An IDF soldier wounded in a stabbing attack after which his Palestinian stabber was shot dead backed up the shooter’s claim that there was real fear the attacker still posed a threat.
During the ongoing trial of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, who faces manslaughter charges for killing the disarmed and seriously injured Palestinian attacker in March, his fellow platoon member told the Jaffa Military Court on Sunday that as he lay on a stretcher after the attack he heard people shouting that the stabber could also be armed with a bomb.
“When they put me in the ambulance I started to hear cries that the terrorist is still alive, that apparently he has a bomb, and I understood that the incident was not over yet,” said the soldier, whose name was not cleared for media publication.
Azaria is standing trial for shooting Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head on March 24, nearly 15 minutes after al-Sharif was shot by soldiers he tried to stab them in Hebron. He testified in July that he feared al-Sharif was fitted with a bomb. No explosives were found on the body.
Much of the court debate has focused on events in the time after al-Sharif had initially been shot and until Azaria opened fire, during which medics and security forces were busy securing the scene in the aftermath of the stabbing attack.
The soldier, called Sunday as a witness for the defense, described how the attack unfolded, with two Palestinians approaching the IDF post he was manning along with others and then arousing suspicion as they drew nearer and dodged a metal detector.
One of the men then pulled out a knife and attempted to stab the platoon commander, whose gun jammed. The witness said he opened fire, killing the attacker, but was then knifed by the second assailant. Despite being stabbed in the back and hand, he managed to fire off three shots as he fell to the ground, apparently hitting al-Sharif, who then tried to escape. The soldier gave chase but his gun also jammed, preventing him from firing again. In the meantime, the officer cleared his own weapon and then shot Sharif who fell to the ground with serious injuries.
“When they started to shout that there is fear of a bomb, I also got nervous, because I realized I’m on a stretcher meters from the terrorist,” the soldier said and related that while in the hospital after the stabbing he told his deputy company commander that he had tried to continue shooting at al-Sharif to “neutralize” him because he thought he still posed a danger.
“Even when I saw that he was injured I wanted to continue to neutralize him, because if he had an explosive [belt] on him he could still manage to activate it.”
That aspect of the soldier’s testimony was challenged by prosecutors, who pointed out that during a military police investigation into the attack he did not mention any concern for an explosive.
In response, the witness said, “They didn’t ask me,” and pointed out that when an IDF investigator turned up at his home, “I wasn’t at my best, I was on painkillers.”
“My mental health wasn’t good, and I couldn’t give 100% details.”
The soldier admitted to the court that it was the first time that he had been in such a situation and said that although his unit had drilled responses to such an attack, they had not practiced securing a scene after an event or dealing with a downed attacker who may still be carrying a bomb.
After completing his testimony the soldier hugged Azaria in the courtroom.
א' סיים את עדותו והתחבק עם אזריה pic.twitter.com/BM1oJ2E7Gx
— Gili Cohen (@gilicohen10) September 25, 2016
The highly charged case has sent ripples through Israeli society and politics, where protecting the army and soldiers has been deeply embedded in the national psyche for decades.
While the army has insisted Azaria be prosecuted for what detractors call an extrajudicial killing, some on the right have insisted he was a “hero” and have accused the IDF of selling him down the river.
“It was hard for me to see what was written about the video of the soldier who shot a Palestinian. I didn’t feel that the headlines in the newspaper reflected the reality but distorted what happened in the field.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.