Hebron shooter Elor Azaria and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
(photo credit: MAARIV/MARC ISRAEL SELLAM)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot on Wednesday reduced Hebron shooter Elor Azaria’s prison sentence by four months to a total of 14 months.
The middle-of-the-road decision, which is likely to please no one, effectively ends the saga which has roiled the Israeli military, political class and public since Azaria shot and killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist as he was lying on the ground, on March 24, 2016.
Eisenkot had already signaled that he would not fully pardon Azaria when he declined to issue a pardon three weeks ago, the first time he could have intervened.
Many had thought Eisenkot would rush to issue a decision in early September, to end the public pressure over the issue in which a vast majority of politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have lobbied for commuting the sentence.
If Eisenkot were concerned about the domestic criticism the IDF has received from Azaria already spending time in prison, a speedy announcement of whatever leniency he was willing to show would have scored some quick points.
Also, the IDF chief’s own statements the day that Azaria’s appeal was rejected indicated that he would seriously weigh leniency for Azaria if Azaria dropped a potential appeal to the High Court of Justice.
Many analysts thought that Eisenkot’s offering this olive branch immediately after the IDF Appeals Court decision was announced showed that he would show Azaria leniency in order to put the saga to rest.
Though Eisenkot gave no guarantee, Azaria’s lawyer, Yoram Sheftel, implied that Azaria’s decision not to appeal to the High Court was based on Eisenkot’s statement and an expectation of leniency.
On July 30, the IDF Military Appeals Court denied Azaria’s appeal of his manslaughter conviction and sentence for killing Palestinian terrorist Abdel Fatah al-Sharif, after Sharif was already “neutralized.”
Eisenkot’s decision goes against the position of the IDF prosecution, which had wanted a three- to fiveyear jail sentence at trial, and no reduced sentence by the IDF chief.
He said that his decision in no way took away from his staunch disapproval of Azaria’s actions, but that given that a clear message was sent to all soldiers not to act like the Hebron shooter, he would reduce the sentence out of considerations of compassion, mercy and Azaria’s combat service.
The statement addressed to Azaria said, “Your conduct was improper and violated the army’s rules values,” and added that his request for a pardon got less traction because “you did not take responsibility for the act and you did not express regret.”
In early September, former IDF chief prosecutor Liron Libman told The Jerusalem Post
that there is little precedent for Azaria’s sentence to be commuted.
The main precedent that Libman cited was the almost 40-year-old affair of Lt. Daniel Pinto. Pinto was convicted of murdering Lebanese residents during the Litani Operation.
An IDF court sentenced him to eight years, but then-IDF chief Rafael Eitan reduced the sentence to two years. Libman said that in addition to being an old decision, Eitan’s decision was considered highly controversial at the time, and not a model to follow.
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said he was proud of Eisenkot for making clear from the first moment that what Azaria did was unacceptable. He said he understood Eisenkot’s decision to consider Azaris’s past good behavior in his determination.
“I hope Elor eventually realizes how much of a mistake he made,” Ya’alon said in a live chat on his Facebook page.
But Likud MK Nava Boker, who has become close to the Azaria family, expressed outrage that Eisenkot did not take into account that Azaria has been detained since March 2016.
Joint List MK Yousef Jabarin said he was angered by Eisenkot’s decision.
He accused Eisenkot of surrendering to pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers, who called for Azaria to be pardoned before he was sentenced.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.