Israel punishes troops for bad behaviour caught on film

Israeli troops. (AFP)
Israeli troops. (AFP)

Jerusalem - The Israeli military said on Thursday it has disciplined three soldiers after a video emerged that seemed to show them hurling a stun grenade at Palestinian men smoking a water pipe in the northern West Bank.

In the video, captured by a surveillance camera, an Israeli military jeep pulls up to the four Palestinians, stops briefly, then drives away as a stun grenade explodes in the frame, sending the Palestinians fleeing.

The military said a platoon sergeant was sent to jail for 10 days and two other soldiers were also disciplined for acting "contrary to military standards".

The video was the latest footage filmed during a recent wave of violence that has been widely circulated in both Israeli and Palestinian media.

Since mid-September, Palestinians have killed 34 Israelis and two visiting Americans in stabbing and shooting attacks, as well as attack in which cars were used to ram into Israeli troops and civilians.

Manslaughter charges

At least 206 Palestinians have died by Israeli fire in that period, most said by Israel to be attackers. The attacks have tapered off in recent weeks.

Palestinians have accused Israelis of using excessive force against assailants who have already been wounded or stopped, and quickly circulate videos which they say back up their claims.

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In the most high-profile case, Sergeant Elor Azaria is facing charges of manslaughter after he was filmed fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron in March.

Earlier this month, another video appeared to show border police officers seizing a bicycle from an 8-year-old Palestinian girl in Hebron. The video then cuts to an officer walking away from bushes, where the bike lies in the dirt.

A Palestinian volunteer with the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem filmed the incident. The Justice Ministry said it was unprofessional but did not warrant criminal proceedings.

The two most recent videos highlight the daily frustrations of living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank.

B'Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli said that without the video, there was little chance the bicycle incident would have been investigated.

"No one would have known about it," she said. The military said soldiers are expected to report instances where troops fail to act in accordance with the army's "strict code of laws and values", regardless of whether the incident was caught on video.

Palestinian incitement

The Israeli watchdog group Yesh Din said that between 2010 and 2013, only 1.4% of Palestinian complaints led to indictments against soldiers.

The military insists its justice system works, saying the low indictment rate does not signal lack of effort. They say the system is independent and that proper measures are taken if there are legal grounds to try and punish a soldier.

Occasionally, video supports Israeli claims of Palestinian incitement.

In July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video to his Facebook page that showed a Palestinian man holding up a toddler and urging Israeli forces to shoot him in the West Bank village of Nilin.

Netanyahu called on Palestinian leadership to stop encouraging parents "to call for the death of their own children". The man shown on film said he was demonstrating against Israel's seizure of his village's land when he saw Israeli forces pointing guns at children and held his son up in protest.

Earlier this month, Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced a $10.6m project to equip police with body cameras.

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