Court Upholds Appeal of Soldier Convicted of Beating Palestinians, Slams Brass for Intervention

Military Court of Appeals criticizes conduct of Chief Military Advocate General and former GOC Central Command during court debate in appeal of Kfir infantry brigade soldier who was convicted of beating up a Palestinian at Kfar Kaddum in 2008.

The Military Court of Appeals yesterday harshly slammed the conduct of Chief Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit and former GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni. The two, according to the judges, took action that “to put it mildly was very problematic and definitely liable to be interpreted as inappropriate intervention in a criminal proceeding.”

The criticism came during a court debate in the appeal of a soldier in the Kfir infantry brigade who was convicted of beating up Palestinians. The affair kicked up a storm in the Israel Defense Forces about two years ago, in the wake of Kfir Brigade commander Col. Itai Virob’s testimony. The court decided yesterday to revoke the soldier’s conviction and to send his case back to the lower instance, at the Central Command.

The affair began in the wake of an incident at Kfar Kaddum in the West Bank in 2008 in which First Lieutenant Adam Malul and medic Staff Sgt. G. physically assaulted Palestinians during the course of an arrest operation. The two were tried separately. In his testimony during Malul’s trial, Virob said: “A hit, a push... can help advance the task at hand, and is certainly a possibility.”

The publication of the brigade commander’s comments aroused criticism on the part of human rights organizations, which said his statement constituted the improper condoning of violence. An investigation was opened against Virob and his promotion was delayed.

Mandelblit and Shamni, who is currently serving as the Israel Defense Forces Attache in Washington, decided to initiate a a disciplinary proceeding against Virob, who was subsequently reprimanded. Later, Virob was summonsed to testify in the trial of Staff Sgt. G., who was sentenced to 65 days imprisonment for his part in the incident.

In the appeal, the military defense attorneys argued that the decision to reprimand Virob before G.’s trial had ended was improper. They asked the court to revoke the conviction on the grounds that the brigade commander had changed his testimony in the second trial after he was reprimanded and that this had affected the medic’s conviction.

In their ruling yesterday at the Appeals Court, the judges stated: “We are uncomfortable with the differences in the formulation of the testimony in the two trials.”

Moreover, they added, the reprimand at the command level was liable to be interpreted as “inappropriate intervention in a criminal proceeding.”

With the return of the trial to the Central Command court, Mandelblit and Shamni may be summoned to testify. According to the IDF Spokesman, “The proceeding at the command level was proper and was carried out in accordance with the authority of the GOC, who saw the need to send an unambiguous message that would make it clear to all IDF soldiers and commanders that the army does not accept or encourage violent behavior toward civilians on the part of soldiers, as prima facie emerged from Col. Virob’s testimony.

It must be emphasized that this was done in accordance with the opinion of the attorney general and was also brought before the High Court of Justice.”