ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Hebron soldier said shooter ‘had to die,’ his commander says

Pathologist tells court wounded Palestinian stabber would likely have survived had Elor Azaria not shot him in the head

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

An IDF soldier loading his weapon before he appears to shoot an disarmed, wounded Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: B'Tselem)
An IDF soldier loading his weapon before he appears to shoot an disarmed, wounded Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: B'Tselem)

A military court heard testimony on Thursday that the IDF soldier on trial for manslaughter over his controversial shooting two months ago of a disarmed Palestinian stabber told his commanding officer after firing the fatal shot that the “terrorist had to die.”

IDF Major Tom Na’aman told the Jaffa military court his version of the events in Hebron on March 24, when Sgt. Elor Azaria, a soldier in the company under his command, shot the wounded stabber in the head.

The incident began when Palestinians Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi and Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif attacked two Israeli soldiers with knives, stabbing one of them. The other soldier opened fire, killing al-Qasrawi and seriously injuring al-Sharif.

Approximately six minutes later Azaria arrived at the scene, and five minutes after that, the Kfir Brigade soldier was caught on camera shooting al-Sharif in the head as he lay motionless on the ground.

IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, accused of killing a disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron, during a hearing at Jaffa Military Court, May 9, 2016. (Flash90)
IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, accused of killing a disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron, during a hearing at Jaffa Military Court, May 9, 2016. (Flash90)

Na’aman described how, after arriving at the scene, and based on initial reports he received from soldiers on how many shots they had fired, he was sure one of the stabbers was dead.

“Concerning the second [terrorist], I didn’t know what his condition was. I understood the second terrorist was also injured, but not killed,” he testified. “I noticed that the terrorist in the black shirt [al-Sharif] was moving his head. I could see the knife and I could see it was relatively far away, not within reach.”

He stressed to the court that the stabber’s shirt was tightly fitted to his body and could not have concealed a bomb.

“I was standing over him, a short distance, perhaps half a meter. I felt no danger. His eyes were closed, even rolled up [into his head]. At first glance it looked as though his body was collapsing,” he said.

After Azaria fired the shot “I understood [al-Sharif] was hit in the head,” Na’aman said and explained that at first he thought the bullet came from one of the armed civilians at the scene rather than a soldier.

Once he realized that it was Azaria who had pulled the trigger, Na’aman asked him why he had done it and Azaria responded, “This terrorist was alive and he had to die,” the officer said.

Azaria was indicted for manslaughter and unbecoming military conduct in the court on April 18.

An IDF soldier stands near blood stains from the body of a Palestinian assailant allegedly shot in head by a soldier as he lay wounded on the ground after stabbing and injuring an Israeli soldier in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP/HAZEM BADER)
An IDF soldier stands near blood stains from the body of a Palestinian assailant allegedly shot in head by a soldier as he lay wounded on the ground after stabbing and injuring an Israeli soldier in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (AFP/HAZEM BADER)

Na’aman pointed out that “Azaria was a good fighter, a good soldier and disciplined,” and noted his decision to become the company medic as evidence of his trustworthiness and dedication.

Earlier in the court proceedings Thursday, pathologist Hadas Gipes testified that the injured terrorist’s “heart was still pumping when the bullet went through his head. Blood was still reaching the area [of the wound] and filled the blood vessels. If the heart pumps, that means [he] was still alive.

“With immediate medical attention the terrorist would almost certainly have remained alive. Even without medical treatment it is likely the deceased would have stayed alive,” said Gipes.

Although Azaria admits to shooting Sharif, his defense attorneys have indicated they could seek to exhume and reexamine the body, after pathology reports showed Sharif was already seriously wounded in the lungs and groin from previous shots fired at him. The defense team suggested that the earlier gunshots may have already caused mortal wounds that should be taken into consideration.

The case has sparked much controversy and inflamed political tensions in Israel. Despite strong condemnation of Azaria’s actions by top military brass, including then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, far-right supporters and some politicians have accused the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.

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