Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday formally requested President Reuven Rivlin to commute the 14-month jail sentence of “Hebron shooter” Elor Azaria.Azaria entered jail on August 9 after being convicted of manslaughter for shooting neutralized Palestinian attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif on March 24, 2016.IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.Gadi Eisenkot shortened Azaria’s original sentence of 18 months to 14 months in September.“Elor and his family paid a heavy personal and family- wide price as they struggled with Elor’s trial and with the unprecedented and drawn-out public exposure,” Liberman wrote.
Videos of the incident, which went viral globally and brought widespread international condemnation, show Azaria shooting the incapacitated terrorist lying on the ground – although Azaria claimed his shots were in self-defense, fearing a possible knife attack or concealed explosive vest.The President’s Office confirmed it received Liberman’s request to commute Azaria’s sentence, but said that Rivlin would not begin reviewing the issue until he returns from a four-day state visit to Spain. “The president received relevant opinions to continue the examination of the request of the soldier Elor Azaria for a commuted sentence. He will examine the opinions submitted to him, along with all the materials on file when he returns from abroad… and will discuss matters with the professional level as is customary,” his office said.In July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with much of the political class and the public, supported a pardon for Azaria. Moshe Yaalon, who was defense minister when the incident occurred, supported the court’s sentence; most of the legal establishment has opposed a pardon.Two weeks ago, Liberman called for Azaria’s immediate release, claiming that the affair is damaging to the IDF and that, “we should leave it behind us as soon as possible.”In his letter to Rivlin on Sunday, Liberman wrote of the extraordinary burdens asked of IDF soldiers and pleaded for national healing in light of the visceral divisiveness put on display during the trial.He said: “I believe that in this unique case, the public interest should also be considered – the need to heal the rifts in society, and the impact of the event and the trial on the citizens of the country and the soldiers of the IDF in the face of the enemy.”“We send our daughters and sons to defend, as fighters, the security of the country and public safety, putting them in complex situations that are incomparable anywhere else in the world,” he wrote.The defense minister said that he did not think that commuting Azaria’s sentence would detract from Israeli values and the country’s commitment to the highest ideals and to human rights.But Eisenkot said that his reducing Azaria’s sentence by four months had already struck the balance of giving a clear message to all soldiers not to act like the “Hebron shooter”, while showing compassion. The IDF prosecutors had opposed any reduction in sentence, as they had sought a three-to-five-year prison sentence, which a minority of justices at each court level also supported.
IDF soldier shoots dead subdued Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, part of Elor Azaria case