It was the “trial of your life! The trial of your life!” Elor Azaria’s defense lawyer Yoram Sheftel angrily yelled on Sunday at IDF prosecutor Lt.-Col. Nadav Weissman, as the two verbally jousted in the final hearing of appeals of the manslaughter verdict for the so-called “Hebron shooter.”A panel of five judges of the IDF Appeals Court, with chief judge Maj.-Gen. Doron Filis presiding, questioned Azaria’s defense team about holes in their arguments to overturn the verdict.The judges also heard the prosecution’s appeal that the 18-month prison sentence was too light and pressed both sides again to mediate. The prosecution said it would check with the Military Advocate General.The tense hearing was the culmination of the saga which dates back to Elor Azaria’s killing of attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif on March 24, 2015 after Sharif was subdued and no longer showed any apparent danger to those in the vicinity.Sheftel struck new ground, arguing that even if Azaria changed his story five times, two key prosecution witnesses on whose testimony the verdict was based, had changed their stories – one nine times and the other, 14 times.One of these witnesses was Azaria’s commander, Maj. Tom Naaman. Sheftel said that Naaman’s junior officer, Lt. M.A., had called Naaman a liar for saying there was no fear of a bomb on the scene.Further, Sheftel repeated his earlier allegation that Naaman had been coached by the military police to incriminate Azaria and that in his earliest testimony to police, he had not done so. The IDF responded by saying that confronting witnesses with other testimonies is standard practice.Sheftel repeated his argument that Azaria’s confession that he shot Sharif out of revenge was untrue because there is no confession in the many videos of the incident.Segel also yelled at Sheftel: “Why didn’t he [Azaria] mention the bomb” to many friends and IDF officers when Azaria spoke to them immediately after the incident. The judge continued, “There is no logic” that Azaria would not talk on the telephone about the bomb with “someone who wants to help him.”Moreover, Segel said it was meaningless that the video did not pick up Azaria’s confession as it did not pick up many other things, such as Azaria asking a fellow soldier to take his helmet.Segel said Azaria had a problem falling on the mercy of the court for a lighter sentence when he “never uttered the simple words ‘I was mistaken.’” Filis also struck down Sheftel several times for trying to raise Filis’s own earlier decision to free Azaria from detention during the trial.The chief IDF judge rejected these attempts, saying there was no significance to what he wrote earlier when he was only presented with a fraction of the evidence the IDF lower court saw in the full trial.
The IDF prosecution kept its final statements shorter, mostly presenting its win in the lower court and highlighting precedents which could argue for a longer jail sentence.
Elor Azaria at sentencing hearing on Feb. 23 , 2017 (credit: REUTERS)