A defense lawyer for IDF soldier Elor Azaria, convicted in January of manslaughter for fatally shooting a disarmed and incapacitated Palestinian assailant last year, has filed a request to submit new evidence in the case.
Last month, Yoram Sheftel, Azaria’s attorney, filed an appeal against the conviction and the 18-month jail sentence handed down by the Jaffa Military Court, which led the prosecution to file its own appeal asking the court to increase his sentence to between 30 months and five years.
On Thursday, Channel 10 reported that Sheftel asked to submit new evidence which includes documentation of at least 15 occasions where IDF soldiers shot at Palestinians and were not tried.
According to the report, some of the details of the incidents allegedly showing precedent were gathered from an investigation launched by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
A Palestinian activist for the group had filmed Azaria, 21, shooting dead Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif, minutes after Sharif and another man had carried out a stabbing attack on troops in the West Bank city of Hebron, and as Sharif lay on the ground disarmed and bleeding having been shot during the attack. The incident occurred on March 24, 2016.
The footage made international headlines at the time and 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.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had expressed emphatic support for Azaria immediately after the shooting last year, but has moderated his stance since assuming control of the Defense Ministry last June.
Two weeks ago, Azaria’s family took to the Israeli parliament to argue that their son’s sentence should be commuted.
Speaking outside the Knesset on March 16 before entering the building, Oshra Azaria, in rare comments to the press, said that her son “was sent to serve the state and I demand he be returned to me.”
Charlie Azaria, Elor’s father, called on President Reuven Rivlin to issue a pardon.
“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,” Azaria senior said.
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.
Rivlin’s office said requests would only be dealt with after all legal proceedings have ended.
Given that the verdict was handed down in a military court, the request for a pardon would be officially presented to Rivlin by Liberman after it is submitted by the Azaria family.
Liberman for his part has called for lenience in the case and this week dropped his most explicit hint so far that he supports a pardon for Azaria
Sharing a Facebook article on a British court decision to shorten the sentence of a Royal Marine convicted of killing a wounded Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, Liberman wrote: “In Britain they understand that you need to be lenient with soldiers fighting terrorists, even if they have made a mistake.”
Alexander Blackman was convicted of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 10 years by a military court in 2013 for the September 2011 killing in Helmand Province. Earlier this month, the Court Martial Appeal Court quashed the murder conviction and replaced it with one of manslaughter, on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
The post shared by Liberman referred to Blackman as “the British Elor Azaria.”
Liberman, who urged a pardon for Azaria before he took up the top defense job last year, refrained from explicitly calling for Azaria to be pardoned after he was handed the 18-month prison sentence last month. In a Facebook post at the time, he did, however, take pains to note the mitigating circumstances surrounding the case, and seemed to hint that a pardon might be advisable.
“Now, after the sentencing, I hope that the two sides will do what is necessary to finish this issue for good,” he wrote. “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.
“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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.