The father of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who is charged with manslaughter after he shot a wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground in Hebron on March 24, kisses his head in a military court.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hebron shooter Elor Azaria’s commander testified in court on Thursday that the IDF sergeant told him he shot a “neutralized” terrorist in Hebron on March 24 because “he needed to die.”
Azaria is charged with manslaughter following the fatal shooting of Abdel Fatal al-Sharif.
According to the testimony of Maj. Tom Naaman in the Jaffa Military Court, upon arriving at the scene in Hebron he ordered Azaria, an IDF medic, to attend to another soldier who Sharif had stabbed.
Naaman testified that in Azaria’s first real-time explanation of why he shot the motionless Sharif, he told him: “The terrorist was alive and he needed to die.”
The IDF major said that Azaria did not mention any threat such as a knife or an explosive vest, and said unequivocally that there had been no possible military justification for Azaria shooting Sharif.
“I was furious that he shot the terrorist because I am his commanding officer, and he did not get my approval,” Naaman told the court. “I took him aside and asked him to wait and ordered him not to move.”
Naaman testified that up until the incident, Azaria had been a very good soldier.
The soldier’s defense team has claimed that Azaria acted in self-defense, believing alternately that there was a danger that Sharif might either grab a knife, or be wearing an explosive vest which he might detonate.
Naaman admitted in court that Sharif moved his head, which Azaria had pointed out when explaining to police why he thought the wounded terrorist was still a threat.
Naaman also disputed Azaria’s explanation that the coat Sharif wore was suspicious given the weather, saying that the coat was worn tightly around Sharif’s body, with no bulge suggesting any kind of explosive device.
Earlier on Thursday, forensic pathologist Dr. Hadas Gips testified that Sharif’s initial wounds, prior to Azaria shooting him in the head, “were not immediately life threatening especially with medical care,” and that he might even have survived without immediate medical care.
“If the terrorist had been given medical treatment, he could have possibly been saved,” the medical examiner told the court.
On cross-examination, Azaria’s lawyer questioned Gips’s examination of Sharif’s corpse, scrutinizing the length of time it had been in and out of refrigeration before the medical examiner was allowed to inspect it.
There was a 10-day delay before Gips was allowed to examine the body because of a legal dispute with Sharif’s family. The issue was only resolved after a petition to the High Court of Justice led to a compromise whereby a Palestinian expert was allowed to participate in the autopsy.
The indictment against Azaria states that the incident started around 8 a.m.
when two Palestinians, Abdel Fatah al-Sharif and Ramzi Aziz Mustafa Kusrawi, attacked Sec.-Lt. M.S. and Cpl. A.V. at Tel Rumedia in Hebron.
Names of many of the soldiers involved in the incident remain under gag order.
Responding to the attack, M.S. and A.V. fatally shot Kusrawi six times and seriously injured Sharif, who had stabbed and injured A.V.
The indictment states that Azaria arrived on the scene “a few minutes later” as a medic, and attended to A.V.’s wounds.
Subsequently, the medic retrieved his helmet, handed it to a fellow soldier, took a few steps toward Sharif, and fired a single shot into his head, killing him instantly.
The shooting was picked up on a video distributed by B’Tselem, and went viral online shortly after the shooting. The argument over Azaria’s guilt or innocence has dominated the media since.
Following Naaman’s testimony, lead prosecutor Lt.-Col. Nadav Weissman said: “I think the facts are very clear... They cannot be played with,” implying that Azaria’s commander had shattered the narrative of self-defense.
Azaria’s defense lawyers, Ilan Katz and Eyal Besserglick, kept a lower profile than usual, though they will likely let loose with their own barrage of evidence once the prosecution finishes and their side of the case begins.