An Israeli soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian after he had been disarmed was convicted of manslaughter on Wednesday.
“We unanimously convict the accused of manslaughter and of conduct unbecoming,” a military tribunal’s decision read.
Case and conviction
Manslaughter carries the maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment in Israel; sentencing will take place at a later date at the Kiriya military court. The family of the victim has expressed dismay that the charge was not murder, but due to circumstances of the case, their view does not carry much weight.
Elor Azaria, 20, shot Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21 in Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank in March 2016. Sharif had previously stabbed another soldier on the scene, who was apparently Azaria’s friend.
The Israeli soldier’s defense rested on his fear that the Palestinian might have been wearing an explosive vest. Azaria’s defense line was weak because the concern for the explosive vest was not raised during his debriefing after the shooting. Chief Judge Maya Heller said that his testimony was “not credible.”
Among the evidence presented by the prosecutor, Lt Colonel Nadav Weissman, was footage of the event.
There was also the testimony of a fellow soldier, who said that Azaria had told him on the scene that the assailant “deserves to die,” because he had hurt his friend. That testimony was considered credible.
“Azaria’s admission, spontaneously, that he killed out of revenge is uniquely, objectively credible,” Maya Heller said.
Reading the unanimous decision of the tribunal, Judge Heller also concluded that the killing was calculated and premeditated, as Azaria took the time to clear people away before he shot and did not react to a perceived immediate danger.
The defense questioned the reliability of the key witness and the authenticity of the video and will appeal the verdict, BBC reports.
The ruling was met with far-right rallies in the streets of Tel Aviv, including the members of the nationalist Beitar Jerusalem soccer club fans. Some of them shouted “Gadi be careful, Rabin is looking for a friend,” The Times of Israel reports.
Posts on Social Media followed, calling for an attack against chief judge Maya Heller, the Army Radio reported.
The assault by Sharif in March 2016 took place in the context of a wider string of attacks in the West Bank, by means of stabbing, gun shooting, and car ramming. 42 people have died thus far from similar attacks, official sources report.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said this was a “show trial.” And he joined Education Minister Naftali Bennet in calling for an immediate pardon, along with Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev vowed to work towards Azaria’s pardon, Jerusalem Post reports.
These are four members of the Israeli cabinet that ascribe to calling Azaria “everyone’s child.” President Reven Rivlin, who has the right to grant a pardon, will consider the matter after sentencing.
In defense of the tribunal
There is no political consensus in the government.
Senior military figures condemned the manslaughter; the Minster of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, said the public should respect the decision while the army should support the family.
“Even those, like myself, who like the verdict less, must accept and respect it,” Lieberman said. As Lieberman has the authority to pardon the soldier, his statement is significant.
Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit defended Israeli military justice which “fulfills its job independently, without fear or bias, through professional legal considerations alone.”
The left-wing Meretz Member of Parliament, Tamar Zandberg said the Azaria case shows that “no one is exempt from the rule of law.”