Israeli soldiers are almost never prosecuted for killings in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din said yesterday after finding over the past 15 years, no officers were indicted for murder, and only one soldier was convicted of homicide in the case of the killing of a foreign national.
No soldiers were charged with homicide in the slaying of Palestinians during the period of September 2000 to November 2015. In this time frame Israeli forces killed more than 5,500 Palestinians and ten foreign nationals in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, according to the human rights group B’tselem (this figure excludes casualties from both the 2009 and 2014 wars in Gaza).
“The fact is that we see the cases and we see the statistics, and it just seems the army doesn’t know how to or doesn’t have the ability to investigate these cases property,” said Yesh Din spokesperson Gilad Grossman, “And I’m not sure they have the will to do it either.”
Yesh Din analyzed data released by Israeli’s military court and found investigations were opened into the killings of 262 cases since 2000, leading to the indictments of 22 soldiers, and the conviction of seven.
The Israeli military did not disclosed information on all of the incidents where soldiers were sentenced. Filling in the blanks on one of the two negligent homicide convictions, Yesh Din conducted an independent inquiry and found a staff sergeant identified as “M.M.” opened fire on Palestinian Udai Darwish, 21, as he attempted to cross into Israel near the Negev in 2013. Darwish did not pose any threat to M.M. at the time of his killing.
For Darwish’s death, the soldier served less than one year in prison.
Yesh Din said M.M. “was convicted on the basis of his own admission and sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment, a five-month suspended sentence, and demotion to the rank of sergeant.”
In a similar case where Yesh Din said two soldiers were indicted but not convicted of reckless behavior in 2013, Israeli forces killed Samir Awad, 16, from the West Bank town of Budrus. Awad was shot multiple times while caught between two army fences that comprise the wall separating the occupied Palestinian territory from Israel.
Awad’s killing was one of 22 cases profiled in Amnesty International’s 2013 report Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank. The year of his death marked an increase in the killings of Palestinian civilians, twice as many were slain that year than in the two years prior.
Amnesty International said in the report Awad’s shooting may have amounted to an “extrajudicial killing,” or a willful execution, which is considered a war crime under international law.
Amnesty International’s Philip Luther questioned the legality of the shooting.
“It’s hard to believe that an unarmed child could be perceived as posing imminent danger to a well-equipped soldier. Israeli forces appear in this and other cases to have recklessly fired bullets at the slightest appearance of a threat,” Luther said.
Witness Malik Murar, 16, and a friend of Awad told Amnesty International, “They shot him first in the leg, yet he managed to run away… how far can an injured child run? They could have easily arrested him… instead they shot him in the back with live ammunition.”
“The fact that they don’t indict on more severe charges—I’m not talking about murder, nobody has been charged with that,” Grossman said, “raises a lot of questions.”
The most serious conviction handed down was for the charge of homicide in the killing of a British citizen, Tom Hurndall, 22. Hurdnall was shot by an Israeli soldier in the head in 2003 while volunteering in Gaza.
Grossman’s view is light sentences reflect a culture within military tribunals that sees these incidents not as “an extreme criminal case, but as a a mistake that happens during soldiers’ work.”
In other types of criminal offenses such as sexual abuse, Israeli military courts near a 50 percent rate of conviction.