Human shield trial - Ilan Assayag - Oct. 3, 2010
Friends of the convicted soldiers in court, Oct. 3, 2010 Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Several MKs yesterday called on President Shimon Peres to commute the probationary 3-month sentence handed out hours earlier to two former Givati Brigade soldiers, who forced a 9-year-old Palestinian child to open bags they feared might be booby-trapped.

The MKs, led by Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beiteinu ) specifically demand that the criminal record that comes with a probationary sentence be expunged, noting that the soldiers will carry the criminal record "as they come to study, to work, to move on in their lives."

"Holding trials like this amounts to forsaking the people who defend us day and night," the MKs wrote. "We appeal to you, Mr. President, on behalf of the soldiers and their families, to use your legal authority and expunge the criminal record, to allow the soldiers to live on honorably and be proud of their military service without this unnecessary mark of shame."

The letter came hours after the Kastina military court sentenced the two former Givati Brigade soldiers to demotion from staff sergeant to sergeant, and to three months' suspended sentence. The two were convicted a month and a half ago of exceeding their authority up to the degree of endangering lives and of conduct unbecoming a soldier.

The court agreed that "operational activity does not grant immunity," but went on to say that "we cannot ignore the difficult conditions in which the combat troops were operating on a mission from the State of Israel."

The judges said that although by forcibly separating a 9-year-old from his mother and using him for military needs, the soldiers were acting against instructions that they were aware of and against the spirit of the IDF, thereby causing damage to the "moral immunity of the army and the nation," there were many reasons for leniency.

Among those, the judges said, are the facts that the soldier did not intend to hurt the boy, that they were under time pressure, and in a dangerous situation, and that they both had excellent records, both military and personal. The judges also noted the potential damage to the soldiers' future.

The minimal demotion means they can still serve in commanding positions in their reserve service.

The case caused considerable public outrage in Israel, beginning with the indictments and culminating with the conviction. Their battalion commander testified as a defense witness, and family members, friends and supporters would arrive at court with t-shirts that said "We are all Goldstone victims," a reference to the report issued last year by the committee led by South African Justice Richard Goldstone on Operation Cast Lead.

The soldiers and their families yesterday voiced some satisfaction with the sentence, alongside disappointment with the criminal records that will remain with the men. "The military court has spoken and in light of the verdict we can only conclude it was possible to reach an arrangement without a criminal record," their lawyer, Ilan Katz, said yesterday.

At the same time, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al ), who is deputy speaker of the Knesset, commented that, "The message from the entire system is that the life of an Arab person is worth less, including lives of Arab children. The entire trial was a farce. The soldiers and their commanders should have gone to jail."