Israeli soldier defends shooting of wounded Palestinian

Manslaughter-accused Sgt Elor Azaria tells court he faced ‘real and immediate danger’

Israeli soldier Sgt Elor Azaria, who was caught on video shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay on the ground, is comforted by his mother during a hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv. Photograph:  Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli soldier Sgt Elor Azaria, who was caught on video shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay on the ground, is comforted by his mother during a hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Israeli soldier on trial for manslaughter for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron has defended his shooting as a response to a “real and immediate danger”, claiming senior officers and the defence establishment “threw him to the dogs”.

Sgt Elor Azaria (19) , under cross-examination in the Jaffa military court, defended his controversial actions, insisting that he shot the incapacitated Palestinian who had stabbed and wounded two other soldiers, out of fear that he was about to set off an explosive device.

The trial is being portrayed in the Israeli media as battle over the soul of Israel.

While Azaria’s commanders, senior army officers and the former defence minister Moshe Ya’alon all condemned the soldier’s actions as a clear violation of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) regulations, right-wing politicians have come to his defence and polls indicate that he enjoys wide public support. A family campaign to raise money via the internet to cover the costs of the trial was inundated with thousands of donations within days of its launch.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after initially criticising the shooting by the soldier, later called his parents in a gesture of solidarity following a right-wing backlash. The clear-cut condemnation by Mr Ya’alon was one of the factors that led to his dismissal and his replacement as defence minister in May by Avigdor Lieberman, who had come to the military court in support of Sgt Azaria.

Mr Lieberman said Monday that politicians should let the trial run its course.

“The political echelon, and especially the defence minister, must not be allowed to decide the fate of the soldier, all the more so before the legal process has ended.”

Sgt Azaria, a medic in the Kfir infantry unit, was filmed shooting Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head, nearly 15 minutes after Sharif was shot and seriously wounded by soldiers when he attempted to stab them in the flashpoint city of Hebron, where Palestinians and Jewish settlers live in close proximity. The incident in March came during a wave of Palestinian attacks against soldiers and Israeli civilians, many occurring in the Hebron area.

Sgt Azaria criticised his company commander, Maj Tom Naaman, who testified that the wounded Palestinian had posed no further danger after an attack, saying he ignored the warnings of bystanders who warned of a possible bomb.

Sgt Azaria testified that during briefings prior to the incident, soldiers had been briefed that intelligence information indicated a “serious attack” was being planned by Palestinians in Hebron.

Sgt Azaria told the court he felt betrayed by the military.

“I lost my faith in the commanders, in the IDF upper echelon, in the defence minister. I feel that they threw me to the dogs out of fear, because of the media. They turned me into a victim to wash the military’s hands clean. They abandoned me and didn’t really try to find out what had happened. I did my job and they are accusing me of murder.”