By: Joshua B. Dermer
The trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the 20-year-old IDF medic who was filmed shooting a wounded Palestinian stabber in Hebron, began on Monday in Jaffa Military Court. He is charged with manslaughter for the incident that has rocked the political establishment and roiled passions across the country, as Israelis debate whether he is a murderer or a hero.
Protesters waved Israeli flags outside the courthouse in support of Azaria as right-wing activists and politicians, including members of Netanyahu’s own party and cabinet, have harshly criticized the government and IDF for pressing charges against the soldier.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon referred to Azaria as a “soldier who strayed” during a speech from the Knesset podium following the incident and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot issued an unusual letter vowing to “bring to judgment” those who violate military rules and values.
Netanyahu called Azaria’s father several weeks ago and requested that the family trust the judicial process, assuring him that the court would take into account the “circumstances” that soldiers face at the scene of a terror attack.
Azaria has claimed that he shot the wounded Palestinian assailant, Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, due to fear that al-Sharif was wearing an explosive vest. The prosecution alleges that Azaria shot him while he posed no threat.
In the initial stages of the trial, the defense and prosecution argued before the judge over how to properly frame the case.
Eyal Besserglick, Azaria’s defense attorney, argued that all previous cases where soldiers failed to follow military protocol should be taken into consideration. The prosecution argued that, given the evidence provided by video footage, it is clear that Azaria is guilty of the charges posed against him.
According to the indictment, Azaria arrived at the scene of the March stabbing attack and treated the wounded soldier. He then walked towards the injured al-Sharif, cocked his weapon, and shot him once in the head from close range.
“The soldier did all this against the rules of engagement and without military justification,” the military prosecution said. “The assailant al-Sharif was lying on the ground, did not attack again, and did not pose an immediate threat to the defendant or to the civilians and soldiers who were at the scene. In his actions, the defendant caused the unlawful death of the assailant al-Sharif.”