prosecution lawyers had agreed to downgrade a charge of arson to one of exceeding authority in a manner that endangered life. The former carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, the latter a maximum of three.
The incident, which took place two months ago but has only just come to light, occurred at the end of a routine guard duty shift at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Nablus, Army Radio reported.
The two colonels, from the 932 battalion of the Nahal infantry brigade, who have been in detention following their arrest soon after the event, had arrived without the regulation equipment needed to light up a checkpoint on the road in the dark.
The squad’s leader, a sergeant, gave them a bottle of gasoline and permission to take 13 pieces of wood from the nearby woodshed to burn for light.
Allegedly, one bottle of gas was left at the end of the shift and one soldier said to the other, “Come on, let’s make a small bonfire.”
The two approached the woodshed, took a plank, set it on fire, and threw it into a woodpile right next to the shed, before walking away and getting on the bus back to their base, without telling anyone what they had done. The shed also caught fire.
They later told investigators that they had not intended to start a big fire, but had acted impulsively, out of boredom, on the spur of the moment.
One of them was quoted as telling investigators: “I sullied the honor of the army, my brigade, even, one could say, of the state. It was a mistake and if I’d thought about it a little, I wouldn’t have done it. We understand that we behaved like idiots. We’re both sorry. I clearly harmed somebody’s livelihood.”
He added, “I don’t understand how I could do it. I’m disappointed in myself.”
The soldiers’ expression of regret and their willingness to take responsibility paved the way for the plea bargain, Army Radio said.
Sentencing was carried out by a bench of justices at the Qastina military court, chaired by Col. Noah Zommer.
The court acquiesced to a defense request for two months in jail plus one month’s service, rejecting a prosecution demand for 10-month prison terms.