Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called for “balance” in the contentious legal proceedings against an Israel Defense Forces soldier charged with manslaughter for killing a wounded and disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron last month.
The trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria has sparked much controversy and inflamed political tensions in Israel, with far-right supporters and some politicians accusing the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.
“As the father of a soldier and as prime minister, I would like to reiterate: The IDF backs its soldiers,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
“I am convinced that an examination of the event in Hebron will be done responsibly and sagaciously. Knowing the military justice system, I’m convinced that the court will consider all circumstances regarding the incident,” he added.
“Our soldiers are not murderers. They take action against murderers, and I hope that a way will be found to balance between the action and the overall context of the event. In the meantime, I suggest that everyone calm down,” Netanyahu concluded.
Azaria, 19, was filmed shooting 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif Sharif in the head on March 24, minutes after Sharif and another assailant stabbed and moderately wounded a soldier in Tel Rumeida, an Israeli enclave of the West Bank city of Hebron. The two assailants were shot — one was killed, while Sharif was wounded — by an army officer during the course of their attack.
Azaria was indicted for manslaughter in a military court on Monday.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused the IDF of breaking military law in its handling of the case by leaking details of its investigation before the official probe was completed.
“This should never have happened. It’s what started this whole mess,” she told Galei Israel radio on Tuesday. “The military police should have investigated this quietly, and allowed the court to determine the final outcome.”
Throughout the investigation, a number of details — including comments Azaria reportedly made saying that the stabber should be killed — were leaked to the Israeli media. The IDF has not commented on the leaked details.
Despite strong condemnation of Azaria’s actions by top military brass, thousands have demonstrated on the soldier’s behalf at a number of rallies around the country demanding his release from IDF custody.
A large rally in support of Azaria scheduled for Tuesday evening in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square drew ire from several lawmakers, with some questioning the damage it may cause to the IDF.
On Monday, two of three pop stars scheduled to headline the event, David D’or and Eyal Golan, canceled their performances after coming under public pressure over the highly politicized nature of the event.
Though she stopped short of explicitly endorsing the rally, Shaked on Tuesday said she “does not have a problem with people expressing their opinion in this matter.”
Azaria maintains that he believed Sharif might have been wearing a suicide vest and that he shot him out of fear he might activate the bomb. But military prosecutors have said the soldier’s behavior at the scene did not indicate any such concern.