IDF Chief skips decision on commuting Hebron shooter's sentence

Many had thought IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot would rush to issue a decision on Thursday to end the public pressure over the issue.

September 7, 2017 20:27
2 minute read.
Former Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (C), who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months

Former Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (C), who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant, waits to hear the ruling at an Israeli military appeals court in Tel Aviv, Israel July 30, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

It appears that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is in no rush to decide whether to commute the sentence of the Hebron shooter as he declined to even issue a decision on Thursday.

Thursday, 30 days after Elor Azaria’s rejected appeal became final and weeks after the Hebron shooter entered prison, was the first day according to law that Eisenkot could have issued a decision.

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Many had thought Eisenkot would rush to issue a decision on Thursday to end the public pressure over the issue in which a vast majority of politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have lobbied for commuting the sentence.

If Eisenkot was concerned about the negative domestic coverage the IDF has received from Azaria already spending time in prison, a speedy announcement of whatever leniency he was willing to show would have scored some quick points.

Also, the IDF chief’s own statements the day that Azaria’s appeal was rejected, indicated that he would seriously weigh leniency for Azaria if the Hebron shooter dropped a potential appeal to the High Court of Justice.

Many analysts thought that Eisenkot offering this olive branch immediately after the IDF Appeals Court decision was announced, showed that he would show Azaria leniency in order to put the saga to rest.

Though Eisenkot gave no guarantee, Azaria’s lawyer, Yoram Sheftel, implied that Azaria’s decision not to appeal to the High Court was based on Eisenkot’s statement and an expectation of leniency.

Not deciding will be seen by Azaria supporters as temporarily rejecting commuting the Hebron shooter's sentence since Azaria is already in jail, and every day without a decision by the IDF chief continues that jail sentence.

On July 30, the IDF Military Appeals Court denied Azaria’s appeal of his manslaughter conviction and sentence for killing Palestinian terrorist Abdel Fatah al-Sharif on March 24, 2016, after Sharif was already neutralized.

On Monday, former IDF chief prosecutor, Liron Libman, told The Jerusalem Post that there is little precedent for Azaria’s sentence to be commuted.

The main precedent that Libman cited was the almost 40-year-old affair of Lt. Daniel Pinto, where Pinto was convicted of murdering Lebanese residents during the Litani Operation.

An IDF court sentenced Pinto to eight years, but the then IDF chief Rafael Eitan reduced the sentence to two years. Libman said that in addition to being an old decision, Eitan’s decision was considered highly controversial at the time, and not a model to follow.

Eisenkot is not necessarily Azaria’s last stop. While he has dropped any appeal to the High Court, Azaria can seek a pardon from President Reuben Rivlin if Eisenkot does not grant one.

He can also ask the military parole commission to commute his sentence, but only after having served half of the 18-month sentence.

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