On 28 October 2019, an Israeli Military court convicted an Israeli soldier of disobeying orders that resulted in the death of a Palestinian child in Gaza while participating in the Great March of Return (GMR) protests last year. The court sentenced the soldier to one month in prison to be served through military-related labor.
This conviction is the first of its kind since the outbreak of GMR protests on 30 March 2018 and reflects a clear disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians. It also emphasizes the Israeli judiciary’s role in providing a legal cover for the war crimes and serious violations committed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) against Palestinian civilians.
According to PCHR’s investigations, on 13 July 2018, ‘Othman Rami Jawad Helles (15) from Gaza was participating in the GMR protests in al-Shija’iyah neighborhood, east of Gaza City. A video went viral on social media from the scene and it showed an unarmed child, Helles, climbing the border fence when an Israeli sniper shot him with a bullet, which entered his chest and exited through the back, killing him immediately. It should be noted that Helles posed no imminent threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers when he was shot.
According to Israeli media, on 28 October 2019, an Israeli soldier from Givati Brigade agreed to a plea deal and admitted to “disobeying an order leading to a threat to life or health.” The Israeli soldier was sentenced to one month in prison, serving his term through army-related labor. The soldier was also given a probation period, and was demoted to private. The military court said in its ruling that this solider opened fire at Helles “without receiving the required permission from his commanders, not in accordance with the rules of engagement and against the instructions he had received prior.”
According to evidence and proofs collected by its lawyers, PCHR stresses that IOF has a clear intention and systematic policy to kill and wound in cold blood hundreds of civilians participating in the peaceful GMR protests through the deployment of snipers along the border fence. Since GMR outbreak on 30 March 2018, PCHR documented the killing of 214 civilians, including 46 children, 2 women, 9 persons with disabilities, 4 paramedics, and 2 journalists) and injury of 14453 other civilians.
PCHR recalls the findings of the report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, issued in March 2019, which emphasized the peaceful nature of GMR protests and validated the jurisdiction of international human rights law. The report also criticized the Israeli rules of engagement and excessive use of force against protestors, permitting the use of live fire at the “main inciters” who posed no imminent threat to soldiers’ lives or participated in hostilities, in violation of international human rights law.
PCHR reiterates that this conviction is a farce, as hundreds of incidents were not seriously investigated in a clear disregard for civilian lives. It should also be emphasized that the Israeli legal system provides legal cover and promotes impunity for IOF war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It should be mentioned that since GMR outbreak on 30 March 2018, PCHR filed 177 criminal complaints on behalf of victims to the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) and the Military Advocate for Operational Affairs requesting these authorities to open a criminal investigation into each complaint and hold perpetrators accountable. PCHR received 8 positive replies that the military police opened an investigation; and 4 others indicating closure of files.
This ruling is a clear indication of the absence of individual criminal responsibility; it also provides additional judicial protection for Israeli soldiers, especially when considering that the penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 20 years in prison.
PCHR confirms that it shall continue its work on holding Israeli war criminals accountable before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and national courts operating under the principle of universal jurisdiction.