The Israeli army will not take legal action against a senior Armored Corps officer who ordered his troops to fire at a Palestinian medical clinic during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, apparently "in memory" of a fellow officer killed by a Palestinian sniper.
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Instead, the IDF's Military Advocate General decided that Battalion commander Lt. Col. Neria Yeshurun will only be reprimanded, and that his actions will be taken into account when considering his future deployment and promotion.
The IDF launched the investigation last June, due to the suspicion that the order to bombard the clinic in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood — which was intended to “raise the troops' morale" as a “salute” to Armored Corps company commander Dmitri Levitas — was in violation of army regulations.
At the time, Yeshurun told the IDF Ground Forces publication Bayabasha that he had been sorry that he and his troops could not be at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl military cemetery for Levitas' funeral, “and therefore we decided to fire a volley of shells toward the point from which he lost his life.”
The Military Advocate General condemned Yeshurun's remarks, which suggested that firing a barrage was a legitimate act of revenge. This "doesn't accord with IDF values and his remarks constitute a failure of command," said the Military Advocate General. However, according to the IDF, the investigation didn't yield enough evidence to disprove the claim that the volley was justified on an operational level. Therefore, the case was closed and the officer will not be charged.
The launch of the investigation last year has caused a stir on social networking sites, and a Facebook page was opened in support of the officer under the slogan: “We are all with Lt. Col. Neria Yeshurun.”
The page includes testimony and quotes from his soldiers in support of Yeshurun. One wrote that he and his comrades-in-arms were told for days not to fire at the clinic. However, after it became completely clear to them that this was an enemy camp from which terrorists were aiming fire at IDF troops — fire that killed Levitas — the tanks were allowed to shell it.
Maj. (res.) Amihai Harach, Yeshrun’s deputy, told Galei Yisrael radio at the time that “this was an operational action — not an act by some bully who comes into the neighborhood and tries to make order at the expense of the residents. That was not the situation at all.”
What had to be done, he continued, was “to take down this clinic because there was a Hamas position there What’s more, they fired from there and they killed a company commander in the battalion.”
Asked whether the incident was unusual, Harach answered: “The only unusual thing [Yeshurun] did was that he put the incident on top of the eulogy to Dima, the company commander who was killed. That was certainly to raise [morale]. And I say to you on the level of facts — that raised morale and encouraged the soldiers to continue the mission.”
Another unusual element, Harach said, was that soldiers documented the shelling of the clinic “so we could distribute it to the whole battalion.”
A recent report by the NGO Breaking the Silence contains testimony of an Armored Corps soldier from the same brigade about firing in revenge. According to the soldier, his company commander ordered him to fire shells at Palestinian homes in memory of a comrade from the company who had been killed. “To me it seemed not right at all, very problematic they fired like they do at funerals, just with a shell at houses. It wasn’t in the air. The tank commander said, ‘pick a house that’s farthest away, so that it hurts them as much as possible.’ A sort of revenge,” the soldier said.