An Israeli military court on Sunday convicted two soldiers of using a Palestinian child as a human shield by forcing him to check for booby traps during the 2008-2009 Gaza war.
A transcript of the court decision made available by the army said the infantry sergeants were found guilty of “exceeding their authority to the point of endangering life,” and “conduct unbecoming,” for ordering a nine-year-old boy to search bags confiscated from arrested Palestinians.
The court acknowledged however that at the time of the incident, January 15, 2009, the troops had been under “difficult and dangerous combat conditions” and had gone several nights without sleep.
Sentencing is to be decided at a later date, the military said.
Israel’s Supreme Court has banned such actions, saying they amount to using a civilian as a human shield.
According to testimony released when the two soldiers went on trial in March, the child, identified as Majd R., said he feared for his life.
“I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants,” he said in an affidavit to Defence for Children International, a Geneva-based group.
“There were two bags in front of me,” the boy said. “I grabbed the first one as he (the soldier) stood one-and-a-half metres (yards) away. I opened the bag as he pointed his weapon directly at me. I emptied the bag on the floor. It contained money and papers. I looked at him and he was laughing.”
Army radio said several of the two soldiers’ comrades attended the hearing wearing shirts saying, “We are the victims of Goldstone,” referring to a UN Human Rights Council probe of the war by South African jurist Richard Goldstone that accused Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes.
The report said there was evidence that both sides committed crimes against humanity during the 22-day conflict and recommended that the International Criminal Court examine its findings in the absence of “credible investigations” on both sides.
Israel vehemently rejected the report as “biased.”
The military began its own investigation of the bag-searching incident in June 2009. It said the probe was unrelated to the Goldstone mission, which was visiting the Gaza Strip at the same time.
Israel launched the 22-day offensive in December 2008 in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket attacks from the territory ruled by the militant Hamas movement. Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the fighting.