A former IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter for killing a Palestinian assailant thanked his supporters and said he will enter jail with his head held high, in his first-ever public statement Thursday.
In the statement, broadcast on the Facebook page of former lawmaker Sharon Gal, Elor Azaria explained his decision earlier in the day to forgo a Supreme Court appeal and ask IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot for leniency from his 18-month jail sentence.
Azaria was prosecuted after a video showed him shooting to death Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron in March 2016, approximately 11 minutes after the Palestinian assailant had been been shot, injured and disarmed while trying to stab two soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron.
“I believe I could still be found innocent [in a Supreme Court appeal], but my family and I have suffered terribly for the past year and a half,” he said. “The ordeal cost my parents their health.”
Earlier Thursday, Azaria wrote a letter to Eisenkot maintaining that he thought Sharif could have had a bomb and saying he would not have shot him had he known what he knows now.
The court has dismissed the line of defense, citing Azaria’s relaxed demeanor before shooting Sharif.
He repeated the claim in the video.
“I promise you that I acted out of a sense of immediate danger at the scene of the attack. But the court gave its ruling, and we live in a nation of laws. So I’m going to serve the prison sentence handed down, in the hope that it will be reduced.”
Azaria stressed that he acted out of moral imperative, with no ulterior motivation.
“It’s important to me to emphasize: I grew up in an ethical and moral home. If I’d known the terrorist didn’t have a bomb, I wouldn’t have opened fire. The lives of the warriors around me and my own life were my consideration at the scene.”
אלאור מבקש להעביר לכם מסר ולהגיד תודה לעם ישראל. צפו
Posted by שרון גל on ceturtdiena, 2017. gada 3. Augusts
Azaria appeared in the video from his parents home, where he has been under house arrest since his release from the army last month, his eyes cast down and reading quickly from a prepared statement, striking a contrast from the smiling confident demeanor he had displayed in court.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to prison with my head held high,” he said. “I love this country with all my heart, I love the army, I love you, and again thank you with all my heart for everything you have done for me. Thank you for everything.”
Missing from the speech and the letter was any clear expression of guilt or remorse, which an army official has said would be needed as a precondition for leniency.
But Azaria said he will still hopes that his appeal for clemency will be answered.
“I want to return to routine as soon as possible. So I’m going to prison to serve out the punishment I was given, and won’t appeal to the Supreme Court,” he said. “Earlier today I appealed to the chief of staff asking that he reduce my sentence. I hope he responds affirmatively.”
Azaria also said he hopes soldiers in the future do not be influenced by his trial to avoid combat situations.
“I want to deliver a message to the youth. We have one country, let’s protect it,” he said. “I don’t want to think about the possibility that your motivation was harmed by my case. That must not happen. Go to combat [units]. Volunteer. Give as much as you can, for the nation and the country. We have no other country.”
Azaria was convicted in January in a military district court. A month later, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a demotion to private. In March, he appealed the verdict, taking the case to the army’s appellate court.
On Sunday, Azaria’s conviction and sentence were upheld by the higher court, who dismissed his testimony that he’d feared for his life, citing his nonchalance in the moments before he opened fire and killed Sharif.
Shortly after the appeals court’s verdict, Eisenkot said in a statement that he would seriously consider a request for leniency from Azaria. However, a senior military source later clarified that this would only be an option if Azaria expressed “real” remorse for his actions, something Azaria had not done up until that point.
Azaria was given until August 9 to decide if he would ask the Israeli Supreme Court to hear his appeal — as a soldier convicted in a military court, this request would not be automatically accepted — or if he would simply start his prison sentence.
In his letter to Eisenkot on Thursday, Azaria officially said he would not be seeking to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.