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Israeli court sentences soldiers to 2 months in prison for Palestinian warehouse arson

Nov. 13, 2016 12:15 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 13, 2016 5:22 P.M.)
Israeli security block the entrance to the Petah Tikva Justice court. (AFP/ Jack Guez, File)
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- An Israeli military court sentenced two Israeli soldiers on Saturday to sixty days in prison as part of a plea bargain after the two admitted to setting fire to a Palestinian warehouse in the northern occupied West Bank city of Nablus, according to Haaretz.

The soldiers, whose identities were not made public, were also ordered to pay 10,000 shekels ($2,600) in damages to the warehouse owner.

In addition to the sentence and compensation, the two were sentenced to a month of community service doing maintenance work on an army base once they are released.

The soldiers committed the arson in late September while stationed at Joseph’s Tomb near the Balata refugee camp east of the city of Nablus.

According to Haaretz, they were part of a force “guarding Jewish worshipers” at the site -- revered by Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Samaritans -- which sees regular visits by Israelis escorted by Israeli military forces, and subsequent clashes with local Palestinians.

The soldiers told the court that they were assigned to erect a roadblock after dark and to light a fire for illumination, when they “decided to use their remaining fuel to burn a pile of wood nearby,” Haaretz reported.

“After lighting the fire in the warehouse, they gazed at the flames briefly and left the scene without trying to extinguish the fire. They were filmed by a security camera as they set the storeroom on fire."

The soldiers the returned to their base, but did not report the arson to their commander.

Among the things destroyed in the warehouse fire, which was put out by Palestinian firefighters, was a palm tree, a security camera, and seven stacks of lumber.

The value of the wood that was burned was estimated at 56,000 shekels ($14,600), more than five times the amount the soldiers were ordered to pay in damages to the warehouse owner.

According to Haaretz, the two said they committed the arson “out of boredom, as a joke, in a moment of stupidity.” The soldiers lawyers went on to say that their clients were “young soldiers who made a mistake and wanted to return to their units as soon as possible.”

Despite admitting to committing arson, the soldiers were convicted only of “exceeding authority to a degree and endangering life.”

In addition to the “the danger of the arson and the damage to property,” the court’s verdict also noted “the damage done by the incident to the army’s image and relations with local residents.”

The days the soldiers have been in custody since their arrest in September have counted towards their sentence, and the two are expected to be released in about 10 days.

Many Palestinian activists and rights groups have accused Israel of fostering a “culture of impunity” for Israeli settlers and soldiers committing violent acts against Palestinians by either issuing light sentencing or not indicting the accused altogether.
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