The Israeli army' is planning to indict several soldiers who fought in Gaza last summer on charges of looting.
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The military police is investigating five incidents of suspected looting by Israeli troops during Operation Protective Edge. Four of the incidents took place in the southern Gaza towns of Khuza’a and in Khan Yunis, where Palestinians complained that Israeli troops had stolen their possessions when they fled their homes due to the fighting.
The fifth case, which took place in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City and was reported while the military operation was still underway, concluded with the arrest in August of a Golani Brigade combat soldier for allegedly stealing cash from a home.
According to the details that reached the Military Advocate General’s office, on July 20, several hours after the battle in Shujaiyeh ended, suspicions arose that a soldier of the Golani Brigade had taken cash from one of the houses. The soldier apparently regretted his action and informed his commanding officer. Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni ordered a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the incident. The findings of the probe by the military police raised suspicions that several soldiers had looted in Gaza and led to the army’s decision to prosecute them.
Since looting is a crime that carries a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a hearing will be held before the indictments are handed down. The soldiers’ defense attorneys recently received letters informing them of the Military Advocate General’s intent to indict the soldiers and will be given a chance to defend the them during the hearing.
Officials of the Military Advocate General’s office - which enforces law in the Israel Defense Forces - view looting as a serious offense because it “harms the Israeli army’s morality,” and because of its impact on the army’s international legitimacy.
IDF officials believe that looting also compromises the troops’ operational preparedness because a soldier who is on the lookout for cash or other valuable items is not fighting as he should be.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who spoke last month about the military police’s investigations following the operation in Gaza, said, “An investigation looks for people to blame. It looks back on the past. There are times where this is vital: If someone committed a criminal offense in battle — for example, looting, rape, deliberately shooting a woman or child or someone waving a white flag — that is breaking the rules; that has a criminal aspect. That is where the army’s criminal investigation division engages in a criminal probe.”
Ya’alon said then that he hoped that no one would decide to launch a criminal investigation into the Givati Brigade’s actions in Rafah in the wake of the kidnapping of the body of slain soldier, Lt. Hadar Goldin on August 1. The Military Advocate General is still looking into events of that so-called “Black Friday,” in which dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed in the army’s efforts to prevent the kidnapping of Goldin. No decision has been made whether to investigate the incident.
An official of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office said, “Letters about the hearing before the indictment of several soldiers suspected of involvement in looting during Operation Protective Edge were sent out over the past few days. Once the hearing procedures have been completed, the Military Advocate General’s office will make a decision regarding the event.”