Military prosecutors decided Sunday to release three out of 13 soldiers from the religious Netzah Yehuda battalion suspected of fighting with a group of young Bedouin men at a gas station in southern Israel earlier this month.
The remaining 10 soldiers are still under arrest and will face a remand hearing at the Jaffa Military Court on Monday.
Attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, representing two of the soldiers who are still being held, called for all of the servicemen to be released.
“We can’t have a situation in which soldiers continue to be in jail in impossible conditions, were forced to undergo military police investigations, while the Bedouin who broke the law are walking around free,” he said. “We demand that the other 10 also be released.”
On Saturday night, the arrested soldiers’ parents wrote to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi saying, “Incredibly, the Bedouin involved were not questioned at all about the stabbing threats and the attempt to grab a gun that were reported by the soldiers.
“What do you expect from your soldiers when they hear that their comrade was attacked? Should they stay put out of a fear that they will be accused of group assault or should they should they charge and protect their comrade who is in trouble?” the parents wrote.
Military Police last week arrested 14 soldiers over the incident, which is still under investigation.
“The soldiers are suspected of the crimes of group assault, making threats and illegal use of their weapons,” the military said in a statement on Wednesday.
One of the soldiers was released over the weekend.
The confrontation occurred in the predawn hours of October 17 at Dvira Junction, just outside the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat.
A video from the gas station shows the servicemen first arguing with the men, one of whom worked at the gas station. Moments later a soldier can be seen walking up to one of the men and shoving him. The man then slaps the soldier.
תיעוד| הרגע בו המתדלק בתחנת הדלק בדביר הותקף ע"י חיילי כפיר; הורי החיילים טוענים: "סיפור הבדואים הוא שקר וכזב, אינו תואם לא את סיפור ילדיהם ולא את דרכם המוסרית של בניהם"; דובר צה"ל: "ככל שיימצא כי חיילים חרגו מפקודות צה״ל או מהחוק הם יטופלו במלוא החומרה".@MaarivOnline pic.twitter.com/CnpiRulOv4
— Yasser Okbi (@OkbiYasser) October 21, 2019
The soldiers, who were all armed with Tavor assault rifles, and the unarmed men then begin fighting, mostly pushing and shoving each other. In their complaint to police, the Bedouin men said some of the soldiers also hit them with the butts of their guns.
As the incident involved soldiers, the Israel Police transferred the complaint to the IDF Military Police, which launched an investigation, the army said.
“If any of the soldiers are found to have violated IDF orders or the law, they will be dealt with severely,” the military said in a statement.
The case appears to rest largely on who instigated the fight.
The parents and attorneys of the soldiers claim that the Bedouin men threatened and harassed the servicemen as they arrived at the gas station at approximately 1 a.m. last Thursday, coming home from the funeral of 14-year-old Asher Hazut, who died after being struck by lightning earlier in the week.
The father of one of the soldiers told Israel’s Kan broadcaster that one of the Bedouin men threatened to “stab a soldier in the heart.”
The Bedouin men rejected the soldiers’ claims, saying that the servicemen initiated the confrontation, yelling that they were “stinky Arabs” and calling “death to Arabs.”
A brother of the gas station employee involved in the altercation also denied the soldier’s father’s allegation that they had threatened the servicemen with a knife.
“If there were threats with a knife or an attempted stabbing, why didn’t they call the police or make an arrest? If such a thing had occurred, the driver of their bus… wouldn’t have called to them, ‘Come on, get on quick so we can get out of here because they called the police,'” the brother told the Maariv newspaper.
Soldiers in the religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion of the Kfir Infantry Brigade, which operates in the West Bank, have been at the center of several controversies connected to right-wing extremism and violence against Palestinians.