The manslaughter trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier who shot and killed a disarmed Palestinian assailant in Hebron, resumed Sunday, with the judge beginning to hear witnesses for the defense.
Eliyahu Libman, civilian security chief for Hebron’s Jewish settlers, told the Jaffa military court that there was no justification for the accusations against Azaria, stating that in past cases soldiers had shot to kill attackers without being put on trial.
“In terrorist incidents I witnessed, I saw with my own eyes that in every instance in which a terrorist attacked, soldiers shot him in the center of mass until he was neutralized… and [shot] a bullet to the head to ensure that the terrorist could not set off a suicide belt or continue the attack. These soldiers never went to court,” he testified.
Azaria shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif dead nearly 15 minutes after the latter was shot and wounded by soldiers he had tried to stab, as he lay wounded and unarmed on the ground. Azaria has been charged with manslaughter. His main defense claim has been that he shot Sharif because he saw him moving and feared that the Palestinian was wearing an explosive belt and was trying to set it off, endangering troops in the area.
Sharif was not found to have been carrying explosives.
Libman, who was at the scene at the time of the incident, disputed the assertion that Sharif was neutralized and thus was no longer a threat, claiming the word “neutralized” only applied to an assailant who had either been killed or had been inspected by sappers and was already in handcuffs. None of those descriptions applied to Sharif, he said.
He backed Azaria’s statement that the fact Sharif was wearing a jacket on a hot day made him a threat. “Anyone with experience knows… that there is serious concern of a bomb” in such cases, Libman said.
Although Azaria has testified it felt like it was 30°C (86°F) that day in Hebron, meteorological records showed the temperature was a far more mild 19°C (66°F). Meanwhile, Haaretz correspondent Chaim Levinson noted on Facebook that photos from the scene of the incident showed Libman was himself wearing a jacket at the time.
אז קב"ט חברון אליהו ליבמן חזר היום בעדותובמשפט אלאור אזריה על השקר שא-שמסיה היה עם "מעיל שחור ביום חם". מסתבר שליבמן עצמו היה עם מעיל
Azaria’s company commander Tom Na’aman testified against him during the trial, saying Sharif posed no threat when he was shot, and that after shooting him, Azaria told him: “This terrorist was alive and he had to die.”
Libman said Na’aman, though “a pleasant man” who generally did good work in Hebron, in this instance had “failed” as he had not done enough to secure the scene.
He also criticized the battalion commander who he said “arrived late to the scene” and the regional brigade commander who he accused of abandoning Azaria.
Libman further accused the security establishment of attempting to impose its version of events upon everyone involved, and of rejecting those who did not toe the line.
“There was an atmosphere of piling on whoever thought different from the agenda. They’d marked their target,” he said. “For many years I was a part of the inquiry into many such events. This time it was done behind closed doors, and they didn’t want to hear what I and others had to say. I am concerned that it is not by chance that we were not summoned [by security officials to the inquiry], but as part of an agenda” to bulldoze Azaria.
He also claimed security officials attempted to put words in his mouth. He said he had been informed by a Defense Ministry employee that then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon had misquoted him as saying Azaria’s shooting was unjustified.
“I made it clear to this employee: Utter lies. The opposite is true,” he said.
In 2005 Libman received a citation from Ya’alon, then-IDF chief of staff, for his part in the defense response to a 2002 attack that killed 12 soldiers in Hebron.
Azaria’s trial had been halted for several weeks in order to give his attorneys time to bring witnesses.
Defense attorney Eyal Besserglick said Sunday morning that “witnesses who were in the area or nearby will testify, some of whom were not questioned by military police. We have all kinds of expert witnesses.
“There will be a lot of surprises,” he predicted in an interview with Army Radio.
Among the witnesses who were to give testimony backing Azaria’s shooting of Sharif are three former senior IDF officers: Brigadier General (res.) Shmuel Zakai, Major General (res.) Dan Biton and Major General (res.) Uzi Dayan.
Zakai was the commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division before he resigned from his post in 2004 over accusations that he had leaked reports to the Israeli media about differences in opinion between the IDF and political leaders. He was later forced to resign from the IDF.
Biton headed the IDF’s Technological and Logistics Directorate until 2012.
Dayan is a nephew of former minister and IDF chief of staff Moshe Dayan. He served as head of the IDF’s Central Command, was deputy chief of staff, and later headed the Israeli National Security Council before launching a brief political career.
The killing of Sharif, which was caught on film, made international headlines, and Azaria’s subsequent trial has inflamed political tensions in Israel, with far-right supporters and some politicians accusing the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.
Over the coming month the defense team is expected to call some 25 witnesses to the stand, according to the Ynet news site.