Israeli military court judges read out their verdict on Wednesday morning beginning at 10:00 Israel time in the case of Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria. From the first sentence of the verdict, it was clear that he was found guilty and the detailed rationale behind the verdict was read out over nearly three hours. I followed the televised court proceedings that was accompanied by expert commentary in the studio. This all took place in Hebrew and I translated the material into English onto Twitter throughout the program.
The case against Elor Azaria has caused a serious split in the country. In March 2016, the scene of a terrorist attack was filmed by an anti-Israeli nongovernment agency that is constantly seeking ways to vilify the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Two terrorists had stabbed Israeli soldiers and had been shot. One terrorist died of his wounds and the second was lying on the ground, wounded. Azaria walking onto the scene after it had been secured but he was apparently not aware that the incident had been totally contained. The videotape caught him suddenly aim his rife at the wounded terrorist and shoot him in the head. He was nicknamed, the Hebron shooter.
Shortly after the video was uploaded onto the social media, even before any investigation had yet begun, leading Israeli politicians came out against Azaria, accusing him of improper behavior and of impuning the IDF. The country was suddenly split between those who saw Azaria as a hero who prevented other possible deaths and those who believed there was no reason for him to have killed a terrorist who was wounded and about to be loaded onto an ambulance and removed from the scene.
He was charged with manslaughter and the verdict was delivered today. The judges were clear about the fact that the defense did not prove any of their arguments sufficiently well to provide a basis for doubt. Journalist Dov Gil-Har emphasized this fact.
The video was not doctored and provided the most substantial evidence of Azaria’s guilt. The expert witnesses that the defense invited to give testimony were not considered reliable by the court. Most damning was the comparison between Azaria’s spontaneous statements immediately prior to and following the shooting with statements he made after having met with a lawyer.
Soldiers in the IDF are well trained in Rules of Engagement and proper use of their weapons under the wide variety of challenging situations in which they find themselves. They are instructed to kill a terrorist who threatens their lives and cannot be subdued. In this case, the killing of the terrorist was deemed to be unlawful because it occurred after the terrorist had been rendered incapacitated. The judges did not believe Azaria’s claim that he was afraid and believed the terrorist was about to set off an explosive belt.
Member of Knesset Tzipi Livni (Likud) said that the fact that Israel has a just court system protects Israeli soldiers from the threat of prosecution in the International Criminal Court.
The next stage of the trial will be to hear arguments regarding sentencing and then the sentence the judges will hand down to Elor Azaria. Here is where flexibility is hoped for even among those who believe the verdict is just. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 20 years, but the judges have absolute flexibility and can sentence him with probation or community service or any number of years behind bars.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is not the only one to have suggested Azaria should be pardoned in spite of his conviction. Even left-wing Member of Knesset, Shelley Yechimovich (The Zionist Camp), praised the court for having reached a fair verdict and at the same time suggesting a pardon was in order. During the proceedings, some commentators were already suggesting action to promote a pardon for soldiers if a guilty conviction would be handed down.
Many believe that the trial should have not have happened at all, such as General (reserves) Uzi Dayan.
One of the developers of the IDF Code of Ethics, Professor Asa Kasher, supported the verdict.
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