Sgt. Elor Azaria.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Due to fears they will be prosecuted, soldiers are refraining from opening fire even when they feel in danger, an officer from Sgt. Elor Azaria’s company, told the Jaffa Military Court at the Hebron shooter’s trial on Thursday.
The lieutenant from the Shimshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade, whose name is banned for publication, explained that following the manslaughter charge against Azaria, he heard soldiers in the battalion say that if they felt in partial danger, but not absolute danger, they would not open fire to defend themselves for fear of prosecution.
The officer said that in the past, the soldiers would have opened fire in some borderline situations, feeling that doing so was within their discretion.
Azaria shot terrorist Abdel Fatah al-Sharif as he lay wounded in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood on March 24, after he and another Palestinian had earlier attacked and stabbed a soldier.
He is accused of manslaughter, and three of the four IDF commanders who were on the scene have testified that his shooting of Sharif was unjustified since the Palestinian was “neutralized” and no longer a threat.
The Hebron shooter has claimed self-defense on the basis of alleged concerns that Sharif might grab for a knife or might have been concealing an explosive vest under what he called a heavy-looking and suspicious coat.
The Kfir Brigade lieutenant was not on the scene at the time so he does not appear in the B’Tselem video of the incident that went viral and led to public condemnations of Azaria by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and to supportive statements by current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and others.
However, Azaria’s defense team brought the lieutenant to testify to support their claim that the trial has been tampered with by the top defense officials’ public condemnations.
Supporting that claim, the Kfir Brigade lieutenant said it was clear that he and most of the soldiers who were testifying in the trial were impacted by the statements of senior officers and defense officials.
At the same time, he said that Azaria’s lawyer Eyal Besserglick’s accusation that the IDF had “brain-washed” its personnel regarding the trial due to frequent speeches by top commanders to their soldiers that Azaria’s actions had been “terrible,” went too far.
Rather, as imperfect as the situation was in terms of influencing soldiers, the lieutenant implied it was natural for the IDF to give guidance to its soldiers about what was proper and improper to prepare them for future incidents.
The defense also used the lieutenant to boost Azaria’s credibility.
The lieutenant testified that whereas Azaria’s three top commanders all considered him a liar, accusing him of inventing the self-defense narrative to cover up that he killed Sharif out of revenge for the attacker stabbing Azaria’s friend, most of the rank and file soldiers “think differently.”
Late on Wednesday night, Channel 1 reported that pathology expert Dr. Yehuda Hiss has submitted a report for the defense and will be testifying soon that Sharif was already dead by the time Azaria shot him.
Earlier in the case, the IDF prosecution brought its own official pathologist report that Sharif was alive and had a good chance of surviving his original wounds if Azaria had not shot him.
Azaria can only be convicted if the court finds that Sharif died to the Hebron shooter’s shot to his head, and not due to his earlier wounds.