An Israeli military court has convicted Israeli solider Sgt Elor Azaria of manslaughter after he fatally shot a wounded Palestinian suspect following a knife attack.

It was a victory for justice and the soul of Israel as a country of law and the protection of human dignity, even for its enemies.

The victim, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, aged 21, was one of the two men accused of stabbing an Israeli soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron in March.

  • Azari arrived 11 minutes after the incident had taken place
  • He fired one fatal shot to the head of the victim, already subdued
  • Opinion is divided in Israel on whether Azari should have face any prosecution whatsoever
  • Netanyahu appears to side with those asking for pardon
  • Video evidence shows the chilling crime
  • Sentencing scheduled for January 15th

The charges were initially brought against Azaria after video footage emerged showing him shoot Sharif in the head. Sharif was already lying on the ground, injured and already subdued. According to military reports, Azaria arrived 11 minutes after the attack but still decided to shoot Sharif in the head.

Watch the video here:

By this time the second Palestinian suspect had already been shot dead. Opinion is divided among the Israeli public, politicians and military – the focus has been on the military’s code of ethics.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday was clearly a voice on the side of pardon and wrote on his Facebook page, “(T)his is a difficult and painful day — first and foremost for Elor, his family, many citizens and parents of soldiers, among them me.”

Video footage showed Sergeant Azaria smiling as he entered the courtroom to applause, and he was embraced by his family and friends. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the compound, shouting slogans like “free the boy.”

The motivation of Azaria is what’s in question. He claims that he felt his life was endangered, and the prosecution argue that he was motivated by malice and vengeance.

A soldier testified that before the shooting, Sergeant Azaria had said, “How is it that my friend was stabbed and the terrorist is still alive?” After the shooting, a commander who was at the scene recalled Sergeant Azaria saying, “The terrorist deserved to die.”

The head judge, Col. Maya Heller, called the shooting “needless”.

 

The verdict

After the final verdict was finally announced, Azaria’s mother screamed, “You should be ashamed of yourselves” as the judges walked out.

Across the street several hundred supports waited behind a security barrier, dancing and cheering “Our soldier, the hero”. Some waved Israeli flags and homemade signs that read, “Today: Azaria Tomorrow: Your son.” Other signs said, “The nation is with you!”

The IDF released a statement saying it would respect and study the courts verdict. “The IDF judicial system will continue to act towards revealing the truth, with independence and professionalism, in any case of suspected wrongdoing by the IDF and its soldiers”, the statement said.

Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, said on Twitter that dozens of soldiers and commanders who killed Palestinians should have been convicted. “Fifty years of occupation add up to much more than one Azaria,” Mr. Tibi wrote.

Not all agree with this verdict. Others mostly on the political right don’t believe that Azaria should have faced any charges at all. Naftali Bennett, the Israeli education minister and Jewish Home party leader, called for an “immediate” pardon in a post on Facebook, saying the process had been “contaminated from the start.”

Human Rights

Many human rights groups praised the decision.

Amnesty International said the conviction was “a rare occurrence in a country with a long record of using excessive and unwarranted force,” and that it “offers a small glimmer of hope amid the rampant impunity for unlawful killings” in the Palestinian territories.

Rights organization Adalah — the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said the conviction was “the exception to the rule and stands unique in the long history of impunity enjoyed by Israeli armed forces.”

Sari Bashi, Israel advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Today’s conviction is a positive step toward reining in excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians.”