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)
The civilian security chief for Hebron’s Jewish community, Lt.-Col. (res.) Eliyahu Libman, lashed out on Sunday at former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, telling the Jaffa Military Court that Ya’alon “created an atmosphere” in the army where there could be no dissent or support for Hebron shooter Sgt. Elor Azaria.
Azaria has been on trial for several months for manslaughter for the March 24 shooting of a “neutralized” terrorist in Hebron as he lay wounded after Abdel Fatah al-Sharif and another Palestinian had attacked a group of soldiers, stabbing one of them.
The shooting has continued to make headlines as figures such as Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who have attacked Azaria’s actions, are pitted against Avigdor Liberman, who replaced Ya’alon as defense minister, and others, who defended him.
Azaria, a medic, arrived on the scene around 10 minutes after the terrorist attack to attend to the wounded soldier, but then also shot and killed Sharif.
Libman, who also came to the scene, told the court Azaria acted reasonably and that many soldiers were afraid Sharif was wearing an explosive vest.
The security officer criticized IDF commanders who were present at the scene of the incident and who have led the attack on Azaria, for moving Sharif before he was checked by an explosives expert.
Libman said Sharif should not be called “neutralized” in the press since that only refers to a dead person or to a wounded person who has been handcuffed, arguing that since Sharif was alive, and not in handcuffs or checked for explosives, he was still a danger when Azaria shot him.
The security officer also said he had been in many similar situations where soldiers had shot wounded Palestinian terrorists in the head with no consequences.
Lead IDF prosecutor Lt.-Col. Nadav Weissman tried to cut off Libman at several points by objecting to statements he made about the case that did not involve his firsthand-knowledge.
Witnesses, if they are not brought as expert witnesses (and Libman was brought to testify about his first-hand perceptions of the scene of the Hebron shooter incident, not as an expert) can only testify about their own view of what happened, not what they think others witnesses think.
In doing so, Weissman succeeded in getting Libman and Azaria’s lawyer Eyal Besserglick into a verbal dual with the judges who started to lose patience with Libman’s free-wheeling criticism of other IDF officers and of Weissman.
Also, on cross-examination, Weissman got Libman to take back an accusation that Ya’alon had a subordinate call him to persuade him to stand by former defense minister.
While Libman stood by his criticism of Ya’alon’s public comments suppressing dissent, he said that since he did not want to reveal the name of the Defense Ministry employee who called him, he would withdraw his testimony about the telephone call.
Before Sunday’s proceedings began, Besserglick said: “We have all kinds of expert witnesses. There will be many surprises.”
During prosecution proceedings last month, Azaria addressed headon the allegations of his three commanders, Col. Yariv Ben Ezra, Lt.- Col. David Shapira and Maj. Tom Naaman, that his shooting of Sharif was unjustified.
Azaria accused all three commanders, along with Ya’alon and Eisenkot, of caring more about the media and how a video of the event looked than they did about the truth.
Also on Sunday, Azaria’s mother burst into tears several hours into the hearing, crying: “I just want justice.”
When Judge Col. Maya Heller told Azaria’s mother she could not disturb the proceedings, she left the courtroom in tears. A few minutes later, she returned calmer and was warned by the court about further disruptions.
There is an ongoing speculation about who else will testify for the defense since it has kept its witness schedule a surprise to try to gain an advantage over the prosecution.
It is expected that in the coming weeks, the IDF prosecution will cross-examine three reservist major-generals who have filed written declarations supporting Azaria’s actions as being justified: Uzi Dayan, Dan Biton and Shmuel Zachai.
Broadly speaking, the difference in the narratives is that the field commanders all say Azaria initially admitted to shooting Sharif as revenge for his stabbing of the soldier, a friend of Azaria, and only mentioned self-defense later, whereas Azaria says he spoke of self-defense from the start.
Noam Amir and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.