Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his stance over the case of an IDF soldier indicted for manslaughter after shooting and killing an already subdued Palestinian stabber earlier this year.
Certain politicians “saw an opportunity, decided to declare the soldier a hero and started spreading rumors against the prime minister, against me and against the IDF,” Ya’alon said on Wednesday, pointing to the initial upheaval after the event.
“Later, sadly, the prime minister switched sides and decided to embrace the soldier and his family,” he charged.
Military prosecutors have demanded prison for Sergeant Elor Azaria, 19, who shot a 21-year-old Palestinian attacker on March 24 in the city of Hebron, in the southern West Bank. A video widely circulated online appeared to show Azaria, who holds Israeli and French citizenship, shooting Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the head despite him lying flat on the ground, seemingly posing no threat. He and an accomplice, also shot dead, had stabbed another IDF soldier, wounding him lightly.
A verdict is expected next week, Channel 2 reported.
The incident and subsequent trial sparked much controversy in Israel and inflamed political tensions, with far-right supporters and some politicians accusing the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.
The shooting also set off a clash between then defense minister Ya’alon and Netanyahu, who called for “balance” in the legal proceedings.
“As the father of a soldier and as prime minister, I would like to reiterate: The IDF backs its soldiers,” Netanyahu said in April, angering Ya’alon and top military brass.
Ya’alon hit back a month later, delivering a speech urging IDF officers to continue speaking out against the “extremist minority” who, he said, were working to undermine the values of Israel’s military. The address earned him a summons by Netanyahu and he was replaced a short time later with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, amid the PM’s efforts to expand and strengthen his coalition.
Liberman has publicly supported Azaria and has said that politicians, in reference to Ya’alon, should not decide his fate by speaking publicly against his actions.
Speaking Wednesday at an event for high school seniors, many of whom will imminently start their military service, Ya’alon described in detail the sequence of events surrounding the shooting.
“Eleven minutes after the struggle was over [between the attacker and a stabbed soldier], the soldier [Azaria] arrived where the two [attackers] were laying on the ground, one of them was dead, the other was dying. He gave his helmet to a friend, saying ‘hold this one second,’ cocked his weapon and fired at the head of the attacker,” Ya’alon told the teenagers.
“We don’t just shoot at people,” said the former defense minister who also served as IDF chief, “not even if he’s a terrorist, not even at another soldier who just shot at you but has now surrended and has been neutralized, we don’t just shoot.”
Ya’alon said it was immediately clear to everyone in the vicinity — the soldier’s friends and colleagues — that it was “against orders, against the law and against our [IDF] values.”
“It was clear to the top brass that this is not something you do,” he added.
Describing the immediate aftermath after receiving a message about the incident, Ya’alon said that he and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot saw the footage and knew that “if we don’t come out very clearly against this, that we denounce it, this behavior, then the Palestinians will accuse us — as they have for a long time — of committing extra-judicial killings, and that if we don’t stop this immediately,” there will be a Palestinian and international response.
“And so we decided — the prime minister, myself and the IDF chief — to issue a response saying we condemn the incident, and then the legal proceedings took over.”
After the prime minister “switched sides,” Ya’alon charged, a campaign was launched against the IDF chief, and he found himself alone defending the Israeli military.
Azaria’s case has sparked fierce debate among Israelis, with many advocating for the army to abide by ethical values such as proportionate use of force.
Others have defended his actions by pointing to the spree of Palestinian attacks over the past year and arguing he was acting under the orders of his officers.
AFP contributed to this report