An Israeli military court has upheld the 18- month prison sentence for a soldier convicted of killing a wounded Palestinian attacker, prompting calls from right-wing politicians for a presidential pardon.
After a trial that created bitter divisions in Israel, Sgt Elor Azaria was found guilty in January of manslaughter over the March 2016 shooting of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif (21) in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron. Azaria had told a colleague that Sharif, who had stabbed another soldier, "deserved to die".
The five-judge judge panel on Sunday rejected the defence appeal, ruling that Azaria (21), had treated “the scene of a terror attack” like a shooting range. They discounted Azaria’s testimony and rejected the defence argument that soldiers in similar situations had been let off, ruling that the soldier’s prison term will begin in 10 days’ time.
Azaria claimed he acted out of fear that Sharif might have been wearing an explosive vest but the judges said his motive was “revenge”.
“This was a forbidden, grave and immoral act,” the judges stressed, noting that Azaria had not expressed regret for his actions.
Immediately following the court ruling, right-wing politicians demanded clemency.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said his call for a pardon for Azaria that he issued in January remains intact.
Beg for pardon
Azaria’s lawyers now have the option of taking the case to the supreme court, but defence minister Avigdor Lieberman requested for the family not to push for another appeal, but instead to ask the army chief of staff to pardon the former soldier. “I have no doubt that the chief of staff will consider the difficult circumstances and of him [Azaria] being an exemplary soldier.”
President Reuven Rivlin is expected to follow the chief of staff’s recommendation on the issue.
Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely referred to the recent stabbing in a West Bank settlement when three members of a Jewish family were killed by a Palestinian assailant.
“Following the murders in Halamish, it is important to remember who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. A soldier who kills a terrorist is not a criminal.”
Education minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home, said the court decision must be respected but a pardon was the right move.
“For the sake of our soldiers stationed on the frontlines, and so as not to lose our deterrence, Elor Azaria must be returned to his home.”
The Hebron shooting took place during a wave of attacks by Palestinians that had killed 29 Israelis over the preceding five months and led to a debate on the use of lethal force by troops, with a large majority of Israelis favouring a pardon for the soldier.