Defense, prosecution called to mediation in Hebron shooter case
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Defense, prosecution called to mediation in Hebron shooter case

Following judges request, lawyers for both sides of Elor Azaria trial meet to resolve their appeals, despite prosecution’s opposition

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

Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian stabber, seen during a court hearing at a military court in Jaffa, July 26, 2016. (Flash90)
Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian stabber, seen during a court hearing at a military court in Jaffa, July 26, 2016. (Flash90)

The prosecution and defense attorneys in the Sgt. Elor Azaria case were called to a mediation meeting on Thursday, in an attempt to resolve both sides’ appeals without the need for a judicial ruling.

The prosecution had initially refused mediation, but apparently backed down from that stance and was called to the meeting with defense attorney Yoram Sheftel by the IDF’s chief prosecutor, Col. Sharon Zagagi Pinchas, the army said.

Azaria was convicted of manslaughter on January 4 and sentenced to 18 months in prison in February for shooting dead a Palestinian assailant who had 11 minutes before stabbed an IDF soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016, and was lying on the ground disarmed and injured.

The Azaria case, sometimes referred to as the Hebron soldier case or the shooting soldier case, revealed deep rifts in Israeli society. Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon was, in part, ousted from his position in favor of current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman as a result of clashes with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the case.

On March 1, the soldier’s attorneys, led by Sheftel, appealed the conviction, contending that the prosecution lacked key evidence and that the military was arbitrarily applying the law, as other soldiers had not been tried for similar crimes.

Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, military prosecutor in the trial against IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following the verdict of Azaria on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, military prosecutor in the trial against IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following the verdict of Azaria on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Meanwhile, the prosecution, led by Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, filed its own appeal, claiming that Azaria’s 18-month sentence was insufficient in comparison to the severity of his crime.

Throughout the month of May, Sheftel’s team faced off against Weissman’s in the army’s appellate court in Tel Aviv, before a panel of three military judges, a major general and a brigadier general.

On Sunday, the Chief Judge Zvi Segal urged the two sides to “rise above” the enmity heard in the course of the contentious trial.

Elor Azaria's father Charlie, center, mother Oshrat and defense attorney Yoram Sheftel, hold a press conference on March 1, 2017, in Tel Aviv, to announce an appeal against Azaria's 18-month jail term for manslaughter. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Elor Azaria’s father Charlie, center, mother Oshrat and defense attorney Yoram Sheftel, hold a press conference on March 1, 2017, in Tel Aviv, to announce an appeal against Azaria’s 18-month jail term for manslaughter. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Sheftel agreed to a two-week mediation process, but Weissman initially refused, saying a judicial ruling was necessary.

“[My] role is to request that you determine the findings of the fact,” Weissman told the judges. “And even more important, to determine the norms and proper punishment.”

The prosecutor added that the court “hasnt heard any regret” from Azaria.

While this is not the first time an IDF soldier has been convicted of manslaughter, it is an exceedingly rare occurrence, as most cases are settled through a plea deal in order to avoid a trial. The few cases where IDF soldiers have been found guilty were under completely different circumstances, giving judges little in the way of precedent to determine sentencing.

For over a year, the soldier has been confined to base after being released from military house-arrest shortly after the March 24, 2016 incident. His time spent on base will not count toward his sentence, but nine days he spent in jail immediately after the killing will be deducted from his term, the judges ruled.

Adding an element of complexity to the case, Azaria’s military service ends on July 20, meaning that if a verdict is not reached by then, he will no longer be able to remain confined to a military base. In such a case, the judges would need to decide if Azaria would remain under arrest and if so under what conditions.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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