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Ha’aretz: ‘Court: IDF must toughen charges for shooting of bound Palestinian’

Tomer Zarchin | Ha’aretz

1 July 2009

The High Court ordered the Military Advocate General on Wednesday to file harsher charges against an Israel Defense Forces officer who ordered a soldier to shoot a rubber-coated metal bullet at a bound Palestinian.

Lt. Col. Omri Burberg, the officer, and Staff Sgt. L., the soldier, were formally charged with “improper conduct” over the incident, which took place in the West Bank village of Na’alin last September.

Justices Ayala Procaccia, Amnon Rubinstein and Hanan Meltzer abstained from ruling Wednesday on what charges would be appropriate for the shooting.

They unanimously accepted a petition submitted by Ashraf Abu Rahmeh, 27, the victim, and four human rights organizations against the Military Advocate General, Avihai Mandelblit.

The petitioners had demanded that the charges against Burberg and the soldier be changed in order to reflect the “gravity of the acts.”

In response, the justices wrote: “The moral gap between the nature of the act described in the indictment and the manner of evaluation in the indictment – as the offense of ‘improper conduct’ – is so deep that it cannot stand.”

“The gravity of the incident from a normative-moral perspective is exaggerated and exceptional,” wrote Justice Procaccia in her ruling. “Staging such scare tactics toward a bound, handcuffed and blindfolded man indicates a deep deviation from the moral norms that all IDF soldiers, and especially senior commanders, are obligated to uphold.”

In his ruling, Justice Rubinstein quoted Israel’s first Prime Minister Davd Ben-Gurion, who said that the IDF’s strength stems from its morality. Rubinstein even went so far as to say that Burberg’s actions may qualify as a desecration of God’s name.

The incident came to light after the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, released a video taken of the shooting by a Palestinian youth

In the video, Burberg is seen holding Abu Rahmeh, while a soldier under his command shoots him at close range in the foot. The IDF’s criminal investigation division subsequently launched a probe into the incident.

Burberg’s attorneys on Wednesday said that at no point during the incident did he command the soldier to or imagine he would shoot the Palestinian, and that this is well-documented in the evidence.

The attorneys added that the High Court’s decision does not change the facts in the case and said they are convinced their client will be acquitted in a military court.

As part of a deal reached between the officer and the GOC Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Burberg announced his willingness to leave the army. Following this announcement, Mandelblit relayed that he had decided upon a lighter indictment for Burberg and his subordinate, that of “improper conduct,” one which did not give the pair a criminal record.