Three soldiers from the Israeli army's Netzah Yehuda ultra-Orthodox battalion, better known as the Nahal Haredi, agreed to a plea bargain arrangement with military prosecutors on Thursday. The three soldiers were part of a group of 14 infantry soldiers who were arrested last month on suspicion of attacking young Bedouin men at a gas station in southern Israel.
The soldiers will admit to attacking and threatening the Bedouin as part of the plea deal, and in return the charges of misusing their weapons during the attack will be dismissed. And they will be sentenced to 52 days in military prison. The plea deal still needs the approval of the military court.
The other five combat soldiers who were arrested have not yet responded to the offer from the Military Advocate General. All eight of the soldiers involved in the incident are to remain in detention until either Monday or Wednesday, depending on the severity of the charges against them.
Six other soldiers who were previously arrested on suspicion of taking part in the attack were released from custody, because there was no evidence they participated in the incident.
The 14 soldiers were arrested at the end of October on suspicion of assault, making threats and illegal use of their weapons. Their bus stopped at a gas station at the Dvira interchange when they were returning to their base from a funeral. The soldiers said that one of the Bedouin men threatened to stab them, which caused the brawl. They claimed that the squad commander who was with them instructed them to load their weapons. The commander said he felt threatened and as a result loaded his weapon.
Military prosecutors obtained a video of the incident in the early stages of the investigation, which convinced them that the version of the incident provided by the soldiers and the commander was unreliable.
On Thursday evening, Channel 12 News reported on the testimony of the squad commander, based on a transcript from his interrogation. The commander said he attacked the Bedouin because he “feared for his life and the lives of his soldiers.” The commander said that Arabs have attacked soldiers and civilians before and as a result he had the justification to do what he did.
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The squad commander described how the incident developed, and said one of the Bedouin began to swear at them. “I didn’t pay attention, I didn’t even turn around toward them… One of the Bedouin got up and told me: ‘Come here, I’m going to stab you in the heart,’ and I noticed he put his hands in places he didn’t need to.”
“The Bedouin were under the influence of drugs and alcohol,” he added. “During my first act of neutralizing, the Arab tried to snatch my gun and touched the strap… The Arab threatened my life because [he said] he would stab me with a knife, and said again: ‘Soldier, why are you running away, come, I’ll stab you in the heart,’” reported Channel 12.
The squad commander said that he felt his life was in danger because of the threats. "He came close to me and tried to put his body up against me," said the commander. “It’s not something normal when a person comes too close to you, and because of that and the threats, I felt my life was in danger… During the entire incident I had a magazine in the gun and a bullet in the chamber, and I tried to keep him away with my hands,”
At this point one of the Bedouin hit him and he responded to protect himself, said the commander. The Military Police investigator asked him why he came close to the Bedouin, who he said had threatened him and did not move away. “My soldiers were near me, I was outside, so if I had run, he still could have been able to stab me. Is that what’s expected of me as a soldier and commander in the IDF? There were civilians at the gas station, if I didn’t do it and something had happened, I would have been responsible," said the commander.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the attorney representing the squad commander, said regarding the news report that he requested for the Military Police to conduct a confrontation between his client and the Bedouin who complained – but the police did not do so. “All the actions of the Military Police investigators were against the IDF soldiers,” he said.
Attorney Chai Haber, who represents some of the soldiers involved, said he is certain “it was possible to close the case the way it should have been closed – quietly – because not much happened here, certainly not the way it has been described.”