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Jail Term and Demotions Ordered for Soldiers Who Beat Arabs in Gaza

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A jail term and sharp reductions of rank were the sentences imposed by a military court Wednesday on four Israel Defense Force soldiers convicted of illegally beating two Arabs at El-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, one of whom subsequently died.

The stiffest penalty, two months in jail, a six-month suspended sentence and demotion to sergeant, went to Lt. Ofer Reshef, who actively participated in the February 1988 beatings.

His superior, Maj. Yitzhak Levitt, received a three-month suspended sentence and was reduced to the rank of lieutenant. The court observed that while Levitt was responsible as battalion commander, he did not participate in the incident.

Five-month suspended sentences and demotion to private were given the two non-commissioned officers, whom the court maintained were “less able to distinguish between right and wrong” by virtue of their lower rank.

All four defendants, members of the IDF’s elite Givati Brigade, received a stern lecture at the sentencing.

The court accused them of behavior that undermined the moral values of the IDF. Their offense represented a grave deviation from Israel’s norms of conduct, it said.

But although the four did not express remorse, the court said it took into consideration that the soldiers were experiencing grave frustration and enduring indignities at the hands of Palestinian mobs at the time of the incident, which occurred two months after the intifada broke out.

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The soldiers had argued that their orders were unclear.

Levitt claimed during the trial that higher-ranking officers lied about their orders, which he alleged stemmed directly from the defense minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin.

The court said nevertheless that the men legally could have and should have refused orders to beat Palestinians, which is unacceptable except in the process of quelling a disturbance or subduing a fugitive or rioter.

Punitive beatings are a “blatantly immoral order,” the military judges said.

The court noted that evidence of other illegal beatings involving the Givati Brigade came to light during the recent investigation and that the judge advocate general had been instructed to open criminal proceedings.

The evidence concerns an incident at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, which resulted in a fatality.

Brig. Gen. Amnon Strashnov, the IDF’s top-ranking legal officer, has instructed the military police to begin a formal investigation of Col. Efi Fein, who commanded the brigade at the time of the alleged incident.

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