When an Israeli soldier shoots without authorization and a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, who was not endangering the troops, is killed and the soldier is sentenced to one month of community service as punishment, what are we supposed to understand? This is what happened in the past few days. But this is not a new story. In 2018 alone, IDF soldiers killed 290 Palestinians: 254 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including two women and 47 minors; 34 in the West Bank and east Jerusalem; and two in Israel. A B’Tselem report checked and found that 149 of those killed did not “take part in hostilities,” while 90 did. The report added that B’Tselem was unable to determine whether the remaining 15 of those killed in Gaza “took part in hostilities or not.” I could not find reports about any of the soldiers involved in the killing of these Palestinians prosecuted or punished for unauthorized killing. I very much doubt that any soldier was convicted of any wrongdoing.
The IDF maintains that they only employ force when absolutely necessary and take exhaustive precautions and pains to prevent Palestinian civilian deaths. At times, however, they have admitted to making mistakes, resulting in Palestinian civilian deaths. But even then, no one is indicted or convicted of manslaughter or murder. And if they are indicted and convicted and sentenced, it is very unlikely that the punishment will ever fit the crime and that they will be in prison for any significant amount of time.
In March of this year, three Israeli soldiers from the religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion were convicted after accepting a plea deal with military prosecutors of abusing two Palestinian prisoners who were in captivity. Under the agreement, the soldiers pleaded guilty to aggravated abuse in the incident and were sentenced to 190 days in prison, a demotion in rank and probation, but they avoided more serious assault charges. They were sentenced in March and were released from prison on May 8, 2019 – a lot shorter than 190 days.
In April of this year, an Israeli soldier shot and killed a handcuffed and blindfolded 16-year-old Palestinian named Osama al-Badan. No soldier was prosecuted or convicted of any crime.
Yesh Din, another Israeli Human rights organization that researches Israeli legal abuses in the occupied territories, issued a report on the lack of criminal investigations and very few convictions against Israelis who harm Palestinians or Palestinian property. Their report from 2017 indicated that in 2016, 282 complaints were made by Palestinians in the West Bank and 20 from Gaza to the IDF Military Advocate-General (MAG). More than 70% of the complaints related to violence or shooting. Twenty-four percent of the complaints related to damage of property. Only 46 of the complaints led to an investigation, and another 174 complaints (79%) were closed without any criminal investigation. These figures for the number of complaints were lower than in previous years. Only five cases in 2016 led to indictments being filed. Palestinians have learned over many years of witnessing Israeli impunity for crimes against them that filing charges is a waste of time and an insult to the sense of justice.
According to Yesh Din, “from the beginning of 2014 to the end of August 2017, Yesh Din monitored 225 new investigation files. At the time of publication, investigation and prosecutorial bodies had completed the processing of 185 of these investigations. Twenty-one (11.4%) of these investigation resulted in indictments, and 118 (64%) were closed under circumstances attesting to police investigative failure. The rate of investigative failure is higher in the total number of cases monitored by Yesh Din since 2005, standing at 82%.
FROM THOSE cases, criminal legal proceedings were concluded in 83 of the files that were monitored by Yesh Din and resulted in an indictment. Only 36 of these concluded with a full or partial conviction (43.4%). In contrast, 15 ended with a finding of guilt but no conviction (18.1%). In four of these cases, the defendants were minors. According to a 2012 study, only 5.3% of the cases adjudicated by Israel’s Magistrates Courts, and 1.2% of those adjudicated by the District Courts, end with this result. Fifteen proceedings ended with the charges withdrawn or canceled (18.1%), and five ended with acquittals (6%) – a much higher rate than the overall acquittal rate in criminal cases adjudicated by both the Magistrates and the District Courts.
The case reported this past week of the sentencing of one month of community service for killing a Palestinian youth who did not endanger the soldiers sends a clear message to every Israeli soldier that if you take initiative and kill a Palestinian youth, you’ll get one month community service as “punishment.” It sends a clear message to Palestinians that in the eyes of Israel’s legal system, their lives have no value.
The lack of public discourse in Israel on the low value of Palestinian lives further demonstrates a complete lack of humanity that has developed in Israel over too many years of occupation. It is impossible for Israel to remain a humane society and at the same time to deny basic human rights from millions of Palestinians. I witness this every day.
The positive examples of all of the wonderful things that we do as Israelis and Jews, such as sending aid to countries where natural disasters hit, or the wonderful medical care that Israel provided to severely wounded Syrians, do not overshadow the despicable behavior that we conduct every single day in the West Bank. Our good sides cannot overshadow that we have essentially created thousands of crippled young Palestinians in Gaza who dared to protest against the siege of Gaza and the oppression of Palestinian national aspirations.
The occupation is the ultimate evil. The denial of occupation and its consequences are a clear manifestation of the corruption of our society and the destruction of the values that we tell ourselves that we hold dear. The truth and the reality tell a much different story.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.