By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Friday, 8 August 2008
Lt-Col Omri Burberg holds the handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian man and orders a soldier to shoot
Outraged Israeli human rights organisations have united in challenging the military's decision to invoke only minor penalties against a senior officer over the shooting of a bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoner by a soldier under his command.
(This is par for the course, since the IDF has to maintain the public appearance of condemning such actions, while supporting them through its inaction. This is what happens when a state preaches a Revisionist version of history, breeds hatred, bigotry, and misunderstanding, and illegally occupies an entire People, with the ultimate goal of eliminating them entirely.)
Lt-Col Omri Burberg has been "reassigned" and was indicted yesterday on the limited charge of "unworthy conduct" after the incident last month in which he held the Palestinian as the soldier shot him at close range in the foot with a rubber-coated bullet. The offence does not carry a custodial sentence.
The soldier, a staff sergeant who claims he was ordered to fire by the officer, has been demoted to private but faces the same charge. Lt-Col Burberg claimed he only wanted to intimidate the Palestinian, Ashraf Abu Rahmeh, after he was detained near Ni'ilin, the scene of regular unarmed demonstrations against the military's West Bank separation barrier.
(Or 30 foot-high concrete Apartheid Wall, which is built illegally within areas designated as belonging to the Palestinians, and further dividing them from each other.)
Human rights group B'Tselem, which exposed the incident – shown on Israeli television after being videoed by a Palestinian woman in the village – said yesterday: "The army treats the shooting at point-blank range of a bound man [only] as inappropriate behaviour. It disgraces the values which it pretends to uphold."
(That's because these stated values are PR and nothing more. Makes the world's shameful Appeasement of Israel easier.)
And Yesh Din, the legal action group representing Mr Abu Rahmeh's family, pointed out that if the officer had been "caught smoking a joint" he would have suffered the worse penalty of a prison sentence and dishonourable discharge. It added: "This case proves once again that the military judicial system views harming innocent citizens as a public image problem and not as a moral issue."
(Right. Israeli law views drug use as wrong. Abuse of a Palestinian, which it regards as a lesser being, is not. Just part of the effort to make life for the Palestinians so terrible that they abandon their fight for justice.)
Both groups have joined with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in seeking to halt the court martial against the two men long enough for them to mount a high court challenge against the lightness of the indictment. In a letter to the military advocate general, Avichai Mandelblit, ACRI pointed out that the High Court ruled in 1988 that "Harming a bound and helpless person is a shameful and cruel act, and calls for an appropriately severe response".
(Call your own representatives, and demand that they pressure the Israeli Government on this issue.)
While acknowledging that the "severe incident" reflected a "moral failure of command that should not have happened", the military said that the Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, "recognised the positive manner" in which the officer had commanded his battalion and "commended" his actions after the incident, including his "immediate report" of it. Brigadier Mandelblit said he had taken into account "significant" penalty of reassignment, in framing the indictment.
(I wonder if the report would have been made if the video hadn't ... And it matters little what he did after abusing this person.)
But the lawyer acting for the victim's family, Michael Sfard, yesterday contrasted the charges with that carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years' detention of "endangering life" levelled "on a daily basis against Palestinian kids who throw stones", even if no one is hit. He added: "Of course they don't get that but they are frequently jailed for months."
Meanwhile an investigation is already underway after a later incident in which a 10-year-old boy, Ahmed Moussa, was shot dead with a live bullet after another demonstration at Ni'ilin.
Toni O'Loughlin in Jerusalem The Guardian, Friday August 8 2008 Article historyAn Israeli officer involved in the close-range shooting of a blindfolded and cuffed Palestinian man has escaped criminal charges and will remain in the army.
Battalion commander Omri Borberg, who was accused by the army of "severe moral failure", will be reassigned to another post and will face the relatively minor charge of "unworthy conduct".
Last month Borberg was recorded on video as he held a Palestinian protester, Ashraf Abu-Rahma, by the arm while another soldier fired a rubber bullet into the captured man's foot. The shot injured his toe.
Abu-Rahma had been protesting against Israel's construction of its barrier on Palestinian land in the West Bank village of Ni'ilin, where the confrontations between Israel's military and demonstrators have increasingly become violent.
Last week a 10-year-old boy and an 18-year-old man were fatally shot in the head in separate incidents in Ni'ilin.
The Israeli human rights groups B'Tselem, Yesh Din, the Association for Civil Rights, and the Public Committee Against Torture attacked the army's disciplining of Borberg as lenient.
"If that officer had been caught smoking hash they would not only have been discharged from the army but they would also spend two or three months in prison," said Yesh Din's legal adviser, Michael Sfard.
"The charge of inappropriate conduct is something extremely minor with no criminal record if you are found guilty," he added.
B'Tselem's spokeswoman, Sarit Michaeli, said: "The father of the young woman who filmed the incident is still under house arrest. Three days after [B'Tselem] released the video the father was arrested at a protest. He is charged with various offences; they're not as severe [as the charge against Borberg] but he has been remanded in custody."
The soldier who shot Abu-Rahma in the foot, and who was under Borberg's command, also faces military charges. He alleges that he fired the bullet after Borberg said: "Shoot a rubber bullet at him."
Together, the four human rights organisations are to mount a case in Israel's high court to intervene in secretive military court procedures in an attempt to charge Borberg with a criminal offence.
Borberg said he had resigned from his post "for the good of the soldier, the battalion and the army", but Israel's military spokesman would not confirm whether the resignation was voluntary. "I see myself serving for many more years at the heart of military activity," Borberg said.
Meanwhile, Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, ordered military forces to demolish the home of Ala Abu Dhaim, the East Jerusalem Palestinian who gunned down eight students in the Merkaz Harav yeshiva in March. It marks a return to the policy of using demolitions in retaliation for terrorist attacks, which was abandoned in 2005 after it was deemed ineffective.
The homes of the two Palestinians, who in separate incidents rammed Israeli civilians with bulldozers, killing three and injuring dozens more, are also due to be destroyed.
Jerusalem's mayor, Uri Lupolianski, said: "The demolition will serve as a clear message that the families of every terrorist who goes out to attack and murder Israelis will also be harmed."
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