Prosecution asks for 3-5 years in jail for Hebron soldier
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Prosecution asks for 3-5 years in jail for Hebron soldier

Elor Azaria’s commanding officer urges leniency for IDF sergeant who shot dead a wounded and disarmed Palestinian stabber

Elor Azaria, who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant, arrives at the military court in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)
Elor Azaria, who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant, arrives at the military court in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Military prosecutors on Tuesday sought a prison sentence of three-to-five years for an Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter in the killing of a disarmed and wounded Palestinian assailant.

“We believe the appropriate sentence for the accused should not be less than three years and not more than five years,” the prosecutor, Nadav Weisman, said during a court hearing at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Sergeant Elor Azaria, 20, was convicted by the Jaffa Military court earlier this month for killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016, in a case that has deeply divided the country.

The shooting in the West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video and spread widely online.

It showed Sharif, 21, lying on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army.

Azaria then shoots him again in the head without any apparent provocation.

Convicting him of manslaughter on January 4 after a months-long trial, a three-judge panel ruled there was no reason for Azaria to open fire since the Palestinian was posing no threat.

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

Judge Colonel Maya Heller called his testimony “evolving and evasive.”

“His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die,” she said.

Azaria, who also has French nationality, faces up to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that Azaria “acted deliberately, he used his weapon to punish, he killed a person, even if it was a terrorist.”

Colonel Guy Hazut, who formerly commanded the unit in which Azaria was serving, said he had “done something severe and should be punished.

“But,” he added, “I do not think he should spend 20 years or even 10 years in prison.”

The prosecutor also asked for an unspecified suspended term and for Azaria to be demoted from sergeant to private.

Azaria himself pleaded for the court’s mercy in its sentencing, saying his family had suffered long months of “torture” and had been crushed by the drawn-out trial.

Weisman said the time Azaria had spent confined to base should not be deducted from the sentence, but the nine days he spent in jail could.

Supporters of Sgt. Elor Azaria hold his photo and shout slogans outside the Israeli military court in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, January 4, 2017. The Hebrew sign reads "Free Elor." (AP/Oded Balilty)
Supporters of Sgt. Elor Azaria hold his photo and shout slogans outside the Israeli military court in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, January 4, 2017. The Hebrew sign reads “Free Elor.” (AP/Oded Balilty)

Azaria’s conviction sparked a vicious debate in Israel, with many saying he was just doing his duty and that he was scapegoated by the army. The army’s top brass, however, condemned the shooting immediately, with the military spokesperson saying at the time: “This is not the IDF, these are not the values of the IDF and these are not the values of the Jewish people.”

Nearly three-quarters of Israelis — 73 percent — feel the army’s top brass convicted Azaria in the press before the trial began, according to survey statistics released by the Institute for National Security Studies on Tuesday.

Right of center politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the center-left former Labor party leader MK Shelly Yachimovich, have come out in favor of a pardon for the Kfir Brigade soldier.

By law, there are two ways Azaria may obtain a pardon. All convicts, including soldiers, can appeal to the president, Reuven Rivlin. Soldiers can also turn to the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who has the legal power to issue pardons for active-duty personnel.

Rivlin has said he would only consider a pardon after Azaria’s legal appeals are exhausted.

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