IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria in the Jaffa Military Court, July 25, 2016.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
An IDF officer who did not witness the shooting of a wounded Palestinian terrorist by Sgt. Elor Azaria in March speculated on Sunday at the soldier’s manslaughter trial that he would have deserved a medal had the terrorist been wearing an explosive vest.
A lieutenant from Azaria’s Shimshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade, whose name is under gag order, told the Jaffa Military Court that he understood Azaria’s belief that there was a danger of an explosive vest after hearing civilians in the area yelling about the possibility.
Azaria shot terrorist Abdel Fatah al-Sharif in the head as he lay wounded in the street in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood on March 24, after he and an accomplice had stabbed a soldier and other soldiers killed the accomplice and severely wounded Sharif.
Azaria is accused of manslaughter, and three of the four IDF commanders who were at the scene have testified that his shooting of Sharif was unjustified, since the Palestinian was no longer a threat.
The Hebron shooter has claimed self-defense on the basis of alleged concerns that Sharif might grab for a weapon or might have been concealing an explosive vest under what he called a heavy-looking and suspicious coat.
The Kfir Brigade lieutenant was not at 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 several of their claims, including that he believed Azaria’s story was reasonable. Nevertheless, no explanation has been forthcoming yet as to why a terrorist wearing an explosive vest would bother trying to attack heavily armed soldiers with a knife rather than blowing up himself and them in a suicide attack.
Indeed, IDF prosecutor Lt.- Col. Nadav Weissman proved on cross-examination that the lieutenant heard Azaria’s story only after the Hebron shooter had already gotten advice from a lawyer.
A central claim by the IDF prosecution has been that Azaria’s original and unfiltered explanations for shooting Sharif, revenge for Sharif’s stabbing of Azaria’s friend, were authentic and that his self-defense claims came only later to cover-up his crime once he got advice from a lawyer and realized he would be prosecuted.
Trying to undermine the idea that an explosive vest was a realistic concern, Weissman also got the lieutenant to admit that he had never encountered an explosive vest during his entire military service.
Also on Sunday, medical expert Dov Shimon testified that Sharif was going to die from his earlier wounds and that Azaria’s later shooting him was therefore not the sole cause of death. Shimon said that pictures of parts of Sharif’s body and wounds showed signs of inevitable death that the IDF prosecution expert, who said that Azaria’s shooting him was the sole cause of death, had not addressed.
Weissman attacked Shimon’s qualifications, noting he had been fired from an institute due to disagreements with a supervisor, accusing him of prior unethical behavior and stating that Shimon’s expertise was not equal to that of the IDF prosecution’s expert.
Late on Wednesday night, Channel 1 reported that pathology expert Dr. Yehuda Hiss has submitted a report for the defense and would be testifying soon that Sharif was already dead by the time Azaria shot him.
Azaria can be convicted only if the court finds that Sharif died due to the Hebron shooter’s shot to his head, and not due to his earlier wounds.