Sgt. Elor Azaria arrives at a military court in Tel Aviv on January 24 for the beginning of hearings on his sentencing for manslaughter..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF Col. Guy Hazot, the Hebron shooter’s brigade commander, admitted on Tuesday that he was solely responsible for initiating contact with Elor Azaria’s father about dropping an appeal of his son’s manslaughter conviction.
The defense team’s strategy in bringing Hazot as a witness was to try to get the Jaffa Military Court to toss out 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 leniency.
Most of Tuesday was spent by Azaria’s lawyers Ilan Katz and Eyal Besserglick trying to tear down Hazot or to get him to implicate members of the IDF high command in a conspiracy against Azaria.
Hazot pushed off those attempts and took sole responsibility, though he did admit that after meeting with Azaria’s father he gave updates to members of the IDF high command, including to Chief-of-Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
In one of the day’s most dramatic moments – after Hazot claimed the family had abused Maj. Tom Naaman when he tried to meet with them at an earlier date – Azaria’s father Charlie screamed, “You are a liar, take off your uniform!” Hazot described that outburst in answering why no one from the IDF tried to meet with the Azaria family throughout the trial.
The defense also spent several hours questioning Maj. (res.) Ofir Sofer, who acted as the middleman in arranging the meeting between Hazot and Charlie Azaria.
Sofer worked as Hazot’s deputy before retiring from the IDF.
Besserglick tried to get Sofer to admit to a conspiracy to pressure Azaria. But the most Sofer gave in return was that Hazot had mentioned to him that the time right after the manslaughter conviction was a “window of opportunity.”
While the defense interpreted this as a conspiracy to bully Azaria into surrendering his narrative and appeal, Hazot and Sofer both said they merely saw that the verdict was very serious, and thought it might be to his benefit to consult with the IDF public defender about a less aggressive litigation strategy which could lead to a deal.
Reports broke on January 11 about a meeting between Hazot and Charlie Azaria, in which the IDF allegedly offered the lenient treatment to end the public relations headaches and social divisions the case created in the army and throughout the country.
Near the end of the sentencing hearing late Tuesday night, the IDF Prosecutor Nadav Weissman presented legal precedents, suggesting a three-tofive- year sentence for Azaria’s manslaughter conviction.
He also 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 was convicted on January 4 of manslaughter in the March 24, 2015 killing of Palestinian attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif.
The so-called Hebron shooter trial has divided the IDF and the country and drawn massive international attention, going to the crux of a debate within Israeli society of how young soldiers should respond to ambiguous situations of Palestinian violence and whether Azaria was in such a situation or killed Sharif out of revenge for Sharif stabbing his friend.
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.