That's Murder in Any Civilized Place. From [HERE] and [HERE] An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron in March was been found guilty of manslaughter Wednesday. The three-judge military panel in Tel Aviv ruled against Sgt Elor Azaria. Chief judge Col Maya Heller gave a lengthy verdict reading in which the court ruled that accounts [Guardian report] of the incident that he had given were "unreliable and problematic." The panel rejected the defense's arguments. "We found there was no room to accept his arguments," the Chief judge said. "His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die."
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has joined calls for an Israeli soldier to be pardoned after being convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a severely wounded Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron last year.
As soon as the verdict was handed down on Wednesday at the end of one of the country’s most polarising court cases in recent memory, there were calls from Israeli ministers demanding that Sgt Elor Azaria, an army medic who was 19 at the time of the shooting, be granted an immediate pardon by the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, as others accused the Israeli military of abandoning the soldier.
In a short statement, Netanyahu said: “This is a difficult and painful day for all of us – and first and foremost for Elor and his family, for IDF soldiers, for many soldiers and for the parents of our soldiers, and me among them.
“We have one army, which is the basis of our existence. The soldiers of the IDF are our sons and daughters, and they need to remain above dispute.”
The three-judge military court sitting in Tel Aviv said Azaria had acted outside the military’s rules of engagement when he killed Abdel Fattah al-Sharif by shooting him in the head as he lay on the ground, shortly after Sharif and another Palestinian had stabbed and wounded a soldier at an Israeli military checkpoint.
Reading for more than two hours from the verdict, the chief judge, Col Maya Heller, said Azaria shot Sharif out of revenge. The court ruled that accounts of the incident that he had given were “unreliable and problematic” and his defence contradictory and flawed.
“We found there was no room to accept his arguments,” she said. “His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die.”
The other Palestinian involved in the knife attack was shot and died immediately, but Sharif was still alive, badly injured and posing no threat when Azaria shot him, the judges ruled.
As the verdict was read out, Azaria’s mother shouted at the panel of judges: “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Other members of Azaria’s family clapped as the decision was delivered, shouting: “Our hero!”
Outside the court there were clashes between Azaria’s supporters – some notorious fans of Beitar football club, which is known for its anti-Arab followers – and the police. Some supporters chanted death threats against the Israeli army chief, Gadi Eisenkot, insinuating he would face the same fate as Yitzhak Rabin, the former prime minister killed 20 years ago by an ultranationalist Israeli.
Sharif’s father welcomed the verdict. “For me, a just verdict will be one that is similar to the verdicts our sons [in Israeli prisons] get … [a] life sentence,” Yusri al-Sharif said. “But Israel is trying its own son, so there is a possibility it will be lenient.”
Initially prosecutors had called for Azaria to be charged with murder but instead settled on a lesser charge of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. Sentencing is expected in about a month.
The end of the trial has coincided with one of the most febrile periods in recent Israeli politics, with the two-state solution on its last legs and the US president-elect, Donald Trump, threatening to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
A resurgent and pro-settler far right, emboldened by Trump’s imminent inauguration, has been pushing Netanyahu’s rightwing government on issues from the Azaria case, Jewish settlement expansion and calls to annex large parts of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Analysis Elor Azaria: the Israeli soldier who exposed the country's faultlines
The case of the ‘Hebron shooter’ who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker has elicited both sympathy and condemnation
Among the earliest calling for a pardon was the leader of the far-right Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett. Describing the trial as politically “contaminated from the beginning”, Bennett said: “Today a soldier who killed a terrorist who deserved to die, who tried to slaughter [another] soldier, was placed in shackles and convicted as a criminal.”
Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev – a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party – said she would also work to win a pardon. “That’s not how you act toward a soldier [who belongs] to all of us,” she said.
However, the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman – who has previously supported Azaria – said he “didn’t like the verdict” but Israelis should respect it.
Commenting on the demands for a pardon, Rivlin’s office said such requests could only be “submitted by the applicant themselves, or by one with power of attorney, or an immediate relative, following a conclusive judicial ruling” – in other words at the end of all appeals.
The shooting on 24 March last year, captured on video by a Palestinian human rights activist, prompted international condemnation. In the footage, the wounded Sharif is surrounded by soldiers, medics and settlers. Azaria then appears and unslings a weapon before shooting Sharif in the head.
The discussion at the heart of the case was whether Azaria was justified in killing Sharif.
Heller rejected the defence’s two central but contradictory claims, the first suggesting that Sharif was already dead at the time of the shooting, and the second that Azaria felt threatened, telling the court: “You can’t have it both ways.”
Prosecutors had argued Azaria’s motive was expressed in comments witnesses said he had made: that Sharif “deserved to die” for wounding a comrade. The court accepted this account, noting that the words carried “serious significance” in its ruling.
Azaria’s defence team said it would appeal against the verdict, and a family spokesman said the court had ignored evidence indicating the soldier was innocent. “It was like the court was detached from the fact that this was the area of an attack,” said Sharon Gal. “I felt that the court picked up the knife from the ground and stabbed it in the back of all the soldiers.”
Lt Col Nadav Weissman, a military prosecutor, said the verdict was “important, clear, decisive and speaks for itself”. He added: “This is not a happy day for us. We would have preferred that this didn’t happen. But the deed was done, and the offence was severe.”
The rare case of an active serviceman being charged had been seen as a test of Israeli military justice.
It also exposed deep divisions in Israeli society, not only between left and right, but between the Israeli military’s most senior officers – who pushed for the prosecution – and nationalist political figures, who have campaigned for Azaria’s acquittal.
On Tuesday, however, the Israeli military’s chief of staff pushed back at the most recent campaign slogan of Azaria’s supporters, which claims the soldier was “the child of us all”.
Speaking at a conference in Herziliya, Gen Gadi Eisenkot warned that the attempt to portray Azaria as immature and confused “undermines the most fundamental values that we look for in our soldiers”.
Among the pages of commentary in the Israeli media and on social media during the trial, perhaps most bizarre was the decision by Makor Rishon’s Profile magazine to declare Azaria one of its men of the year for “sparking the stormiest argument in Israeli society”, complete with a cover picture of the accused soldier posing with a gun.
The video of the killing was filmed by a Palestinian volunteer for the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which accused the security forces of “routine whitewashing” in a statement after the verdict.
“The fact that one soldier was convicted today does not exonerate the Israeli military law-enforcement system from its routine whitewashing of cases in which security forces kill or injure Palestinians with no accountability,” B’Tselem said.
“The exception of a much-publicised trial, marked by a rare instance of video documentation, is not enough to change this norm.”