During his third day on the stand on Tuesday, an Israeli soldier on trial for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian stabber faced harsh criticism from military prosecutors over apparent inconsistencies in his account of the March 24 incident.
Sgt. Elor Azaria was answering questions from the prosecution over the incident, during which he was filmed shooting Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head nearly 15 minutes after Sharif was shot and wounded by soldiers when he attempted to stab them in Hebron.
An IDF soldier was moderately wounded in the stabbing attack, during the course of which a second Palestinian assailant was shot and killed.
Chief prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman relentlessly probed Azaria, who has been charged with manslaughter, as to exactly when he made the decision to open fire.
In previous testimony, Azaria said that he heard shouts suggesting the incapacitated attacker may have been carrying explosives under his coat and still posed a danger, which, along with al-Sharif’s slight movements, prompted him to make a quick decision and shoot. However, evidence gleaned from video of the incident showed that the shouts came some two minutes before the fatal shot was fired.
“You decided to shoot him two minutes before you actually shot,” Weissman told Azaria before screening footage of the shooting to the court.
“That not true,” the soldier retorted. “I didn’t stand there with a timer. You’re trying to catch me out with word games.”
Weissman then asked Azaria to point to the moment, as seen in the video, that he decided Sharif posed an immediate danger.
After he failed to do so, Weissman told Azaria: “The fact that you can’t point to that moment proves that you didn’t shoot out of fear, but for other reasons.”
“That is your opinion, but I shot in order to save lives,” Azaria replied. “If I did shoot him out of revenge, I would have walked up to him and shot him in the head at point-black range.”
Weissman asked Azaria about a conversation he allegedly had with a comrade who testified earlier in the trial that moments before Azaria opened fire, he had told the defendant that sappers were on their way to secure the scene.
“I don’t remember having that conversation with him at the time,” Azaria said. “I do remember some talk about sappers, but don’t recall who said what exactly.”
Weissman also challenged Azaria’s claim that it was unusual for Sharif to be wearing a coat because it was a hot day. Although Azaria has testified it felt like it was 30°C (86°F) that day in Hebron, meteorological records showed the temperature was a far more mild 19°C (66°F).
Azaria also denied saying that the terrorist “deserved to die” after the shooting — something that his company commander captain Tom Na’aman and another soldier both testified in court that he had done.
“I am pretty sure I didn’t say that sentence,” he said. “And if I did say it, it was part of a sentence that they misinterpreted.”
On Monday, his first day of cross-examination, Azaria told the court that Na’aman, whom he accuses of slapping him in anger after the shooting, had left out key facts in his account of the incident and “lied on a few points.”
He also claimed that other commanding officers of his had lied about the incident, asserting that they had deliberately omitted important information in their court testimonies.
Last month Na’aman provided damning testimony against Azaria, saying Sharif posed no threat and that after the shooting him, Azaria told Na’aman: “This terrorist was alive and he had to die.”