IDF Soldier Azaria Sentenced To 18 Months Imprisonment In Controversial Manslaughter Trial

The Jaffa Military Court on Tuesday sentenced Hebron shooter Sgt. Elor Azaria to 1.5 years in jail for his manslaughter conviction for killing Palestinian attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif on March 24, 2015, as he lay wounded in a Hebron street.

Azaria’s shooting of Sharif, around 10 minutes after the Palestinian was wounded while attacking an IDF checkpoint, was filmed.

The video went viral and led countries around the world and the International Criminal Court to follow the criminal proceedings.

The IDF prosecution had requested a three to five year sentence based on past cases of manslaughter.

Azaria’s defense lawyers, Ilan Katz and Eyal Besserglick had requested no jail time and even asked the court to toss the conviction because of alleged problematic pressure by the IDF on Azaria’s family to get him to drop his expected appeal.

Reports broke on January 11 about a meeting between Azaria’s Kfir Brigade battalion commander Col. Guy Hazot and his father, Charlie Azaria, in which the IDF allegedly offered lenient treatment to end the public relations headaches and social divisions the case has created in the army and throughout the country.

The defense team then brought Hazot to court as a witness on January 31 in a special hearing about the impact of his meeting on the proceedings.

The defense hoped to use Hazot’s testimony to get the Jaffa Military Court to toss the conviction, or to give a lenient sentence in light of allegations that the IDF, through Hazot, tried to pressure Azaria into expressing regret in exchange for more lenient treatment.

But despite Katz and Besserglick’s efforts to tear down Hazot or to get him to implicate members of the IDF high command in a conspiracy against Azaria, he said he took sole responsibility for the dialogue.

He added that he merely thought that after reading how damning the court’s conviction of Azaria was, that right after the conviction was a last window of an opportunity to save Azaria from a longer jail sentence if he cooperated.

Regarding sentencing, IDF Prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman had argued that any time spent in open detention on an army base should not count toward jail time.

On one hand, Weissman said that Azaria could be treated severely, as he had expressed no regret and killed intentionally, not by mistake.

On the other hand, he said Azaria deserved some leniency from the maximum 20-year sentence, since he shot a terrorist in a moment of high stress and had been regarded as a distinguished soldier up until the incident.

Azaria would face an uphill battle on appeal with the IDF courts recently promoting the head of the Jaffa Military Court panel, IDF Judge Col. Maya Heller, and the court’s verdict carefully addressing each of the defense’s arguments. Another appeal could potentially also be made to the High Court of Justice.

If an appeal does not succeed, Azaria could ask IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for a pardon. If Eisenkot refused to a pardon, Azaria’s last shot at escaping jail would be to ask Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to recommend to President Reuben Rivlin that he pardon him.

Domestically, a pardon would be popular. Internationally, it could create a new scandal.

In the March 24 incident, Sharif stabbed another soldier and friend of Azaria’s, but was then shot several times and fell to the ground, nearly motionless.

By the time Azaria arrived on the scene around 10 minutes later, other IDF personnel in the area did not view Sharif as a concrete threat, even though some soldiers and many civilians saw him as a potential threat.

If he was not a threat, Azaria’s job as a medic would have been to merely attend to the wounded. Instead, he was seen across the globe on a video shooting Sharif in the head, killing him in a seemingly execution-style manner.

Azaria claimed self-defense, saying he was concerned Sharif would attack again with a knife or that he was wearing a concealed explosive vest. However, the Jaffa Military Court rejected all his defenses as being invented after the fact and convicted based on his original explanations that he shot Sharif out of revenge.

They pointed to testimony of his officers and, critically, of his soldier friend T.M., who was on the scene and testified that Azaria originally said Sharif needed to be killed out of revenge for stabbing a fellow soldier.

The defense’s cross-examination of T.M. had failed to knock down his testimony, the judges contended.

Azaria’s admission, spontaneously, that he killed out of revenge, is uniquely, objectively credible, the court said, adding that he did not mention fear of an explosive device on the spot, but only after the fact.

Heller took the prosecution’s side that Azaria changed his story five times, and found that the final story lacked credibility.

The court also accepted rank-and-file paramedic D.S.’s testimony that Azaria never mentioned a bomb, saying that witness had no incentive to lie. In addition, the judges added that Azaria had been evasive of many questions during cross-examination.

They did not mention three former IDF generals who testified in Azaria’s behalf until close to the end of the trial, and disregarded their testimony as being overly generic, not related to the specifics of the case and therefore irrelevant.

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    IDF sergeant Elor Azariya was sentenced to 18 months in prison Tuesday afternoon, after being convicted of manslaughter in January.

    The head of the judicial panel, Maya Heller, said that “the act of punishment is difficult and complex. We will do what is appropriate for the accused. The most severe punishment of 20 years teaches us the stringency of the crime of manslaughter. The facts are as they were determined during the course of the adjudication. We will detail the various acts and decide the appropriate punishment for the accused.”

    Heller repeated the main reasoning for punishment as well as the character witnesses statements that Azariya was an outstanding soldier who did not receive the correct treatment from his officers when he was suffering from emotional stress after the Hevron attack. “We heard that Azariya’s commanding officers did not speak to him during the course of the trial and that the medical situation of his parents deteriorated.”

    The judge also mentioned that the prosecution had claimed that “the fact that Azariya did not take responsibility for his actions should be taken into account…Azariya used his weapon for a forbidden goal but was in a complex situation.”

    “The accused’s behavior harmed a number of values,” said Heller. “The main value- the sanctity of life, is considered to be the most significant value. The accused also harmed the purity of arms. In our opinion even in complicated situations, and maybe specifically in those, a soldier must be careful not to cause harm to human beings.”

    The judge emphasized that during the attack in Hevron “the threat of the terrorists was real” and they intended to kill IDF soldiers. She stressed that there are various reasons to be more lenient towards the accused and to take the situation into consideration.

    The judge said that even though these claims were dismissed during the course of th judiciary process they could be taken into account today when discussing the sentence of Azariay.

    She added that ” we could also take into consideration the period in which Azariya sat in confinement and acted positively. It would have behooved the military commanders of the Kfir brigade to visit him during this period.”

    Earlier Azariya entered the court and was received with cheers from his family. His mother, Oshrah Azariya, hugged him and said in a loud voice “bravest in the world, my boy, with an angelic smile”.

    Charlie, Azariya’s father, said to family and friends at the court: “We will accept the ruling. I request that nobody should respond to it. We love the people of Israel and all the soldiers here. I ask everyone here to exercise restraint.”

    The prosecutor, Military Prosecutor Nadav Weisman, asked the court to sentence Azariya to between 3 and 5 years in jail and to lower his rank to private. The prosecution requested the lower amount of jail time, which is closer to 3 years in jail.

    The defense demanded that Azariya be released and not serve a day in jail. They stressed that they would appeal even a lenient sentence and would request a delay in implementation of the jail sentence.

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