Referring to the alleged beating, Azaria told supporters and media at the court, “not to be afraid [because] only they know what happened there. No one will judge them and no one was in their shoes.”
Also on Tuesday, one of the five soldiers was released in order to attend a family wedding in France, presumably on the basis that his role in the beatings was minimal.
It appeared the other four defendants’ detention would be extended as negotiations over a possible plea bargain had extended hours beyond what was originally scheduled.
The five soldiers, who serve in the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion, were arrested on January 10 following the incident.
The two Palestinians, a father and a son, were detained on suspicion of aiding Asam Barghouti evade authorities. Barghouti was the terrorist responsible for the Givat Assaf West Bank outpost attack in which two IDF soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion were killed and another solider and female civilian were wounded. The two are still in custody but have not yet been charged.
Azaria was convicted for manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison, though eventually he only served half of that time, and became a lightning rod of national debate about balancing the rule of law versus keeping IDF soldiers safe from terrorists.
On Sunday, the soldiers commander, a lieutenant, was indicted for negligence and failing to prevent their actions.
Though the officer was not himself involved in beating the Palestinians, he has already been suspended pending trial in an apparent move by the IDF to crack down on officers who do not restrain their soldiers.
Sunday’s indictment came after attempts to reach a plea deal with the lieutenant failed.
Last week, both the IDF prosecution and the defense denied reports from Channel 12 that separate negotiations over a plea deal for the five IDF soldiers had blown up over unbridgeable gaps.
While Channel 12 quoted lawyers appointed by the IDF public defender to represent the five soldiers as threatening to walk away from negotiations, the chief IDF public defender said negotiations would continue.
The IDF prosecution has been adamant that the soldiers will need to serve some jail time, while the defense has argued that the issue should have been dealt with by disciplinary, not criminal charges.
The IDF Central District Court recommended negotiations over a deal two weeks ago, but now that the original two weeks have passed, it is unclear how long the negotiations will drag out before a trial.