IDF drafts top lawyer to help prosecute Hebron shooter
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IDF drafts top lawyer to help prosecute Hebron shooter

Veteran litigator and former JAG prosecutor to bolster army’s case against soldier who killed a disarmed Palestinian attacker

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Sgt. Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last month, arrives for a court hearing at Jaffa Military Court on April 18, 2016. (Flash90)
Sgt. Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last month, arrives for a court hearing at Jaffa Military Court on April 18, 2016. (Flash90)

Chief Military Advocate General Sharon Afek has reportedly enlisted a prominent private-sector attorney to join the team prosecuting an IDF soldier charged with manslaughter for killing a wounded and disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron earlier this year.

The move, reported in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Tuesday, indicates the army’s intention not to offer Sgt. Elor Azaria a plea bargain during the legal proceedings against him.

According to the report, Lt. Col. (res) Nadav Weisman, a veteran litigator and former military prosecutor, will bolster the IDF’s prosecution during the trial.

Weisman, who has assisted the army in a number of other high-profile cases in recent years, will join the team of IDF prosecutors as part of his mandatory reserve duty.

“This is an all-or-nothing case,” a senior official from the military prosecutor’s office official told the paper.

“You can’t charge [the soldier] with negligent homicide or illegal use of a weapon, because he shot in order to kill,” the official said. “There was a shooting that went against orders and army procedures, so the soldier will to have to explain why he did it.”

Lt. Col. (Res) Nadav Weisman (Courtesy)
Lt. Col. (Res) Nadav Weisman (Courtesy)

“If he did feel his life was in immediate danger, why didn’t he yell something, or warn others?” he added, referring to Azaria’s contention that he opened fire because he thought the Palestinian was wearing an explosive belt.

The shooting took place on March 24 in Hebron, a West Bank city that has been a focal point of a seven-month wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Two Palestinians stabbed and wounded a soldier before troops opened fire on them, killing one and wounding the other. A video from the scene showed the wounded attacker, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, still alive minutes later. The graphic footage from the scene showed Azaria shooting him in the head. After the video surfaced, Azaria was arrested, with rights groups labeling his action a summary execution.

He was indicted for manslaughter and inappropriate military conduct in the Jaffa Military Court on April 18.

The case has sparked much controversy and inflamed political tensions in Israel, and despite strong condemnation of Azaria’s actions by top military brass, far-right supporters and some politicians have accused the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.

Israeli soldiers remove the body of a Palestinian man shot after he stabbed and wounded a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers remove the body of a Palestinian man shot after he stabbed and wounded a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

In recent weeks, thousands have demonstrated on behalf of the 19-year-old sergeant at multiple rallies around the country, demanding his release from IDF custody.

Azaria’s attorneys deny their client used excessive or unwarranted force against Sharif, and have requested the charges against him be dismissed entirely. They told court during last month’s hearing that Azaria believed children were approaching for a Purim parade when he opened fire.

But military prosecutors — backed by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief Gadi Eisenkot — have said the soldier’s behavior at the scene did not indicate any such concern.

Last week, an internal IDF document leaked to Vice News showed that IDF prosecutors believe Azari was motivated by a “twisted ideology” to shoot the assailant, the website said. The 17-page document issued by military prosecutors stated Azaria told other soldiers both before and after the shooting that Sharif “needs to die.”

Residents of Beit Shemesh attend a March 28, 2016, rally in solidarity with Elor Azaria. (Yaacov Lederman/Flash90)
Residents of Beit Shemesh attend a March 28, 2016, rally in solidarity with a soldier who shot a Palestinian assailant in Hebron the week before. (Yaacov Lederman/Flash90)

It also said that Azaria changed his version of events during his questioning, saying he had shot “because I felt there was a threat to my life.”

The leaked report noted that prior to Azaria’s arrival at the scene both assailants had been checked by another soldier, who confirmed that they no longer posed any danger.

The most senior military investigator in the report stated that “shooting at the terrorist while he is on the floor with almost no movement, and is bleeding for a few minutes after the terror attack happened, is a significantly immoral action and there is no good explanation for this… The shooting serves the Palestinian claims about executions and by this hurts the legitimacy of our actions.”

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