A former Israeli soldier who was convicted of manslaughter and went to prison for killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker said in an interview published Wednesday he has no regrets about the incident.
“I have no doubts. Take me back to those same seconds of the incident in Hebron and I would act in exactly the same way,” Elor Azaria told Israel Hayom, “because that is how one has to act.”
The interview took place three months after his release from jail. Azaria served nine months of what was initially an 18-month prison term for killing Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli soldier and had already been subdued.
“I am completely at peace with myself,” Azaria said. “I acted properly. I went with my truth. I did the right thing and there was no need for any of the things that happened [afterward].”
In extracts from the interview, which is to be published in full on Friday, Azaria said he was grateful for the warm welcome he was given upon his release from jail.
“I made me happy, the Jewish people united,” he said. “There is no one like the Jewish people.”
The Hebron shooter case revealed deep divisions in Israeli society over the army’s activities in the West Bank, with some — mostly on the right — arguing that he had behaved heroically in killing the Palestinian assailant, while others said he had broken the law and deserved a harsher sentence than he received.
Despite being denied a gun license earlier this month, Azaria said he would serve as a combat soldier in the IDF reserves.
“I love the state and the IDF,” he said. “When I was discharged from the army I received an order assigning me to a reserve unit and a certificate as a combat soldier in the reserves.”
Azaria has always insisted he behaved correctly in the shooting, which was filmed, and which took place in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016.
He maintained that he shot Sharif in the head because he believed he had a bomb hidden under his clothing and that there was a knife nearby. He said that people were screaming that someone should do something, “and I acted exactly as I had been taught since the beginning of my training as a combat soldier.”
The military court had rejected all Azaria’s claims, citing the soldier’s nonchalance in the moments before he killed Sharif, and his statements to fellow soldiers that the assailant deserved to die for attacking his comrades.
Azaria said he was only questioned on his actions some two hours after he had killed Sharif, and only after then-chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon had publicly condemned the shooting.
“Where is the logic? If I was only investigated two hours later, how could the public decide who was lying?” he said. “The IDF spokesman put out a statement before I was even interviewed saying that the chief of staff viewed the matter seriously.”
He claimed that his trial was a miscarriage of justice.
“Nothing would have happened, everything would have continued fine if there had not been a miscarriage of justice,” he said in the interview. “And if all sorts of officials had not opened their mouths and said nonsense.”
The incident gained headlines because it was caught on video which quickly circulated on social media.
“I still cannot digest it,” he said. “I know that I acted properly, not that it will help anyone. Therefore I appealed, despite people trying to talk me out of it, I did not back down. There is only one truth and I go with it until the end, with my head held high.”
He said that he rejected a plea deal which would have had him admit remorse because “nobody can understand the decisions of a combat soldier at the scene of an operation in enemy territory. I do not admit guilt and I do not express remorse. But I know that I acted properly.”
He claimed that the court was biased against him in his appeal, rejected witnesses and ignored facts. “My central witness, the testimony of my platoon commander, was invalidated [by the court],” he said. “Yet they still found me guilty. What happened here is that they abandoned a soldier so that Palestinians would not have a day of rage [in which they riot], as Ya’alon explained. This, despite the fact that Palestinians have plenty of days of rage.”
In response the IDF spokesman told Israel Hayom, “These claims were raised by Elor Azaria’s lawyers throughout both trials. Azaria was found guilty of the serious crime of killing. The court’s rulings speaks for themselves.”