Eyewitness to Hebron shooting says incident could have been prevented

Bleichbard says commanders did not properly manage scene of attack.

Sgt. Elor Azaria (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Sgt. Elor Azaria
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
The Hebron shooter incident would never have occurred if the IDF commanders in the field had properly managed the scene of the terrorist attack, the first eyewitness to Elor Azaria’s March 24 shooting of Abdel Fatah al-Sharif told the Jaffa Military Court on Wednesday.
The witness, Yonatan Bleichbard, was the first to report Azaria’s shooting of Sharif while he lay “neutralized” on the ground to the IDF. He is the deputy head of Hebron’s private security.
Bleichbard is one of the hardest witnesses to characterize in the manslaughter trial against Azaria for shooting Sharif after he was already wounded during his attack on IDF soldiers.
Bleichbard was extremely nervous for parts of the questioning, contorting his hands behind his back, laughing uncomfortably and admitting he had tried to hoodwink Azaria’s lawyers into not bringing him to testify.
On one hand, he did everything he could in his testimony on Wednesday to help Azaria and undermine the IDF prosecution.
He alternately said he did not remember exactly what he saw Azaria do or what he told the IDF about it, or contradicted any part of the IDF prosecution’s narrative that would hurt Azaria’s case regarding what he, Bleichbard, had told the IDF.
Throughout his testimony, he even referred to Sharif not only as a potential bomb threat but as if he actually had worn an explosive vest, even as it was made clear after the shooting that he had not worn one.
On the other hand, IDF Col. Yariv Ben Ezra has previously testified that Bleichbard not only reported Azaria’s actions to him but also called the shooting “exceptional” and “requiring investigation.”
Further, IDF Lt.-Col. David Shapira has confirmed that when Ben Ezra told Shapira of Bleichbard’s comments to Ben Ezra in real time, they were exactly the same as what Ben Ezra testified they were in court.
This narrative would show that a Hebron resident and security expert who saw the shooting deemed it likely illegal.
Bleichbard also would not attack Ben Ezra or Shapira and call them liars, saying he respected them and could not explain why they testified that he had disapproved of Azaria’s shooting of Sharif.
At some points, the IDF prosecution even seemed to succeed in getting Bleichbard to admit that he might not have remembered some negative things he told Ben Ezra about Azaria.
Bleichbard also did not remember that he had physically pointed at Azaria on the scene right after the shooting, something the IDF prosecution surprised him on by showing it in slow motion on video.
Following his testimony, IDF prosecution forensic pathologist Dr. Hadas Gips testified, doubling down on her June testimony that Azaria’s shooting of Sharif was the killing shot, not his earlier wounds.
Azaria’s lawyers tried to undermine her opinion, citing their pathologist, Dr. Yehuda Hiss, who testified that Azaria would have died of his earlier wounds.
They questioned her objectivity, arguing that the IDF prosecution had pushed her in the direction they wanted her to go and questioning whether she was sufficiently expert in the specific area she was testifying about.
In response to the claim that she had presented numerous articles to support her conclusion, she responded that she did that out of professionalism, knowing that there was a counter opinion by Hiss, but that she could have testified without submitting the articles.
There was also a bizarre fight over whether Gips had to hand her cellphone over to the defense to look at her messages with the IDF prosecution.
Earlier, Bleichbard had handed his cellphone over to the IDF prosecution, when requested.
But Gips refused, and the court ruled in her favor, saying there was no double standard against the defense, as only Gips, not Bleichbard, had refused. Had Bleichbard refused, he may also not have had to hand over his cellphone, though it was unclear, as Gips is also an expert witness, not a fact witness, like Bleichbard.