Trial of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, July 5, 2016.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Two days into his cross-examination at the Jaffa Military Court on a charge of manslaughter, Sgt.
Elor Azaria’s recounting of his March 24 shooting of subdued Palestinian attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif in Hebron continued to change, with the IDF prosecutor pouncing on each alteration.
Azaria admitted Tuesday that he saw Sharif move two minutes before firing upon him – rather than the mere seconds as he had previously claimed – a claim which he had said placed him in “immediate danger.”
When lead prosecutor Lt.-Col.
Nadav Weissman challenged Azaria, asking, “You admit you gave wrong answers to military police?” Azaria replied, “You always catch me in word games. I am a simple soldier.”
Weissman repeatedly discredited Azaria’s narrative.
The accused had told military police that he suspected Sharif had a concealed explosive vest – and thus warranted being shot – because the terrorist was wearing a bulky coat on a hot 30° C spring day.
The IDF prosecutor ripped through the Azaria’s claim, getting him to admit that the temperature that morning, as presented by a meteorologist, was 17° C.
Azaria further conceded five people nearby in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood were wearing coats similar to Sharif’s.
Weissman said these admissions disproved Azaria’s claim that it was suspicious that Sharif was wearing a coat.
Azaria tried to counter the meteorologist’s report, saying what mattered was his subjective view of the temperature. But Judge Col.
Maya Heller dismissed this, saying 17° C was an objective fact.
Weissman next claimed that Azaria was lying in claiming he had no option but to shoot Sharif since he knew that the soldiers in the area had already called the bomb squad to check the wounded and prone terrorist.
Weissman mentioned that “O.E.” (a soldier serving with Azaria whose name is under gag order) had testified that he had told Azaria that the bomb squad had been called before his comrade in arms shot Sharif.
As with much of damaging testimony from O.E. and others, Azaria responded that he did not know why his fellow soldiers said what they said, and that he was not responsible for their statements.
In a central point in Weissman’s case, the prosecutor said he had proven that Azaria shot Sharif in revenge for the wounding of his friend.
Sharif and a second Palestinian attacked two soldiers in Hebron on March 24, wounding one of them. Sharif had already been shot and “neutralized” when Azaria showed up some 10 minutes later and shot him in what the prosecution has called a cold-blooded execution.
Azaria has said that even though Sharif was wounded, in the pressure of the moment the terrorist still seemed to him to present a serious and immediate danger – either of reaching for a nearby knife, or by setting off a concealed explosive vest.
Azaria said that he told every soldier and commander who asked him why he shot Sharif that it was because of the threat of his using a knife or setting off an explosive vest.
However, Weissman said that “all three people” who spoke about what Azaria told his commander, Maj. Tom Naaman, said he did not mention the explosive vest.
Naaman and “T.M.,” another soldier whose name is under a gag order, both said Azaria admitted he shot Sharif in revenge, and that he did not mention an explosive vest.
During his interrogation by military police, Azaria did not mention having told Naaman about an explosive vest.
How could the accused now disagree with two others, and contradict his own statement to military police about what he said on the day of the shooting when explaining why he shot Sharif, Weissman asked.
Looking flustered but giving a detailed answer, Azaria responded that Naaman was lying. He could not explain why T.M. said what he said, and that he himself was now remembering better what happened while in court than he had when talking to the military police on March 24.
One bright note for Azaria on Tuesday was the supportive visits from MK Oren Hazan (Likud) and former Shas party leader Eli Yishai.
Whether Azaria can convince the three court martial judges that his evolving story is close to the truth could be decisive.