The father of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who is charged with manslaughter after he shot a wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground in Hebron on March 24, kisses his head in a military court.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria began testifying on Sunday morning in the ongoing manslaughter trial for his shooting of a downed Palestinian terrorist in March.
Just prior to his taking the stand for the first time in the trial on Sunday, sources close to the soldier said that Azaria had given new testimony to investigators in recent days, charging that his IDF major had slapped him in the face after the shooting of the perpetrator Abdel Fatah al-Sharif.
Azaria called for a probe of the major in light of the incident.
Sharif and another Palestinian attacked two soldiers in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood on March 24, wounding one of them. Sharif had already been shot and “neutralized” when Azaria showed up around 10 minutes later and shot him in what the IDF prosecution has called a cold-blooded execution.
In describing the events of the incident on March 24, Azaria said he had awoken after little sleep to reports that his friend had been stabbed.
When he arrived to the scene where al-Sharif had attacked soldiers, Azaria said he attended to his friend who was bleeding profusely. Azaria added that he had attempted to stop the bleeding without even having time to put on hygienic gloves.
He continued, saying he had heard yelling about a bomb and warnings not to approach the terrorist. All the while, Azaria said he had kept in mind the previous warnings about an attack, and feared of a bombing against a Purim march by Jews in Hebron.
In line with his original argument, Azaria claimed that he had seen al-Sharif move while he was lying on the ground and that the black coat the terrorist was wearing looked suspicious.
Azaria testified that he had yelled for everyone to stand clear before shooting al-Sharif in the head.
"I had no choice but to shoot the terrorist because I saw there was serious and immediate danger which could kill too many to estimate," he said Sunday.
While the position of al-Sharif's knife has been disputed throughout the trial, Azaria asserted that the weapon was close enough for the terrorist to reach.
"I hesitated before firing, but I saw no choice but to stop either another stabbing or exploding bomb," he stated.
In his testimony Sunday, Azaria stated that where he served in Hebron saw "the most tensions in the world" between Jews and Palestinians. He added that he constantly heard explosions and gunfire in the area.
Azaria explained that he had endured a strenuous environment in Hebron, and was on alert because his IDF major told the unit that Hamas was planning an attack in the West Bank city.
He stated that it was not clear whether such an attack would involve a bomb or shooting, but he said he had taken the warning seriously since it was said to be issued by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Azaria also attempted to highlight that he harbored no discriminatory sentiments, saying he was raised in the mixed population town of Ramle where he had Arab and Christian friends.
While the defense in the long-deliberated case has argued that Azaria acted in self-defense, fearing the terrorist had an explosive device, the prosecution has dismissed the claim, charging that the soldier shot al-Sharif as revenge for stabbing his friend.
All of the lawyers on both sides of the case agree that what Azaria did was wrong in a moral sense, following orders sense and even in a being negligent sense.
However, Azaria’s lawyers, Ilan Katz and Eyal Besserglick, have argued that he thought he was acting in self-defense, either because he thought Sharif was reaching for a knife, or because he thought the terrorist was about to activate an explosive vest.
After the fact it was clarified that Sharif had no explosive vest and it appears he could not have reached the knife. But Azaria’s lawyers have said that his mistake was within a reasonable spectrum of actions that a young soldier unprepared for the situation might take under the circumstances.
The IDF prosecution has said that the self-defense argument was concocted after the fact, that it has proven that the narrative behind it is bogus, that Azaria’s story changed as he realized he was in trouble and that no reasonable person would have shot Sharif, even if they had some vague feeling of danger.