Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker in a high-profile case that split opinion across Israel, has been jailed for 18 months.
He was found guilty of manslaughter for shooting dead 21-year-old Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, in March 2016.
Elor Azaria had told a colleague that Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, who had stabbed another soldier, “deserved to die”.
Military chiefs condemned his actions, but others praised them.
The case fuelled debate in Israel over when and how soldiers are entitled to use lethal force against attackers.
The shooting occurred amid a wave of attacks by Palestinians that had killed 29 Israelis over the preceding five months.
The offence carries a sentence of up to 20 years, though prosecutors had called for Elor Azaria to be jailed for between 3 and 5 years.
Image source Times of Israel
Elor Azaria was also ordered demoted from his rank of sergeant.
Judge Maya Heller said his crime was mitigated by the fact that it was his first conviction, that it had occurred in an active military scene and that there had been no clear orders as to how he was supposed to act.
She noted that Elor Azaria had not displayed any remorse for what he had done.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority criticized the sentence as lenient, calling it a “green light to the occupation army to continue its crimes”, AFP reported.
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu has previously said he would support any decision to pardon Elor Azaria.
The killing received widespread coverage after footage of the incident, filmed on a mobile phone, was shown on Israeli news programs.
The footage showed Elor Azaria cocking his gun and firing at the head of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, who was lying apparently incapacitated on the ground after being shot and wounded following the stabbing attack.
The court which convicted Elor Azaria dismissed his claim that he had acted out of fear that Abdul Fatah al-Sharif might have been wearing an explosive vest.
Following the incident military chiefs and PM Benjamin Netanyahu came under fire from right-wing sections of society – including members cabinet – for criticizing Elor Azaria’s actions.
Benjamin Netanyahu later phoned Elor Azaria’s father to offer reassurance.
Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was filmed shooting dead a wounded Palestinian attacker after he had been disarmed of a knife, has been convicted of manslaughter.
Sgt. Elor Azaria, 20, shot Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, in the head while he was lying immobile on a road.
The incident happened in Hebron in the occupied West Bank in March 2016, after another soldier was stabbed.
Sgt. Elor Azaria said he thought Abdul Fatah al-Sharif might have an explosive vest, but prosecutors said his motive was revenge.
The high-profile trial has proven extremely divisive in Israel.
There have been rallies to support the soldier and some senior politicians backed Sgt. Elor Azaria. However, top military figures were quick to say that his actions did not reflect the values of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
In the incident on March 24, Abdul Fatah al-Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.
Image source Times of Israel
Footage of the scene several minutes later, filmed by a Palestinian and released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, shows Abdul Fatah al-Sharif alive.
A soldier, identified as Sgt. Elor Azaria, is then seen cocking his rifle and fatally shooting Abdul Fatah al-Sharif from several meters away.
In their indictment, prosecutors said Sgt. Elor Azaria “violated the rules of engagement without operational justification as the terrorist was lying on the ground wounded and represented no immediate threat for the accused or others who were present”.
Delivering the verdict on January 4, the panel of three military judges rejected Sgt. Elor Azaria’s defense that he shot Abdul Fatah al-Sharif because he continued to pose a threat.
Elor Azaria had told the court that he believed there might be a suicide belt under the Palestinian’s jacket.
The judges, who took two-and-a-half hours to deliver their verdict, noted that Sgt. Elor Azaria’s commanders had testified that he did not mention the same concerns when they questioned him immediately after the shooting incident.
The judges also said there was no dispute regarding the veracity of the statements made by another soldier, who testified to military investigators that Sgt. Elor Azaria had told him during the incident: “They stabbed my friend and tried to kill him – he deserves to die.”
Elor Azaria told the court that he did not recall having any such conversation, but the head of the judging panel, Col. Maya Heller, described him as an “unreliable witness”.
She said: “His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die.”
Prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman said: “This is not a happy day for us. We would have preferred that this didn’t happen. But the deed was done, and the offence was severe.”
A spokesman for Sgt. Elor Azaria’s family said evidence proving his innocence had been ignored. “It was like the court was detached from the fact that this was the area of an attack,” he said.
His mother, Oshra Azaria, shouted at the judges: “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
The defense team has said it will appeal against the verdict. Sentencing is expected in the next few weeks. Manslaughter in Israel carries a maximum 20-year term.
Abdul Fatah al-Sharif’s father Yusri was quoted as saying Sgt. Elor Azaria deserved a life sentence. Andul Fatah al-Sharif’s uncle, Fathi, told Haaretz that the decision to try him for manslaughter rather than murder was “a perversion of justice and of the court”.
A right-wing member of the governing coalition, Naftali Bennett, has called for an immediate pardon for the soldier.
The final decision lies with President Reuven Rivlin, who said in a statement that he would only deal with the issue once the judicial process had run its course.
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