Israeli soldier charged with manslaughter over shooting

Sgt Elor Azaria filmed shooting wounded Palestinian man in the head in Hebron

The father of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (centre), who is charged with manslaughter by the Israeli military, kisses his head. The incident divided Israeli public opinion and has dominated the airwaves and social media sites for weeks. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

The father of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (centre), who is charged with manslaughter by the Israeli military, kisses his head. The incident divided Israeli public opinion and has dominated the airwaves and social media sites for weeks. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

 

An Israeli military court has charged a soldier with manslaughter over the fatal shooting of a wounded Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron last month, in a case that has bitterly divided the country.

A video taken by the B’Tselem human rights group showed Sgt Elor Azaria shooting Palestinian Abdel Fatah al-Sharif (21) in the head as he lay seriously wounded after being shot by other troops. Authorities said al-Sharif had stabbed soldiers a few minutes earlier.

The soldier is then captured on film shaking hands with Hebron settler Baruch Marzel, a well-known extremist right-wing activist.

Open detention

Azaria (19), a medic in the Kfir infantry brigade, whose name was only released for publication on Monday, was arrested immediately after the shooting and has been kept in open detention on a military base. He claimed he shot the Palestinian because he feared he may have been wearing an explosive belt.

Prosecutors originally sought murder charges against the soldier, but later reduced the count to manslaughter.

The indictment said Sgt Azaria fired on the Palestinian “against the rules of engagement, with no military necessity, at a moment when the terrorist al-Sharif was lying on the ground, was not engaging in further attacks and did not constitute an immediate danger to the defendant, to the civilians or to the soldiers in the area”.

The soldier was also charged with conduct unbecoming.

The military judge asked the defence how they could explain that the soldier genuinely thought he was in danger when none of his commanders did.

The defence responded that he was not as well-trained in all complex situations as they were and that this was a highly complicated situation.

The court ordered his detention until end of the trial, but said he would be given permission to be with his parents for the traditional Jewish Passover Seder meal this weekend.

Bitter divisions

Defence minister Moshe Ya’alon and Israel’s top general Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot condemned the soldier, saying his actions went against the values of the Israel Defence Forces.

Leading right-wing politicians, including senior ministers, spoke up in defence of the soldier, stressing that the shooting followed months of stabbings and car-ramming attacks by Palestinians against Israeli troops and civilians.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu originally condemned the soldier’s conduct but seemed to backtrack in response to the wave of public support, particularly on the right, and went as far as calling the soldier’s parents.

The family have organised a solidarity rally for Tuesday night in Tel Aviv although a number of artists , including Eyal Golan, one of Israel’s most popular singers, pulled out at the last minute , believing the event – which is expected to be attended by tens of thousands – was becoming too political and critical of the army.