JERUSALEM (Oct. 4)
A military court in southern Israel began hearings Tuesday into charges that four reserve soldiers of the crack Givati Brigade caused bodily harm to two Palestinian residents of the El-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, one of whom subsequently died.
The defendants, Maj. Yitzhak Levitt, Lt. Ofer Reshef, Sgt. Maj. Eli Shukrun and Sgt. Gadi Geneva, pleaded not guilty. All came to court in civilian clothes and appeared outwardly calm.
According to the charge sheet, the four soldiers brutally attacked two young residents of the refugee camp in February 1988 because they were suspected of participating in a riot.
One of the youths, Hassan Akel, 20, died later at Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
The body was seized by members of his family before an autopsy could be performed. As a consequence, the soldiers are not charged with responsibility for causing his death.
The hearing opened only a few days after the commanding officer of the southern region, Gen. Matan Vilnai, pardoned three other Givati Brigade members who were serving prison sentences for their part in the fatal beating of a refugee camp resident last year.
The court rejected a defense motion that it disqualify itself because the president of the panel, Immanuel Gross, had presided over the earlier Givati trial and had expressed personal opinions.
The prosecution’s first witness was Brig. Gen. Ya’acov Or, who was commanding officer of the Gaza Strip at the time of the incident. He said soldiers had orders to use “reasonable force” only to disperse a violent crowd or to make arrests.
But Or conceded under questioning by the defense that in the early stages of the Palestinian uprising, orders were not sufficiently precise as to what constituted “legitimate force.”
Meanwhile, another trial opened in the same military court Wednesday.
The defendant, whose name has been withheld, is an Israel Defense Force lieutenant accused of unintentionally causing the death last November of a resident of Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.
Both trials are expected to raise anew the question of where to draw the line between the legitimate and the unlawful exercise of force.