The family of an Israeli soldier sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting and killing an incapacitated Palestinian stabber decried his punishment as too severe Tuesday, while relatives of the man he killed attacked the ruling for being overly lenient.
“Ten months in prison without any consideration for the arrest period that my little brother has already served. We will continue to fight. I am ashamed of my country,” Eti Azaria, sister of IDF medic Elor Azaria, wrote on Facebook after the sentence was handed down.
Meanwhile, Yusri al-Sharif, the father of slain assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, said the sentence was “unjust” and a “farce designed to deceive world opinion.” The attacker’s uncle, Fathi al-Sharif, said, “We as a family [found] the sentence was unsatisfactory and unfair, in comparison to those given by the Israeli occupation against our sons.”
Azaria was convicted in January of manslaughter in the shooting death of Sharif on March 24, 2016, following a stabbing attack carried out by Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron. Azaria, a combat medic, was filmed shooting Sharif in the head as the assailant lay wounded on the ground. During the months of trial that followed Azaria was kept in military custody and confined to base.
The 18-month jail term was handed down by an Israeli military court at IDF headquarters in the Kirya base, Tel Aviv, on Tuesday. Azaria, 21, was also given a 12-month suspended sentence by the military court, as well as a demotion in rank to private.
Azaria entered the packed courtroom around midday to applause from friends. Dressed in military uniform and smiling broadly, he hugged family members and his girlfriend.
His mother Oshra, wearing blue and white nail polish with letters on each nail spelling out together “mother’s hero,” hugged him as he mugged at the cameras. Around 100 right-wing demonstrators protested outside the court in support of the soldier.
Before the judge entered, Azaria’s father Charlie told his supporters to respect the ruling. After the verdict was read out, the family sang “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, together and called him a hero.
“We will find the time and place to say how we feel,” Charlie Azaria said as he exited the courtroom.
Azaria’s attorneys had said earlier in the day they would appeal any sentence that included jail time.
Meanwhile, Sharif’s family watched the sentence read out on television at home.
“A year and a half is a farce,” Sharif’s father Yusri told journalists at the family home near Hebron in the southern West Bank. “What does a year and a half mean? Was he an animal to be killed like this, in this barbaric way?”
He added that the court was “laughing in our faces…My son is not alive…They arrest someone for throwing a rock and he gets two years; the soldier murdered and got a year and a half.”
The uncle, Fathi, noted to The Times of Israel that while Azaria was jailed for 18 months, “Palestinians get two or even up to four years jail terms for throwing rocks… [Israel] claims to be democratic but does not practice it at all.”
He also slammed the decision to allow Azaria to be flanked by his parents during the court proceedings. “There were unfortunate events at the trial in comparison to those of our [Palestinian] sons. At trials for our [Palestinian] sons, it’s not possible for the mother or father to be present, but at this trial, the mother and father were beside the soldier, as well as his friends,” said Sharif.
Asked how the family would respond, Sharif said it would be up to the Palestinian leadership to take the case to the international courts, as the family does not have the ability to do so on its own.
Palestinian Authority spokesperson Tarek Rishmawi said Azaria’s sentence would lead to further crimes by IDF soldiers.
“The Palestinian government views this light ruling against the murderer soldier as a green light to the occupation army to continue its crimes,” he said.
The Palestinian foreign ministry, in a statement posted on its website, also called the Azaria trial a “farce.”
The statement added: “The ministry is following with great interest the martyrdom of the young man Abdel Fattah al-Sharif and dozens of other martyrs executed in the field with all the international bodies. It is calling on the relevant human rights organizations to expose the theatrical and perfunctory Israeli trials… before the national courts in [their] countries and the relevant international courts.”
Judges ruled that Azaria would begin his 18-month sentence on March 5 after defense attorneys asked for a delay while they file an appeal. The soldier has been confined to base after being released to military house arrest shortly after the March incident.
Chief prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weisman said in a statement after the sentencing that the jail term would send a message to commanders about upholding the army’s values.
“We know this was a hard day for the accused, but justice needed to be done and justice was done,” he said.
Yoram Sheftel, who led the defense in the weeks since the conviction, confirmed there would be an appeal, and added that the fact the court ruled that Azaria would serve only half of the minimum amount requested by the prosecution shows that such a move is justified.
Before the sentence was announced, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the court calling out threats of a mass uprising if Azaria was sent to prison. “Death to terrorists,” they chanted.
As news of the prison sentence filtered out of the military headquarters, the crowd shouted “Disgrace.”
Police said one person was detained for harassing journalists covering the sentencing, but no other disturbances were reported during the event.
Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
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