One of the most high-profile criminal cases from Operation Cast Lead came to end on Sunday as a Jaffa military court approved a plea bargain reached between the prosecution and Staff Sgt. S., a Givati Brigade soldier who was indicted in 2010 for opening fire against protocol and shooting a 64-year-old Palestinian woman and her 35-year-old daughter to death.
The plea bargain included reducing the charges against the former soldier from manslaughter to illegal use of firearms. S. received a reduced sentence of 45 days in prison after pleading guilty.
The incident was majorly addressed in the UN’s investigation into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, which was led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone. The UN’s findings, which were later on retracted by Goldstone himself, concluded that “Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity,” and used the said case to emphasize their findings.
In the incident, which took place on January 4, 2009 near Gaza City, Staff Sgt. S. and a group of soldiers from his brigade were staying in a fortified complex. At one point, they noticed a group of civilians and prepared for the possibility that combatants may be traveling among them.
According to a local testimony, the group was made up of 31 Palestinians, 21 of whom were children, who prepared white flags out of ripped sheets. The group moved into the area after they received instructions to evacuate their homes.
At this point, Staff Sgt. S. opened fire at them, wounding two of the Palestinians — Majda Abu Hajaj, 35, who died on the spot, and her mother Raya Salama Abu Hajaj, 64, who sustained serious injuries and died shortly after.
S. apparently fired at the mother and daughter without receiving any instructions to do so. An officer was by his side during the incident. At no time was an order given to open fire, according to the investigation.
However, the debriefing that followed the incident, did not note that the group was carrying white flags. The IDF characterized the incident as “problematic,” and S. left his position in the battalion and the brigade.
Source: Ynet News