The family of a soldier sentenced to 18 months in prison for killing a wounded Palestinian stabber has taken its battle to have his sentence commuted to the Israeli parliament, arriving at the Knesset Thursday to persuade lawmakers to back a bid to pardon him.
Hosted by Likud’s Nava Boker, one of the first Knesset members to call for a pardon, Elor Azaria’s family presented lawmakers with what they called a “true account” of the incident in an attempt to persuade MKs to pressure President Reuven Rivlin to toss out the prison sentence handed down by a military court last month.
Azaria, 21, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months for shooting dead Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif on March 24, 2016, minutes after Sharif and another man had carried out a stabbing attack on troops in Hebron, and as Sharif lay on the ground disarmed and bleeding having been shot during the attack.
The case has opened deep fissures in Israeli society, with some on the left seeing it as a test case for the army’s commitment to law and order and those on the right seeing Azaria as a victim of his circumstances who should not be punished. Following the verdict, several right-wing lawmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called for him to be pardoned.
Speaking outside the Knesset before entering the building, Oshra Azaria said, in rare comments to the press, that her son Elor “was sent to serve the state and I demand he be returned to me.”
Charlie Azaria, Elor’s father, said he hoped the visit would “show the truth to all the Knesset members” so that they will support efforts to obtain a pardon.
“I am also here to make a direct call today to President Reuven Rivlin,” Azaria senior said, “Sir, you have said on a number of occasions that the IDF is the people’s army and the people’s army cannot go against the people. Today we ask you to free Elor because that is the will of the people. He is a soldier, a boy who is serving the country and protecting all the citizens of the state of Israel.”S
Azaria has two possible tracks for obtaining a pardon: either from the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who has already vehemently criticized Azaria’s actions and so is considered unlikely to grant a pardon, or from the president of Israel.
Boker told The Times of Israel that she hoped the visit would put pressure on both the legislative and executive branches to take action.
“Despite what the cynics say, Elor really is the son of all of us and everyone needs to realize that,” she said while escorting the family into the Knesset. “I hope that this visit will end with the president pardoning him. I call on other Knesset members to join the struggle.”
A spokesman for the president declined to respond directly to Wednesday’s comments, pointing instead to previous statements made by Rivlin in the case.
In a statement released hours after the January verdict, Rivlin’s office said requests would only be dealt with after all legal proceedings have ended.
“In accordance with standard practice regarding requests for pardons on this or any case, requests for pardons are dealt with when submitted by the applicant themselves, or by one with power of attorney, or an immediate relative, following a conclusive judicial ruling,” the statement read, suggesting Rivlin will not make any decision until all appeals proceedings — both the prosecution and defense have appealed the verdict — have been closed.
Given that the verdict was handed down in a military court, the request for a pardon would be officially presented to Rivlin by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman after it is submitted by the Azaria family.
While mainly right-wing politicians have called for Azaria’s sentence to be commuted, Liberman has refrained from explicitly calling for a pardon. He has, however, hinted that a pardon might be advisable given the circumstances of the incident.
“As I’ve said in the past, even those who don’t like the verdict or the sentence are bound to respect the court, and as I’ve also said, the military must stand beside the soldier and his family,” Liberman wrote in a Facebook post after the sentencing.
“You have, on the one hand, an exemplary soldier, and on the other, a terrorist who tried to kill Jews, and everyone must take that into account,” he added.
Liberman had expressed emphatic support for Azaria immediately after the incident occurred in March 2016, but has moderated his stance since assuming control of the Defense Ministry last June.