Three Israeli soldiers from the religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion were convicted Thursday of abusing two Palestinian prisoners, after accepting a plea deal with military prosecutors.
Under the agreement, the servicemen pleaded guilty to aggravated abuse in the January incident and will receive 190 days in prison, a demotion in rank, and probation, but will avoid more serious assault charges.
Their sentencing hearing, where a final decision will be made regarding punishment, has been scheduled for Sunday.
The three soldiers were part of a group of five servicemen of the Kfir Brigade’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion who were arrested in January and charged with severely abusing two Palestinian suspects believed to have assisted a terrorist who had killed two of their comrades in a shooting attack at a bus stop.
The two other soldiers indicted in January have yet to reach similar plea agreements with military prosecutors, but the two sides were still working to negotiate one, a military official said.
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 last month with failing to prevent the assault, despite knowing that it was occurring.
At the hearing, one of the convicted soldiers indicated that the trauma of losing their friends in a terror attack was what prompted the abuse.
On December 13, Palestinian Asem Barghouti opened fire at a bus stop outside the Givat Assaf outpost near Ramallah, killing two soldiers stationed there and seriously injuring a third serviceman and a civilian woman, according to the IDF.
Barghouti, who fled the scene after the shooting, was arrested in the home of an alleged accomplice in the nearby village of Abu Shukheidim on January 8. The two Palestinians involved in the beating incident were arrested the same day in the village on suspicion they assisted Barghouti in hiding from security forces.
“We drove past the Givat Assaf bus stop with the bullet holes and everything just came to the surface. This incident was totally unlike me,” the soldier said. “I regret it.”
In January, 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.
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 Netzah Yehuda 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.