The commander of a soldier from an armored battalion who fired a rubber bullet at a bound demonstrator two years ago in the West Bank village of Na’alin will not be demoted in rank and will be able to continue serving in the army, a special military tribunal in Tel Aviv ruled yesterday.
The officer, Lt. Col. Omri Borberg, was convicted three months ago of making threats and of conduct unbecoming of an officer.
It is not clear if the military prosecutor will appeal the decision after the prosecution demanded Borberg’s demotion.
The officer was dismissed from his command of his battalion after photographs of the incident in Na’alin appeared in the media around the world showing him ordering a soldier under his command to threaten the bound demonstrator, Ashraf Abu Rahma, with a weapon.
The soldier fired a rubber bullet which ricocheted, lightly wounding the demonstrator.
A demotion would have put an end to the officer’s military career for all practical purposes.
Instead the judges recommended that Borberg’s promotion in rank be delayed by two years and that he not be given a command authority for a year.
The soldier who fired the rubber bullet, Staff Sgt. (res.) Leonardo Korea, was demoted to private and given a criminal record, but was not given a jail term. The judges explained that Korea had “not sought to abuse” the demonstrator and is now a law-abiding citizen.
The military panel accepted the defense’s argument that Borberg had been sufficiently punished through his dismissal from command of his battalion. In their sentencing decision, the panel wrote that the case involved a “serious, inappropriate incident” and a violation of the fundamental values of the Israel Defense Forces. On hearing the decision, Borberg burst into tears.
Despite the recommendation that he not be placed in a command position, it is expected that Borberg will be assigned command positions inasmuch as two of his senior commanders, GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot and Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, testified on his behalf, saying that the incident involved an exception and that he should be put in command positions in the future.
The human rights group B’Tselem, which had distributed the video of the incident, said in a statement that it hoped the army would take heed of the judges’ ruling, adding that more serious violations had been committed in recent years that military enforcement officials had chosen to ignore.
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