Analysis: As closing statements in Hebron shooter trial, a look back and a look forward

One way or another, this titanic drama is coming to a close.

November 7, 2016 21:39
2 minute read.
Elor Azaria

Elor Azaria. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

One way or another, a titanic drama is coming to a close.

As the trial of Hebron shooter Elor Azaria draws near its finish, the IDF prosecution on Monday filed its written closing statement. On November 23, both sides will present their oral closing statements.

A verdict in the most followed trial in Israel since that of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected in December or January.

After being pummeled by the IDF prosecution and Azaria’s three senior IDF commanders from May through early July, the defense fought back from late July through October.

To match the major, lieutenant- colonel and colonel who testified that Azaria shot Abdel Fatah al-Sharif in coldblood and out of revenge for stabbing a fellow soldier, the defense called three ex-generals, including former deputy chief-of-staff Uzi Dayan.

If Azaria’s commanding officers who were on the scene condemned him as a liar and framed the situation as Sharif presenting a vague danger, the three generals said the possibility of a concealed explosive vest was a concrete danger.

If they said B’Tselem’s video encapsulated what happened and showed how calm and unafraid Azaria and others were when he shot Sharif, the generals and many rank and file soldiers who were there said the video did not capture the tension in the air.

But, are three ex-generals who were not there and the rank and file soldiers who were enough to trump the three current commanders who were there plus the extensive video footage? Azaria’s best shot at an acquittal is his lawyers’ argument that blurs the difference between a potential and concrete danger.

Pour into that mix their argument that former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot unduly influenced the commanders, legal division and military police by condemning Azaria before he was even arraigned for a lesser manslaughter charge, and it would seem they have a real shot.

Add in, also, that Maj. Tom Naaman mismanaged the scene of the terrorist incident, which all sides agree was disorganized, and failed to fully check if Sharif had weapons or a bomb. That may be enough to acquit Azaria.

However, from the tone of the three-judge panel indicating that the B’Tselem video is authentic and powerful evidence and disregarding Azaria’s subjective feelings when it came to how hot it was in Hebron during the incident, this likely will not be enough.

The judges do not seem persuaded by the argument that it felt more dangerous in the field than the calm expressions seen on the faces of Azaria and others shown in the video.

It is also hard to see them accept Azaria changing his story mid-trial when he suddenly claimed that he had told Naaman about his knife and concealed bomb concerns the first time he was asked why he shot Sharif – as opposed to his story up until trial that he first mentioned them hours into the probe of the incident.

The defense also has tried to frame the trial as Azaria versus Naaman, claiming that all of this could be related to Naaman’s tensions with Azaria.

But T.M., a friend of Azaria’s, admitted in court, practically against his will, that Azaria had talked to him about shooting Sharif as an act of revenge.

This confirms Naaman’s story and discredits Azaria’s.

If convicted, Azaria could get only a short jail sentence due to the extenuating circumstances, the generals who are on his side and the 90% of the Israeli population who support him.

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