A day ahead of the expected verdict in the highly charged trial of an IDF soldier accused of manslaughter for killing a wounded Palestinian stabber, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said, alluding to the case, that soldiers should not be seen as children.

Without mentioning Elor Azaria by name, Eisenkot apparently rejected claims by the soldier’s supporters that he should be seen as a child whom the nation is committed to protecting.

“An 18-year-old man serving in the army is not ‘everyone’s child,'” Eisenkot said. “He is a fighter, a soldier, who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this.”

Azaria was filmed on March 24, 2016, shooting Palestinian assailant Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in the head, nearly 15 minutes after al-Sharif was shot and wounded during an attempt to stab an IDF soldier in Hebron. Azaria was indicted on April 18 by the Jaffa Military Court.

An IDF soldier loading his weapon before he appears to shoot an apparently unarmed, prone Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: B'Tselem)

An IDF soldier loading his weapon before he appears to shoot an apparently unarmed, prone Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: B’Tselem)

The shooting and subsequent trial have deeply divided Israel.

In the face of strong condemnation of Azaria’s actions by top military brass including Eisenkot and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, far-right supporters and some politicians have accused the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.

But speaking at a conference at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center, Tuesday, Eisenkot said the country has to be clear about its priorities.

“The confusion in the discourse of Israeli society is a discourse which harms the most fundamental principles that we ask from our soldiers,” he said, adding that “the open-fire orders have not changed in a decade.”

Elor Azaria at a court hearing at a military court in Jaffa, August 28, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Elor Azaria at a court hearing at a military court in Jaffa, August 28, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A spokesperson for Azaria’s family said in response that Eisenkot’s comments were misplaced and mistimed. “The day before Elor Azaria’s verdict, the chief of staff found time to flagrantly meddle [in the case]. It is true that he is not everyone’s child, but he is everyone’s soldier.”

The family said that the ability to trust the army was essential. “We send our most precious [children to the army] with faith that they are in good hands, with officers who are worthy,” the spokesman said.