Hebron shooter Elor Azaria was released from prison on Tuesday after serving nine months of a 14-month sentence.
He was due to be released on Thursday, but was released a few days early to attend his brother’s wedding.
Family, friends and supporters gathered outside the Azaria home in Ramle soon after his release to celebrate his return. A large banner at the entrance to his street, bearing his picture and a Star of David, welcomed “Elor the hero” back home. Another outside his home read: “How good that you came home Elor, the soldier of all of us,” echoing language that was used to welcome back Gilad Schalit.
Azaria was lifted up onto the shoulders of one of the attendees as the crowd sang “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People of Israel Live) and waved Israeli flags.
Azaria’s father, Charlie, addressed the crowd that had gathered in support of his son saying, “After 26 months of suffering and a nightmare that I do not wish for anyone – not even for those who hate me – today we have a simcha (joyous event) inside a simcha.”
Claiming that 95% of the nation has supported the family – though he remarked that the media fails to see that – Charlie said that “our strength is in our unity.”
He thanked the supporters on behalf of his son, who he said, could not speak publicly as he still has a “specific status.”
Azaria’s mother Oshra called “today my Independence Day.” She said that the phone call she received in the morning informing her of her son’s release was the “happiest phone call in the world... they told me the boy is on his way home.”
IDF soldier shoots dead subdued Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, part of Elor Azaria case
Following the press conference, a convoy left the house on foot and by car, which was joined by members of the Zion Riders group on their motorbikes.
Azaria entered jail on August 9, after being convicted of manslaughter for shooting Palestinian attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif on March 24, 2016.
Videos of the incident, which went viral and brought widespread international condemnation, show Azaria shooting the incapacitated terrorist while he was lying on the ground – although Azaria claimed his shots were in self-defense, and he feared a possible knife attack or concealed explosive vest.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev spoke with Azaria’s father Charlie on Tuesday morning. “Congratulations, I’m both happy and excited for you,” she said to the father of Elor. “I wish for Elor that another life will begin now – a quiet life, after all that has passed, and you as a family who accompanied him and supported him at every moment, will return to normalcy.”
Regev, who has made a point in visiting Azaria’s parents on multiple occasions, promised to continue to stand with Elor as he makes his transition into civilian life. “After the stage in which he returns to normal life, we will begin to work to erase his criminal record so that this record will not interfere with his future,” Regev said.
“A long and difficult period in which an outstanding soldier was sitting in jail for the elimination of a terrorist,” MK Oren Hazan from the Likud party said. “Elor, my brother. My apologies for not doing enough.”
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen slammed what he called “the forgiving and sympathetic reactions of the prime minister and his ministers,” regarding Azaria’s release.
“The forgiving and sympathetic attitude we witnessed in the Azaria affair which reached its peak today upon his release turns Azaria from a murderer into a hero, and only welcomes the next murder.”
Jabarin added: “The courtroom pointed to the conviction and severity that the judges attributed to Azaria’s behavior, for which he has yet to express remorse. It is infuriating to see Azaria free after only nine months in prison. His release today [Tuesday] conveys a difficult message that Palestinian blood is a waste.”Jonathan Weber Rosen and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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