The IDF prosecuter on Monday filed a manslaughter indictment with the Jaffa Military Court against Sgt. Elor Azaria – the soldier who shot a Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last month after he was already wounded and lying motionless on the ground.
Azaria also was charged with conduct unbecoming of a noncommissioned officer. Once the indictment was issued, the gag order on his name was lifted.
Azaria, a Ramle resident who has been in the IDF for about a year-and-a-half, was ordered to remain in open detention on the IDF’s Nahshonim Base, near Rosh Ha’ayin, until the end of trial. Last week, the prosecution lost an appeal to keep Azaria in full detention.
Relating to the Hebron incident on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, as the father of a soldier, he understands the sentiments of parents of soldiers, but “the rules of engagement are meant to protect the soldiers, and they need to be followed.”
Speaking at an event marking 85 years since the establishment of the Irgun, Netanyahu called on the public to lower the tone of the debate over the issue.
“The IDF backs its soldiers,” he said, adding that he is sure the military court will take into consideration all the circumstances surrounding the incident. “Our soldiers are not murderers. They are acting against murderers. Even when a soldier errs, I hope that the way can be found to balance between the action and the entire context of the incident.”
The shooting of the terrorist was picked up in a video distributed by B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which went viral online and has dominated the airwaves.
The war of words over Azaria’s guilt or innocence has pit Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gadi Eisenkot, who condemned Azaria, against various politicians on the Right, who say the two have rushed to judgment.
The incident started around 8 a.m. on March 24, when two Palestinians, Abdel Fatah al-Sharif and Ramzi Aziz Mustafa Kusrawi, attacked Lt. M.S. and Cpl. A.V. at the Jilbar checkpoint in Hebron.
Responding to the attack, M.S. and A.V. shot and killed Kusrawi and shot six times and seriously wounded Sharif, who stabbed and wounded A.V.
The indictment states that Azaria arrived on the scene “a few minutes later” as a medic and attended to A.V.’s wounds after which he spent a few minutes in the area uneventfully.
He then retrieved his helmet, which he had placed on the ground, handed it to a fellow soldier, took a few steps toward Sharif, set his rifle ready to fire and fired one shot into the terrorist’s head, killing him instantly.
On Thursday, the prosecutor reported to the court that additional checks confirmed the original autopsy conclusion that Azaria’s fire, and not earlier shots from other soldiers, killed Sharif, and that the distributed video was authentic and not tampered with.
The indictment also says Azaria fired on the Palestinian “against the rules of engagement, with no military necessity, at a moment when the terrorist, Sharif, was lying on the ground, was not engaged in further attacks and did not constitute an immediate danger to the defendant, to civilians or the soldiers in the area.”
It was noteworthy for being sparse at only one-page long, leaving out the already publicly revealed large number of witnesses, including all of Azaria’s commanders and some fellow soldiers who will testify that he shot Sharif for revenge and that his alternate explanations were manufactured after the fact.
In the hearing on Monday, the prosecution pushed hard to keep Azaria in open detention on the army base until the end of the trial due to “the security situation, and to calm the security situation,” whereas the defense said Azaria has been mistreated by being put in detention for essentially doing his job and must be released.
Judge Lt.-Col. Ronen Shor asked the defense how it could explain that Azaria genuinely thought he was in danger when none of his commanders did.
The defense responded that he was not as well-trained in all complex situations as they were and that this was a highly complicated situation.
The defense also requested that Azaria be given a brief vacation to spend the Passover Seder with his family in the event that the court continued his open detention, a request the court granted despite ruling against him on the general detention issue.
“The decision of the judge says to the prosecution: Stop here. Recheck ‘your evidence,’ and the phrase ‘your evidence,’ if I translate that into simple language, it is weak evidence that does not justify a conviction on the charge of manslaughter,” said defense lawyer Ilan Katz in response to the indictment.
“The judge essentially ruled that the story of the soldier, the first version, is not made-up,” but that his concern about an explosive vest was authentic.
Herb Keinon and Noam Amir/ Maariv contributed to this story.