Former Israeli soldier Elor Azaria and his family await a ruling on the appeal of his manslaughter conviction.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DAN BALILTY)
Elor Azaria will begin serving his 18-month prison sentence on Wednesday after the Military Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied his request to delay the beginning of his sentence until Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot decides on whether or not to commute his sentence.
Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter by a military court in January for killing incapacitated Palestinian attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif in Hebron on March 24, 2016. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and demoted to private in February.
Last week, the Military Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and 18-month jail sentence. On Sunday, Azaria’s lawyer Yoram Sheftel requested to hold a hearing on delaying his sentence until IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot decides whether or not to commute it.
Sheftel argued that if the request were accepted by Eisenkot, Azaria may not need to serve the sentence at all.
Military prosecutors announced on Monday that they opposed the request, slamming it as one that has no justification. They stated that to accept Azaria's request risks setting a precedent in which soldiers found guilty of a crime can delay their prison sentence until they receive a response to any request for clemency.
“There is no basis in reality for Azaria's claim that the ruling becomes final sooner if a request for clemency is submitted earlier. Military justice states that serving a prison sentence is immediate and delaying that execution of sentence here is an exception to the rule,” read a statement issued on Monday by the Military Advocate General.
"The immediacy of punishment is based on the discipline on which the military establishment rests. There is no justification for Azaria's case to be different from those of other soldiers who request clemency; soldiers who only do so after they begin serving their sentences." Azaria is set to enter Prison 4 in Tzrifin on Wednesday.
In his first public statement since the incident, Azaria said on Thursday that while he still believes he could be found innocent by the Supreme Court appeal, he is going to prison “with my head held high.” He also said that he and his family had "suffered terribly" since the incident, and he wants to return to routine as soon as possible.
Azaria, who has not expressed any regret for his actions, appealed to Eisenkot to lighten his sentence to community service, writing the chief of staff that he wished “to clarify that if I had known in advance what became apparent in hindsight—that there was no explosive device on the body of the terrorist—I would not have shot.”