New footage suggests evidence tampering in Hebron shooting
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New footage suggests evidence tampering in Hebron shooting

Prosecutor releases video of ambulance driver kicking knife closer to disarmed Palestinian assailant who was shot dead by soldier

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria appears in Jaffa military court on June 1, 2016, for the first day of testimony in his manslaughter trial for shooting a disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron in March. (Flash90)
IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria appears in Jaffa military court on June 1, 2016, for the first day of testimony in his manslaughter trial for shooting a disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron in March. (Flash90)

New video footage released by the prosecution Wednesday as testimony began in the army’s case against Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the head earlier this year, appears to show an ambulance driver at the scene moving a knife closer to the man’s body after the fact, in a possible attempt to manufacture a case for self-defense.

In late March, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi and Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif attacked two Israeli soldiers in Hebron with knives, stabbing one of them. The other soldier opened fire, killing al-Qasrawi and seriously injuring al-Sharif.

Approximately six minutes later, Azaria arrived on the scene and five minutes after that the Kfir Brigade soldier was caught on camera shooting al-Sharif in the head as he lay motionless on the ground.

He was indicted for manslaughter and inappropriate military conduct in the Jaffa Military Court on April 18.

Azaria’s attorneys have claimed one of the reasons their client shot al-Sharif was fear that the Palestinian man, who had already attacked two soldiers, would use the knife to attack more people.

A 'before and after' comparison of the knife's placement during an incident in Hebron in which a soldier was filmed shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the head nearly 15 minutes after a stabbing attack on March 24, 2016. (screen captures: Channel 2)
A ‘before and after’ comparison of the knife’s placement during an incident in Hebron in which a soldier was filmed shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the head nearly 15 minutes after a stabbing attack on March 24, 2016. (screen captures: Channel 2)

“The accused acted in a split second to neutralize the terrorist and prevent injury to himself and his companions who were near the terrorist,” the defense team said last month.

This new video, which shows the knife was several feet away from al-Sharif at the time of the shooting, appears to further cast doubt on that assertion.

“There’s a claim that the terrorist moved his hand in the direction of the knife that was near his hand — we will show that this claim is a false one,” chief prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman told the Jaffa Military Court on Wednesday.

One of the Azaria’s defense attorneys, Ilan Katz, dismissed the new video as irrelevant because it recorded events after the actual shooting.

“The video clip of the kicking of the knife is not relevant, because it happened after the incident itself,” he said. “The soldier has been confronted with the video clips, and as the trial progresses we will prove the fact that this was not manslaughter.”

The other self-defense claim made by Azaria’s attorneys deals with the possibility that al-Sharif had been wearing an explosive belt that he could have detonated. The prosecution did not specifically address that claim on Wednesday, but has brushed it off as unlikely as al-Sharif’s body had already been searched and because shooting toward an explosive device while other soldiers are standing nearby is not army protocol in such a situation.

‘We had a terror attack. My friend was injured, he killed one terrorist and injured the second. I killed the second’

The lead investigator in the case, Maj. Ram Keinan, also testified that his team had spoken with another soldier on the scene, seen on camera taking Azaria’s helmet before the shooting.

The soldier told investigators that after he shot al-Sharif, Azaria said to him: “He stabbed my friend, he has to die.”

In addition, Keinan revealed that less than two minutes after the shooting, the Kfir Brigade soldier sent a text message to his father, telling him, “We had a terror attack. My friend was injured, he killed one terrorist and injured the second. I killed the second.”

This appears to be an attempt by the prosecution to portray the shooting as having been committed out of a desire for revenge and not necessity.

Most of the evidence for this case comes from a number of videos from the scene. The first footage, which ignited the controversy, came from a B’Tselem volunteer. In a short period of time, at least three other videos from the scene came to light. The army also had access to security cameras from the area, Keinan said.

All of the footage was sent to a police lab where it was checked to ensure that it had not been edited or altered, Keinan said.

According to Weissman, there was “no point in time in the visual footage” in which Azaria appeared threatened or “worried about the existence of a threat.”

Only later in the day did the defendant raise the issue of the knife and only sometime after that “was the dual claim of the knife and explosive device raised,” Weissman said.

The prosecutor decried the soldier’s claim as “imaginary self-defense.”

Israeli soldiers and police surround the bodies of two Palestinians who were killed after wounding an Israeli soldier in a knife attack, an army spokeswoman said, at the entrance to the heavily guarded Jewish settler enclave of Tel Rumeida in the center of the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP / HAZEM BADER)
Israeli soldiers and police surround the bodies of two Palestinians who were killed after wounding an Israeli soldier in a knife attack at the entrance to the heavily guarded Jewish enclave of Tel Rumeida in the center of the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP / HAZEM BADER)

“We will argue that the the terrorist was not in a state that could be lawfully described as presenting a genuine threat that demanded immediate action,” Weissman said.

The case has sparked much controversy and inflamed political tensions in Israel. Despite strong condemnation of Azaria’s actions by top military brass, including former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, far-right supporters and some politicians have accused the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.

Newly installed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman initially came out strongly in support of Azaria, but before entering his post promised not to interfere in the trial.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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