Security was stepped up around the three judges who convicted IDF soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter on Wednesday for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian assailant last March, as threats against the military panel were reportedly posted on social media.
According to Army Radio, the security detail came after “inciting” materials were posted on social media against the head of the tribunal, Judge Maya Heller.
Heller read out the unanimous verdict in the case on Wednesday for close to three hours, in remarks carried by Israeli media.
Outside, scores of activists demonstrating in support of Azaria — among them far-right supporters of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club — clashed with police and border guards dispatched to maintain order. Two people were arrested when protesters attempted to block Kaplan Street, a main avenue running outside the compound.
Some demonstrators earlier had chanted: “Gadi be careful, Rabin is looking for a friend,” referring to the IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot and the slain former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist in 1995.
Eisenkot on Tuesday rejected claims by Azaria’s supporters that he should be seen as a child whom the nation is committed to protecting. “An 18-year-old man serving in the army is not ‘everyone’s child,’” Eisenkot said. “He is a fighter, a soldier, who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this.”
On the WhatsApp messaging app, calls for Israelis not to enlist in the army were posted in various groups by supporters of Azaria, Army Radio said without elaborating.
The verdict on Sgt. Azaria, 19, was delivered by a panel of three judges at the army’s Kirya headquarters, a change of venue from the Jaffa Military Court’s usual meeting place in the city’s south.
Azaria was filmed in Hebron on March 24 shooting dead a Palestinian stabber who lay wounded on the ground immediately following an attack.
His trial became a highly charged lightning rod in Israeli public life, with politicians and current and former army generals taking sides supporting or condemning the soldier’s actions.
Many of the army’s top brass, as well as former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, had railed against Azaria’s “unethical” decision to shoot the assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in the head nearly 15 minutes after the latter was shot and wounded as he attempted to stab an IDF soldier.
In the lengthy, unanimous decision, Heller described the circumstances of the shooting and summed up the indictment and defense before tearing into many of Azaria’s claims. The judges concluded that Azaria’s testimony was “not credible,” that he had opened fire out of a desire for revenge, and that the shooting was “not justified.”
Sentencing is to follow at a later date.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday urged the Israeli public to “accept and respect” a military court’s conviction, but also said that he didn’t like the verdict and that the defense establishment would help Azaria and his family “in any way it can.”
Liberman, when still an opposition MK last March, argued against Azaria being charged and predicted that he would be acquitted.
Liberman declared, “A verdict has been delivered. Even those, like myself, who like the verdict less, must accept and respect it.”
He called the conviction “very difficult,” but said there was a need to read the judges’ lengthy verdict carefully and “count to three,” before expressing further opinions.
Liberman said the criticisms of IDF chief Eisenkot, and of the army in general, “have to stop” and that “the army must emerge strengthened from this” and must retain the widest possible consensual support.