Knesset Advances Bill to Withhold Names of Soldiers Under Investigation

The proposed law was inspired by the case of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the soldier on trial for manslaughter who shot and killed a subdued Palestinian assailant in Hebron.

Elor Azaria at a hearing in the Jaffa Military Court on Sunday, June 26, 2016.
David Bachar

Publication of the names of soldiers and police officers under investigation for duty-related actions would be prohibited under a bill that was approved for legislation yesterday by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Proposed by MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union,) the bill is an amendment to the laws governing the military justice system, courts of law and the police. It can now proceed to its second and third readings in the plenum.

Under the bill, the names and other identifying details of soldiers and police personnel under investigation will not be released as long as legal proceedings are underway and the person has not been convicted. The ban on publication would remain in force if charges are not pressed, charges are dropped or the person is found not guilty.

With regard to the police, the bill as it is currently worded states that that ban would only be enforced if the actions of the officer under investigation involved prevention of terrorist activity. Justice Ministry representative Anat Assif told the committee that the attorney general believed the matter required more clarification and the justice minister would examine the issue and might add an objection to this clause.

It would be permissible to publicize the fact that an investigation or judicial proceeding is underway without naming the suspects.

The bill, as it was originally worded, explained that one of the reasons it was needed was the fact that publication of the names of suspects could lead to action being taken against them in foreign countries. However, at the request of government ministries, the justification of the bill was changed to state that revealing identifying details of an individual under interrogation or indictment to a foreign judicial authority would not be considered an infraction of the publication ban if its intention was to protect soldiers and police from judicial action against them abroad.

The bill sets a penalty of six months in prison for making such names public.

Ben-Reuven said: “Those fighters whom we send to protect us carry out very complicated missions, in complex situations, with quite a few ethical difficulties. It is our obligation to investigate to ensure that they acted in the most moral way, but also to take into consideration that mistakes are sometimes made, and they must be protected, in Israel and abroad, as long as the court has not determined whether a mistake was made.”

Ben-Reuven added that a “reality to which we would like to respond and is becoming more relevant every day” necessitated the amendment.

The case of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who on March 24 shot and killed a Palestinian assailant who was already wounded, and is on trial in military court, has polarized the Israeli public. His name and picture were initially withheld, but his name was cleared for publication by the military court in Jaffa when it indicted him for manslaughter on April 18.