An Israeli court-martial has found two soldiers guilty of forcing a nine-year-old Palestinian boy to search for suspected booby-traps on their behalf during the 2008-2009 war in the Gaza Strip.
The conviction on Sunday, which could carry jail time, was Israel’s latest legal reckoning over a three-week offensive that enjoyed domestic support but was widely criticised abroad for its toll on Palestinian civilians.
The two infantry brigade sergeants helped seize control of an apartment building in the Gaza City suburb of Tel Al-Hawa district on January 15, 2009, while under gun and rocket fire from guerrillas, according to a summary of the verdict.
Rounding up residents, they came across bags in a bathroom and ordered a nine-year-old boy from the group of civilians to check if the bags contained explosives.
The boy opened a bag belonging to his family, but when he failed to open another, the soldiers pulled him back and shot at it, endangering everyone present, the verdict said.
The boy was later returned to his family unharmed.
The verdict made no mention of any munitions being found at the scene.
Following an internal Israeli investigation in 2009, the military justified its actions by claiming that "the enemy booby-trapped its houses with explosives, fired from the schools attended by its own children and used its own people as human shields".
Dorit Tuval, the military prosecutor told reporters that the soldiers’ actions did not comply with Israeli military rules of conducts.
"It was a conscience decision and one that contradicted the basic principles which those soldiers were taught from their first day in the army and that’s why they were convicted now," Tuval said.
The Tel Al-Hawa incident recalled a once common but now banned Israeli army practise of "neighbouring" – the act of using Palestinian bystanders to knock on the doors of suspected militants to reduce the chances of soldiers coming under fire.
The two sergeants were found guilty of reckless endangerment and unbecoming conduct.
A military spokesman said he expected their sentencing to take place in the coming weeks.
Ilan Katz, the soldiers’ attorney, said they were being used as scapegoats.
"These two soldiers are the ones that pay the price for the mistakes of senior people, and the system thinks that if they are convicted the world will get off Israel’s case – and whoever thinks this is severely mistaken," he said.
Several of the soldiers’ former comrades attending the court session at an army base in southern Kastina wore shirts with the slogan "We are victims of Goldstone" – a reference to Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist , who authored a scathing UN report on war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip.
(Agencies via Aljazeera.net English)