Military Court Rejects Elor Azaria Appeals; 18-Month Sentence Stands

“And, indeed, I have observed under the sun: Alongside justice there is wickedness, Alongside righteousness there is wickedness.” Ecclesiastes 3:16 (The Israel Bible™)

An IDF appeals tribunal has rejected Elor Azaria’s appeal to reverse his conviction for manslaughter for the killing of a neutralized Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last March. The court also rejected an appeal by prosecutors for a stiffer sentence.

Azaria will likely be given two days to get his affairs in order before reporting to Military Prison Number 6, located north of Haifa.

Military justices rejected Azaria’s claim that he feared that Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian assailant who had stabbed an Israeli soldier on the March 24, 2016, still posed a threat when Azaria shot him in the head several minutes later. Justices said Azaria’s testimony was not trustworthy and added that they believed his original statement to officers on site that Sharif “deserved to die” reflected Azaria’s true intent.

Azaria arrived at the military court in Tel Aviv dressed in a simple white t-shirt, surrounded by his lawyers and parents, and supported outside the courtroom by dozens of supporters. Former Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari told protesters that they have responsibility all Israeli children, and quoted the Talmudic dictum “If someone comes to kill you, stand up and kill him first.”

Judges considered competing appeals in the case: Following the sentencing hearing on April 4, prosecutors said the year-and-a-half sentence was too light for a manslaughter conviction, while lawyers for Azaria said the court convicted their client without considering all relevant information.

A military court convicted Azaria, a combat medic, of manslaughter in January for killing of Sharif appeared to  no longer pose any threat when Azaria shot him in the head.

Military Police originally charged Azaria with murder, but the charge was later reduced to manslaughter. A military court ruled that al-Sharif had died as a result of the wounds inflicted by Azaria and not his previous wounds.

Yoram Sheftel, Azaria’s lead attorney, told reporters before the hearing that the fact that Azaria was put on trial was a “sin” and the fact he was convicted was a “travesty of justice of the highest degree.” Sheftel also showed reporters a photograph of two IDF soldiers holding a neutralized suspect down with their feet and said they proceeded to shoot him from point-blank range in order to ensure that he was dead because they feared he was wearing an explosive vest.

“That was a lot more clear-cut than this case,” Sheftel said. “But they weren’t prosecuted. Elor acted with a lot more moderation.

“Military judges would have an opportunity today to right a wrong against Azaria…Elor is a victim in this case.”

The tribunal heard competing appeals today. Azaria’s attorneys, led by Sheftel, have argued aggressively that prosecutors lacked key evidence and applied the law arbitrarily. They said that other soldiers had not been convicted in similar circumstances.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, had asked for three-to-five years in prison and called the light sentence a “sharp departure” from sentencing norms for manslaughter and expressed concern that the sentence could be interpreted as a new standard for sentencing for the crime.

Azaria, a combat medic, was convicted for the March 24, 2016 killing of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian assailant who had stabbed an Israeli soldier several minutes earlier but did not appear to pose a threat any longer. He was sentenced in March to serve a year-and-a-half in an army prison.

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