IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria in the Jaffa Military Court, July 25, 2016.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
The Hebron shooter confessed to the Yaffo Military Court that the knife he had told military police was close to Abdel Fatah al-Sharif was in fact several meters away in a major breakthrough for the IDF prosecution in the manslaughter trial on Monday.
The admission came as part of day one of IDF Prosecutor Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman’s cross-examination of Elor Azaria regarding his March 24 shooting of al-Sharif, who had attacked two IDF soldiers and then been wounded.
The IDF prosecution has accused Azaria of killing Sharif in cold-blood after he was neutralized. Azaria has said that even though Sharif was wounded that in the high pressure of the moment, he still had seemed to present a serious and immediate danger either of reaching for the nearby knife or by setting off a possibly concealed explosive vest.
But many of these essentially self-defense arguments which Azaria’s lawyers Ilan Katz and Eyal Besserglick have carefully built up and which he himself testified about on Sunday came falling down under Weissman’s relentless cross-examination.
Weissman started by asking Azaria about why other witnesses in the trial said the knife was farther away from Sharif than he had said and why he had changed his story about which hand the knife was closer to.
Eventually, Weissman asked if one witness, who has admitted to moving the knife closer to Sharif, had lied when he said the knife was always close to him.
As throughout his cross-examination on Monday, Azaria maintained his outer composure, but openly tried to evade the question with phrases like “I saw what I saw, he saw what he saw and I do not trust the video.”
At one point, Azaria’s attempt to treat the video as not only imperfect, but as virtually useless exasperated lead Judge Col. Maya Heller who raised her voice at the Hebron shooter and his lawyers saying “you can’t say I won’t even address the video.”
Following this support from the court, Weissman said Azaria must answer “objectively” where the knife was based on the video.
When Azaria tried to debate with him if there was an objective view, he said “objective means in the world of reality we live in!” Finally, Azaria admitted that the knife was far away in the video and not close like he had said, though he awkwardly and inconsistently tried to argue that he had seen the knife closer, even as the video clearly shows second by second that the knife was never closer.
With the lights in the room dimmed for the court’s watching the video and the placement of the knife second by second, Azaria’s father, Charlie, seemed to sense his son was in trouble and started to try to whisper some advice.
Judge Heller, sitting only 10 feet away, immediately cut-in practically shouting “you are not allowed to speak to your son during cross-examination, I do not want to have to throw anyone out of court.”
Another key point came where the three judges directly questioned Azaria about why he thought the IDF rule of “if there is a doubt, there is no doubt,” meant he should shoot in that instance, instead of he shoot hold off using force in that instance.
Azaria seemed somewhat shaken by the questioning which showed the judges critiquing his basic understanding of the rules of engagement, but he said that his biggest worry was that if he did not act, he would have to explain not acting to victims of a terrorist.
Who lied in the case, who forgot some facts and who did not lie was also a major issue on Monday.
When questioned by Weissman whether three IDF commanders who testified against Azaria had lied, Azaria sated that his IDF Major Tom Naaman was "100 percent a liar" and that his Lt. Col. David Shapira had partially lied and partially forgotten key details of the March incident. Azaria refrained however from saying any lower ranking soldier had lied in their accounts which partially hurt and partially helped him and did not take a strong position on his IDF Col. Yariv Ben Ezra, who he said he did not know well and was only involved second-hand.
Azaria also struggled to definitively answer addition questions from the prosecution Monday regarding a new claim he revealed Sunday, in which he alleged that Naaman struck Azaria following the shooting. Weissman indicated that Azaria had fabricated the account, asking the defendant why he hadn't previously mentioned the incident.
Azaria countered that he hoped Naaman would return to court to testify about the issue.