Three soldiers reach plea deal after brawl with Bedouin men

Servicemen will serve 50-day jail terms; Military Police reportedly said in talks with 7 other soldiers involved in altercation last month

Soldiers from the IDF Netzah Yehuda battalion argue with Bedouin men before fighting with them at a gas station in southern Israel on October 17, 2019. (Screen capture)
Soldiers from the IDF Netzah Yehuda battalion argue with Bedouin men before fighting with them at a gas station in southern Israel on October 17, 2019. (Screen capture)

Three IDF soldiers charged with assaulting an Israeli Bedouin man last month have reached a plea deal with military prosecutors.

The deal will see them acknowledge the assault and serve 50-day jail terms, Channel 13 reported Thursday.

The three are part of a group of 13 soldiers serving in the religious Netzah Yehuda battalion of the Kfir infantry brigade, who are suspected of starting a violent altercation with a group of young Bedouin men at a gas station in southern Israel in mid-October.

Three more of the group were released by prosecutors late last month, apparently for lack of evidence.

Talks are reportedly underway with the remaining seven over a similar plea deal.

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 Bedouin 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.

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.

The soldiers’ cause was taken up by right-wing activists, including attorney and extreme-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who represented two of them.

Some of the parents also claimed in an October 26 letter to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi that one of the Bedouin men attempted to stab one of the soldiers and another tried to steal a firearm.

“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,” the parents complained in the letter.

“What do you expect from your soldiers when they hear that their comrade was attacked? Should they stay put for fear they will be accused of ‘group assault,’ or should they charge in and protect their comrade who is in trouble?”

As the incident involved soldiers, the Israel Police transferred the complaint to the IDF Military Police, which launched an investigation, the army said last month.

Upon their arrest, the Military Police released a statement saying the troops were “suspected of group assault, intimidation and illegal use of firearms.”

It added: “If any of the soldiers are found to have violated IDF orders or the law, they will be dealt with severely.”

The case appears to rest largely on who instigated the fight.

The parents and attorneys of the soldiers claimed the Bedouin men threatened and harassed the servicemen as they arrived at the gas station at approximately 1 a.m., coming home from the funeral of 14-year-old Asher Hazut, who died after he was struck by lightning earlier that 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 men rejected the soldiers’ claims, saying that the servicemen initiated the confrontation, yelling that they were “dirty Arabs” and calling out, “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 Netzah Yehuda battalion, which operates in the West Bank, have been at the center of several controversies connected to right-wing extremism and violence against Palestinians in recent years.

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